DOT Proposal Seeks to Require Black Boxes in All Cars

By Jim Wolf | December 10, 2012

Devices that record crash-related data would be required in all new cars and light trucks under a U.S. Department of Transportation proposal made on Friday to broaden their growing use in the United States.

The proposed rule, which may stir consumer privacy concerns, would require automakers to put “event data recorders” in light passenger vehicles weighing less than 8,500 pounds, effective Sept. 1, 2014.

The so-called black boxes would track vehicle speed, brake activation if any, forces at impact and whether a seat belt was buckled, among other crash-related information in the seconds up to and during a collision.

Such data would help investigators and automakers better grasp crash dynamics and the performance of air bags and other systems, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a Transportation Department arm, said in a statement.

Mindful of privacy concerns, it said the devices would not collect any personal identifying information, nor record conversations or run continuously. A crash or air bag deployment typically triggers the on-switch.

In keeping with current policies, the information would be treated by the agency as the property of the vehicle’s owner.

The data would not be used nor accessed by the agency without owner consent under the proposed rule, which is open to public comment for 60 days after being published in the Federal Register, the government’s official gazette.

When a vehicle owner dies in a crash, the vehicle becomes the property of the insurance company, which could give consent as the owner.

About 96 percent of model 2013 cars and light-duty vehicles are already equipped with a form of this technology, the safety administration estimates. The devices require special hardware and software to be tapped.

The devices would help figure out “what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” David Strickland, the safety agency’s administrator, said in the statement.

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