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Does Your Car Have a 'Black Box'? It Probably Does

Auto manufacturers are always quick to tout all the features in a new vehicle - except one. But starting in 2011, they will...
August 30, 2006

Auto manufacturers are always quick to tout all the features in a new vehicle - except one. But starting in 2011, they will have to tell owners if their vehicle has an event data recorder. More than 70 million vehicles, including two-thirds of cars made since 2004, carry the land based version of the kind of black boxes that are common in aircraft. They track speed, seat-belt use, steering, braking and other data in the seconds before and after a crash. GM and Ford install them in all their new vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a rule that beginning with 2011 model year vehicles, automakers must disclose the existence of such devices to customers. The federal agency prodded automakers to install the devices, but now says it lacks the authority to impose privacy standards. Some states aren't waiting. Effective August 16, data recorded on automotive "black boxes" may not be downloaded without the owner's permission or court approval in Maine, which passed a law.

"Data from the recorders can help researchers and manufacturers design safer vehicles and roads," notes USA Today. "Those are worthy goals. But without better safeguards, EDRs can too easily be used to play 'gotcha' with unsuspecting drivers." And Jay Stanley of the American Civil Liberties Union said the government "punted on the most important privacy issues," such as whether the data are accessible to third parties without a judicial order and whether the devices can be turned off.

Boxes on a Car (USA Today 8/22/06)

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