New cars will have black boxes, White House says

All new vehicles have event data recorders, or 'black boxes', per a new mandate from the White House. The rule is raising questions over who owns the data, but black boxes in cars are really nothing new. 

Tom Retting/The Telegram & Gazette/AP/File
This 2011 file photo shows a totaled Ford in Holden, Mass. The White House has approved regulations requiring auto manufacturers include event data recorders, better known as "black boxes," in all new cars and light trucks. Data collected by the recorders is increasingly showing up in lawsuits, criminal cases and high-profile accidents.

The White House Office of Management has approved a request from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to mandate event data recorders, commonly referred to as “black boxes,” in 100-percent of new vehicles sold.

In the very near future, then, the car you drive may monitor your every action behind the wheel, from speed to steering angle to brake pressure to whether or not you and your front seat passengers are buckled up.

If that makes you paranoid, this won’t help much: if you drive a newer car, chances are there’s already some kind of black box logging your actions, something that most consumers are blissfully unaware of. Today, The Detroit News tells us, 91.6 percent of light-duty autos utilize black boxes, so the latest directive would merely take that to 100 percent.

Black boxes in automobiles are really nothing new. General Motors began capturing data as far back as 1990, and event data recorders became standard in GM products during the 1995 model year.Ford uses them, as do ToyotaTesla and Mazda, but standardization of the data captured won’t occur until the 2013 model year.

Beginning with 2013 vehicles, the black boxes will measure 15 specific values in a common format, making it easier for first responders and crash investigators to access and interpret the data. Therein lies the concern of critics who oppose capturing such data: if it exists, what’s to stop insurance companies from subpoenaing the information to deny accident claims?

Expect ownership of the data to become a point of concern once the new regulations take effect. While we may be safe from law enforcement wirelessly accessing data from black boxes (for the near future, anyway), we know one thing for certain: insurance companies aren’t in the business of losing money, and if such data can be used to pad profits, chances are good insurers will find a way to do so

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