Surprise! A black box may already be in your car

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Big Brother

Is Big Brother inside your car? Image: Oneras/Fickr/CC BY-SA

Legislation passed by the Senate earlier this week would make it mandatory for automakers to install black box recording devices, like those in commercial aircrafts, in every automobile sold in the U.S. by 2015. Activist groups are rising up, demanding the government back off on keeping tabs on its free citizens. However, Big Brother may already be watching from your dashboard.

Event Data Recorders

The boxes are called Event Data Recorders (EDRs), and their use will take a lot of the leg work out of law enforcement investigations into traffic accidents. Insurance companies will also enjoy the benefit of first-hand data in determining fault and calculating premiums. But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it also will use the data in tracking down consumer complaints.

Privacy concerns

Many are asking, however, whether the needs of those institutions outweigh a citizen’s basic right to privacy. Alex Jones’ Internet news show InfoWars is encouraging drivers to organize and express their outrage to federal officials.

However, they may be fighting a losing battle. According to Forbes, onboard EDRs are already here.

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EDRs in cars since 1996

According to the news outlet, EDRs have been around since 1996 and are installed in about 85 percent of all cars currently being manufactured. Furthermore, Forbes says there are about 60 million cars currently on the road using them, though most owners are probably unaware of it.

Wolf Forensics is a firm that specializes in collecting recorded crash data from cars built by Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda and Toyota. A spokesman for the company, James Casassa, told Forbes:

“Virtually every car that has an air bag has some kind of recording ability.”

What will change under new law?

What the law will do, if passed, is force automakers who currently don’t employ EDRs to install them — Audi and Mercedes-Benz currently do not — in models for sale in the U.S. Those automakers who do install them now will have to be sure they comply to the standards of the NHTSA. In order to meet the federal watchdog’s demands, an EDR will be required to record “a car’s speed, how far the accelerator was pressed, the engine revolutions per minute, whether the driver hit the brakes, whether the driver was wearing a safety belt, and how long it took for the airbags to deploy.”

Law addresses privacy concerns

The NHTSA legislation, incidentally, does address the privacy issue. In the past, the ownership of the recorded crash data was a gray area. However, the proposed legislation spells out that the data recorded in a vehicle belongs to its owner or lessee, and can not be accessed without that person’s permission.

The only exceptions to the rule are in the case of court-approved law enforcement investigations, in the event of a medical emergency and if the NHTSA is investigating a safety issue.


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