Insurers Interested in Potential Safety Advantages of Black Boxes

November 10, 2003

The attached letter was sent to the Los Angeles Times responding to an article that reportedly suggested that insurers’ only interest in event data recorders (EDR) or black boxes is auto liability in auto crashes.

The letter reportedly says that insurers are interested in more than liability issues and have recommended to the National Highway Safety Administration that black boxes should be studied for their unique role in advancing motor vehicle safety research.

Los Angeles Times
Letter to the Editors
202 W. First Street
Los Angeles, California 90012

Dear Editor:

Your recent article, “Black boxes prompt Big Brother objections,” (Nov. 5, 2003) addressed some of the critical issues surrounding the event data recorders (EDR) but the article had a blind spot when it suggested that the primary interest of the insurance industry is determining “who is at fault in an auto accident.”

Black box data is just one of many factors used in assessing an accident. Police, as well as insurance claims adjusters, look at the actual damage to the vehicle, talk to any witnesses, photograph tire tracks or skid marks, and assess weather and traffic conditions. All of these factors are important in assessing who is at fault. In a very few severe accidents a black box could be critical in determining the cause of the accident, but those are very rare instances. Insurers and investigators will always need and use the other tools that can paint the complete picture of what happened in a crash.

What wasn’t included in this article were the other important safety issues related to black box data.

Insurers strongly recommended in a letter to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) this year that black boxes can and should be studied for their unique role in advancing motor vehicle safety research. For example, it is conceivable that black boxes could tell manufacturers when the brakes fail or when an airbag deploys later than it should or any other important engineering information that would enhance the safety of the vehicle. Insurers also believe consistent and uniform government oversight of the use and collection of data from this tool be a priority as well.

Accident liability is just one part of this emerging issue. If Big Brother is truly paying attention he will note that the insurance industry is buckled up for a ride that includes safety priorities as well.

Samuel J. Sorich
Association of California Insurance Companies (ACIC)

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