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Feds Accelerate Black Box Regulations
US Transportation Department mandates black box in all automobiles beginning in 2014.

Black box
Automobiles manufactured after September 1, 2014 must have an electronic data collection device that stores driving information for federal investigators. The US Department of Transportation earlier this month published its proposed rule mandating the installation of event data recorders (EDRs) or black boxes in cars, insisting the devices are meant for crash investigation purposes, and not for invading privacy.

"By understanding how drivers respond in a crash and whether key safety systems operate properly, NHTSA and automakers can make our vehicles and our roadways even safer," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. "This proposal will give us the critical insight and information we need to save more lives."

Most car manufacturers expecting the rule have already been shipping cars with data recorders. The devices keep track of variables such as vehicle speed, brake activation and whether seat belts are in use. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began setting standards for the data collection in 2006 in what started as a voluntary program. The agency estimates the new rule will increase the cost of an automobile by $20, imposing $26.4 million in compliance costs for manufacturers. Some motorist advocates are troubled by the potential for mission creep.

"Event data recorders are no longer just devices designed to gather information to improve safety technology in vehicles, which has been NHTSA's justification for wanting EDRs installed as standard equipment on all makes and models," National Motorists Association (NMA) President Gary Biller told TheNewspaper. "The technology has morphed all too quietly into a means of monitoring driving habits and pinpointing driving locations. Driver liabilities, usage taxes, and even auto insurance rates can be determined by a simple wireless transfer of information from your car. Yet only 13 states at last count have laws on their books that govern the ownership of information gathered by EDRs."

In 2007, black box data was put to political use against New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine (D) whose official Chevy Suburban was involved in a serious injury crash. The black box revealed Corzine's SUV was traveling over 90 MPH and that the governor was not wearing a seatbelt. Despite the evidence, an appellate court in 2008 cleared the police officer who (view case) caused the crash and initially attempted to blame another motorist for the incident. NHTSA does not have authority to impose regulations regarding privacy. The rule seeks to minimize the impact by mandating information be stored for a brief snapshot of vehicle activity, but the agency does not discount the NMA concerns.

"This proposed rule does not address certain other issues generally within the realm of state law, such as whether the vehicle owner owns the EDR data, how EDR data can be used/discovered in civil litigation, how EDR data may be used in criminal proceedings, whether EDR data may be obtained by the police without a warrant, whether EDR data may be developed into a driver monitoring tool, and the nature and extent that private parties (including insurance companies, car rental companies, and automobile manufacturers) will have or may contract for access to EDR data," the proposal explains.

The states of Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Virginia, and Washington regulate black box use. The public has until February 11 to comment on the proposed regulation.

A copy of the proposed rule is available in a 300k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Event Data Recorders NPRM (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12/12/2012)

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