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US Senate Transportation Bill Mandates Black Box, More Rules
Senate-passed transportation legislation would mandate electronic data recorders and other design changes to US automobiles.

Electronic data recorder
US House and Senate negotiators are currently working out differences in the opposing transportation reauthorization bills passed by the respective chambers. In an alert sent to members yesterday, the National Motorists Association (NMA) raised an alarm over a Senate-endorsed provision mandating the installation of black box recording devices in all automobiles beginning with the 2015 model year.

Under text of S. 1813, also known as MAP-21, the information stored on an event data recorder could be retrieved under a court order "in the furtherance of a legal proceeding," by employees of the Department of Transportation in the event of an accident, and by anyone "for the purpose of determining the need for, or facilitating, emergency medical response." Two years after enactment, transportation officials would initiate a rulemaking to expand the amount of data collected and require "an interoperable data access port to facilitate universal accessibility and analysis."

Should the provision make its way into law,black box data would technically be the property of the vehicle owner, except in the cases where a judge or transportation official seeks access. The NMA believes these loopholes render the purported privacy protection meaningless.

"Without controls, black boxes have the potential to increase surveillance of motorists, enhance automated law enforcement and enable real-time collection of user fees and taxes," NMA President Gary Biller wrote. "Left unchecked, abuse of black box data is inevitable. Maintaining control of your driving data is critical in combating further infringement on motorists' privacy rights."

Biller echoed the recommendation of the chairman of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) working group on black box issues, Thomas M. Kowalick. NMA and Kowalick want event data recorder access ports to be locked so that the vehicle owner retains physical control over the information in his vehicle.

In addition to mandating black boxes, the 1642-page Senate-passed bill mandates a number of significant design changes to automobiles. Within a year, transportation officials must create a brake override system to prevent the "unintended acceleration" incidents that the agency's own investigations have concluded were caused by driver error, not manufacturing defects. Federal officials will also dictate pedal placement in an automobile and how the "start" button in an automobile may function. New standards would regulate electronic systems in automobiles. Another rule would cover warning buzzers for when seatbelts are not used in the vehicle's back seats.

A separate rulemaking would create a special warning if a driver turns off the automobile, but a passenger remains in the rear seat. According to the bill, such systems must "provide an alert to prevent hyperthermia and hypothermia that can result in death or severe injuries."

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