Senate passes bill requiring “Black Boxes” for cars, but you may already have one

The U.S. Senate just passed a bill requiring all new cars in America to come equipped with a black box-like data recording device starting in 2015, InfoWars reports. Similar to the tell-all black boxes on airplanes, event data recorders (EDR) record information about an automobile crash. If you bought a car in the last decade, it may already have one installed.

Black boxes, or flight data recorders as they are formally called, have been crucial in analyzing plane crashes since about the mid-20th century. The tamper-proof devices record the activity of a plane’s electrical systems and can even record conversations in the cockpit to understand what led to a plane crash.

Likewise, an EDR can record the details leading up to an automobile accident. Several different types of EDRs exist, some that continuously record information and others that are activated by accident-like conditions, such as sudden decreases in velocity, airbag deployment, or slamming on a car’s brakes. EDRs often integrate with a passenger car’s restraint system and after an airbag is deployed, car system data are recorded to the device for later examination. The data can be used for insurance purposes and in court cases to determine precisely what happened during a car accident.

Senate Bill 1813, titled the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” was proposed by Senators Barbara Boxer and Harry Reid and is expected to pass in the House. The text of the bill states, “Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part.”

Bill 1813 also stipulates that the car’s owner or lessee owns the data recorded by the EDR and no one else can retrieve it unless there is a medical emergency from a car crash or the data is needed in a legal investigation.

InfoWars attacked the bill for its “Big Brother” nature, saying it takes away a driver’s privacy and lets others find out where we are driving and when. They also criticized it for laying the ground work for more invasive automobile communication devices in the future.

However, EDRs have been voluntarily installed in commercial automobiles for several years. A 2006 report from The National Institute of Highway Safety showed that at least 64 percent of cars surveyed in 2005 had an EDR installed. One hundred percent of cars made by General Motors, Ford, Isuzu, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, and Suzuki came equipped with EDRs. It’s likely that my 2003 Suzuki Aerio came with an EDR that would activate should I ever be in an accident. Check you owner’s manual and you might find a section with warnings and information about the device in your car — your car’s manufacturer was required to put it there.

Despite privacy concerns over the bill, it may end up reducing privacy problems in the long run. It explicitly states that the owner of the car owns the EDR data, an issue that has been debated in the past.

Does an EDR raise privacy concerns for you? Let us know in the comments.

Car crash image via Shutterstock

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