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U.S. Senate Passes Bill Requiring Black-Box Recorders in Cars

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”]Black box flight recorderThe U.S. Senate approved legislation last week that would require automakers to install black-box data recorders in all new cars, starting with 2015 models. The recorders are similar to ones on airplanes and provide information when there is an auto accident.

Sarah Mitroff writes for VentureBeat that Senators Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid introduced the bill, titled “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” which is also expected to pass in the House.

Richard Read reports for The Car Connection that the black boxes have several purposes: to help law enforcement agencies and insurance companies do their work, and also to help the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration evaluate complaints customers have about specific vehicles.

As Read writes:

For example, data recorders could’ve cut through some of the confusion and panic surrounding 2010’s Toyota/Lexus recall fiasco. (Though we’re not sure that the floormat issue would’ve been caught with black boxes.)

Mitroff notes that many new cars that have been sold in the last 10 years already have the black boxes — officially called Event Data Recorders (EDRs): “A 2006 report from The National Institute of Highway Safety showed that at least 64 percent of cars surveyed in 2005 had an EDR installed,” she writes. And that includes all cars made by General Motors, Ford, Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and Suzuki, according to Mitroff.

She adds:

Several different types of EDRs exist, some that continuously record information and others that are activated by accident-like conditions, such as sudden decreases in velocity, airbag deployment, or slamming on a car’s brakes. EDRs often integrate with a passenger car’s restraint system and after an airbag is deployed, car system data are recorded to the device for later examination.

Mitroff reports that, according to InfoWars, some people oppose the black boxes because of privacy concerns, as the boxes could let others find out where a person drives and when. She says critics of the black boxes also worry that the mandate for EDRs could open the door for more invasive communication devices.

But she counters those objections with the following:

Despite privacy concerns over the bill, it may end up reducing privacy problems in the long run. [The bill] explicitly states that the owner of the car owns the EDR data, an issue that has been debated in the past.

And as Kashmir Hill writes for Forbes: “Two wins for privacy here: insurance companies aren’t granted access to the valuable boxes and the bill says police have to get a court order to peek at the data under your hood.”

Image by edvvc, used under its Creative Commons license.


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