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.

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