NHTSA Rules Black Box Data Collection Must be Standardized

By Trevor Dorchies | August 22, 2012
You might not know it, but there may be a little black box that rides along with you recording your vehicle’s every move. No, you’re not being trailed by some secret government spy; in fact, most vehicles have been using a black box to record vehicle data for over a decade and a half, and they’re not going away anytime soon now. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration has ruled that, starting on October 1, all data collected off these black boxes, also known as event data recorders, will be standardized. This will help clarify who owns the data, how it’s retrieved, and who can have access to it. This topic of who can have access to the black box information as well as who owns it has been a concern of privacy experts for quite some time now. More often than not, the information contained inside the black box is used in court cases to prove which driver was at fault in an accident. This came into light when Toyota was plagued with case upon case against it concerning unintended acceleration. The NHTSA’s ruling also plays off this because Toyota only had one computer in the entire country that could read the data that the black boxes contained. It should be noted that the NHTSA’s ruling isn’t a mandate for the black boxes in every car on the road today,but it definitely opens up the door for just that. As for what type of information is recorded by the EDR, the NHTSA says it must include how long the crash lasted, the vehicle’s speed, the force of the crash that the vehicle and its occupants sustained, the gas pedal’s position, and the engine speed. Other information recorded on the black box includes if the brakes were applied and if an anti-lock brake system sprang into action, the steering wheel’s angle, if stability control was used, vehicle roll angle (in the event of a roll-over), the size of the vehicle’s occupants, final resting position of the seats, air bag deployment, the number of times the vehicle had been started, and if seatbelts and pretensioner were needed.
Automotive.com’s take: Black boxes have also helped solve numerous mysteries involving airplane crashes for decades. Knowing what type of data is on the EDR would help emergency medical personnel in treating injuries after the accident. However, we also believe the information should belong to the driver alone. Source: Consumer Reports