Automakers Must Disclose If Vehicles Have Black Boxes

August 23, 2006

Automakers will be required to tell owners if their vehicle has an event data recorder, commonly called a “black box,” and collect uniform data from the devices, the federal government said.

In the seconds before, during and after a crash, event data recorders can provide information about a vehicle’s speed and acceleration, whether air bags were deployed, the brakes were applied or seat belts were being worn.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said beginning with 2011 model year vehicles, automakers will need to disclose the existence of the technology in owners manuals.

The data recorders also will need to be more durable to protect the information during a crash while requiring the auto industry to collect a uniform amount of data to help in the development of new safety regulations.

With more than 40,000 motorists killed on the roads each year, supporters of the black boxes contend they give investigators and automakers an extensive database that can help them design better vehicle safety features and improved roads.

But some privacy experts worry that the information could be accessed by anyone and also argue that most motorists don’t know the black boxes are installed in their vehicles.

In Maine, state police used the information from a data recoder in reconstructing an accident involving Gov. John Baldacci’s Chevrolet Suburban, which spun off an icy highway in February 2004. The existence of the data led to legislative action.

Effective Wednesday, data recorded on automotive “black boxes” may not be downloaded without the owner’s permission or court approval in Maine.

All told, about 64 percent of the 2005 model year vehicles have the equipment. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. currently install the devices in virtually all new vehicles.

The rules do not require the data recorders to be used in all new vehicles, despite past recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board that the devices be mandated.

“We recognize that the automobile industry has already invested considerable effort and resources into developing effective EDR technologies, so we want to be especially careful not to adopt requirements that would result in unnecessary costs,” the agency wrote.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

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