There was a recent story in the news about the recovery of the black box from the 2009 Air France jetliner crash. The recovery of the black box is important because it may be able to identify what caused the crash. Although black boxes have been traditionally used for planes, they are also being used in automobiles. In light of all the Toyota recalls last year, there has been a proposed legislation to make it mandatory for all vehicles to have black boxes.
Car Black Box
The car black box is more commonly referred to as an event date recorders, or EDR. EDRs were first installed in cars in the early 90’s by General Motors as a way to monitor the deployment of airbags.
There are many different types of EDRs, and some record more information than others. There are no laws or even standard requirements at this point, so there is also no uniformity in what they record. In addition to basics such as speed, braking and airbag deployment, some also store data, for example, on seat belt use and changes in velocity in the seconds leading up to impact.
All EDRs in vehicles manufactured for sale in the United States after September 1, 2012 must record 15 specific functions, as determined by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, such as how much the accelerator pedal was being pressed, the vehicle’s speed and specific changes in the vehicle’s velocity either longitudinally—front to back—or laterally, from the side.
Not all vehicle owners know that they have black boxes in their vehicles. Only a handful of states have laws that specifically address this issue. Since 2009, my State has required that manufacturers disclose in the owner’s manual that a vehicle is equipped with an EDR and prohibits access to information contained in the box, except by subpoena or with the owner’s permission.
With the NHTSA requirements for 2012, it’ll be interesting to see if other legislation starts to crop up. There are those who say EDR’s are an invasion of privacy. Others, however, believe that if people know that they have the device they’ll be prone to drive safer, and safer drivers make safer roads for us all.