NAII Advises: Black Boxes Could Play Major Role in Vehicle Safety

February 25, 2003

The National Association of Independent Insurers (NAII) is encouraging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ‘to push the envelope’ in developing safety uses and regulatory standards for auto event data recorders (EDRs), more commonly known as black boxes.

NAII, whose members underwrite 46 percent of the private passenger auto insurance companies in the U.S., recently outlined its position on EDRs in a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), asking officials to take whatever steps are necessary to see that the full potential of EDRs is analyzed and understood.

“EDRs can and should play a major role in advancing motor vehicle safety research,” NAII senior vice president, Insurance and Research Services, Terry Tyrpin said. “With that goal in mind, we recommend that EDR engineering be mainstreamed so that information systems’ technicians, regardless of their industry or field, have the skill sets to service EDRs or at least download and interpret its data. NAII believes that there could be a much broader use of EDR data in the future and accordingly, a demand for greater access.”

In its letter to DOT, NAII recommended that standards for EDRs be flexible enough to address any manufacturer’s concerns and also encouraged the private sector to become involved, fostering greater competition.

“NAII urges your agency to move forward on the task of developing data elements and retrieval standards for EDRs, ” Tyrpin wrote. “EDR data elements should be created with proper attention given to uses beyond the scope of safety, engineering or research. In the interest of achieving greater regulatory flexibility it would appear proper to also investigate a state role in setting standards for collection, storage and rights to access EDR data.”

The NAII said that a legislative solution to EDR data collection and access should be crafted at the state level, the governmental tier where so many fundamental motor vehicle and driver compliance programs are currently administered.

The NAII also said it agreed with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) recommendations for EDRs, recognizing the expertise IIHS’s extensive experience in crash-testing motor vehicles over the last several decades.

“As we understand it, the data captured by the EDR could be conveyed to data transmission hardware in a vehicle, such as an On-Star system and others like it. The system then relays the report of a collision or the likelihood of an injury to an outside emergency service unit or network,” Tyrpin explained. “If data elements collected by the EDR could help a rescue team or paramedics better assess crash-related injuries or the likelihood of injuries, NAII trusts the agency will be receptive to guidance from the automatic crash notification (ACN) systems and other related medical assistance organizations on just which data elements are critical.”

At present only some private passenger automobiles are equipped with On Star and similar service providers, so it may be premature to make definitive conclusions on the merits of this type of hardware at this time, NAII said.

Another area of interest is EDR applications in improving accident
reconstruction and the allocation of negligence or responsibility among the drivers and other parties involved in a collision.

“Under the tort liability system rules, it is often difficult to settle issues of fact relating to an accident,” Tyrpin said. “EDR recorded data elements could help accident investigators and claim adjusters separate fact from fiction and lead to more equitable decisions that affect litigation and liability arising from a crash case. The result could be a reduction in lawsuits arising out of personal injuries in a crash.”

Tyrpin added that many kinds of factual issues become relevant particularly when a personal injury suit is filed in an accident. EDR data elements that could provide factual detail relating to the circumstances immediately prior to a crash include:

· Seatbelt usage at time of crash;
· Speed or direction of vehicle;
· Braking action or lack thereof;
· Whether the vehicle navigation lights were illuminated;
· Position of the gear selector (e.g. whether a special power distribution
feature such as traction control, an active handling system, four wheel drive,
· Whether a turn signal indicator had been activated prior to the crash;
· Exact time at which a collision/occurrence took place; and
· Last action/position of the driver before the collision.

“We would anticipate that those charged with enforcing traffic laws and prosecuting offenders might be interested in evaluating the use of EDR data to corroborate witness accounts,” Tyrpin said.

NAII encouraged NHTSA to continue its dialogue with all EDR stakeholders and to expand the participants in its EDR Working Group to get even broader viewpoints.

“NHTSA’s goal should be to promote more inclusion of state level
governmental and private sector interests so that the debate on these issues is as well-rounded and uninhibited as possible,” Tyrpin concluded.

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