Requiring Black Boxes for Cars

January 5, 2013

Back in May of 2012, I wrote about the current and potential use of event data recorders [EDRs], so-called “black boxes”, in automobiles.  Similar devices have been used for years on commercial aircraft. and the data obtained from them has been of great value in understanding crashes and improving safety.   Many newer cars already have some kind of event recording device.  The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA] has established some required standards for the amount and type of data that must be collected by installed EDRs; however, the installation of the devices was not required.

The NHTSA has now published a proposed regulation (Docket No. NHTSA-2012-0177) in the December 13, 2012 edition of the Federal Register (copies available as plain text or PDF) that would require the installation of EDRs in most autos and light trucks manufactured on or after September 1, 2014.  These devices would be required to meet the already existing standards for data collection.

The proposed regulation is open to public comment until February 11, 2013.  You can submit comments online using the docket page at the web site (it also has a viewable copy of the rulemaking notice).  Alternatively, you can submit comments by mail or fax by following the instructions in the notice.  All submitted comments will become a matter of public record; online submissions can be viewed via the docket page.

There are legitimate privacy issues surrounding the collection of this data, and the ownership of the collected data needs to be clarified.  Still, there is a good case to be made, on safety grounds, for collecting the data; it should be possible to arrive at a reasonable trade-off.

A Black Box for your Car, Revisited

May 16, 2012

About a year ago, I posted an article here about the possibility that the US government, specifically the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA], might soon require all new automobiles sold in the US to be equipped with event data recorders [EDRs]. the so-called “black boxes”.  Similar devices have been used for years on commercial aircraft. and the data obtained from them has been of great value in understanding crashes and improving safety.  As I mentioned in that earlier post, many newer cars already have electronic data recorders of some sort.  These have proved to be useful in accident investigations, although how they work and what they record has been, until quite recently, pretty much up to the automaker.

A recent article at Wired provides an update on what’s happening in this area.  At present, although there is no mandate to equip cars with EDRs, the NHTSA’s regulations do specify that, if an EDR is installed, it must collect a specified set of data.

Since 2006, NHTSA has required that consumers be informed when an automaker has installed an EDR in a vehicle, although the disclosure is typically buried on the car’s owner’s manual. More recently, NHTSA mandated that vehicles manufactured after September 1, 2011 that include the devices must record a minimum of 13 data points in a standardized format.

Congress is now considering legislation that would require EDRs to be installed on new vehicles.

[US Senate] Bill 1813 that mandates EDRs for every car sold in the U.S. starting with the model year 2015 has already passed the Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a version of the bill with slightly different language.

There are privacy concerns about the collection of this data.  At present, the proposed rules say that EDRs can only collect data related to vehicle safety; but it is not hard to imagine that some security agencies might think that recording GPS coordinates might be a useful little enhancement.  Then there is the question of who owns that collected data.  The pending legislation says that the data belongs to the owner or lessee of the vehicle, which is good.  But it’s likely that the devil is in the details, and the ownership rules will need to be carefully drawn.  For example, the article points out that, if a car is “totalled” in a crash, it typically becomes the property of the insurance company.  The company might, in some cases be tempted to declare the car a total loss in order to own the EDR data for use in legal proceedings.

There is a strong case, on safety improvement grounds, for collecting this kind of data.  WE just need to do our best to ensure that it is not misused.

%d bloggers like this: