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Black Boxes Are 'Essential' To Auto Safety, Says Top Safety Regulator

Earlier this month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made a proposal that would require the installation of event data recorders in all new vehicles starting in September 2014. The head of the NHTSA has now said that black boxes are "essential to auto safety" and also indicated that the government will take steps to protect the privacy of motorists. At the same time, he indicated that he does not support the suggestion of some privacy advocates that motorists be given the option to turn off the event data recorders.

The first black boxes began appearing in vehicles in 1999. According to NHTSA data, approximately 96 percent of the cars and light-duty vehicles of 2013 already have event data recorder capability, with at least 91 percent already having the devices installed and functioning. The event data recorders are typically triggered by a crash or the deployment of the air bag. The devices then store the data detailing what the vehicle was doing in the second leading up to and including the collision. The NHTSA says the information is vital for understanding motor vehicle safety issues and for addressing the safety issues with auto manufacturers. The data recorded includes speed, brake and accelerator use, forces present at the moment of impact, air bag deployment information, and whether or not the seat belts were buckled.

Privacy concerns have been expressed by the AAA and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. These groups are seeking assurances that the data cannot be used without permission from the vehicle's owner or through a court order, if the data can be tracked to a specific vehicle. Some are concerned that the data will be used to raise a driver's insurance rates or deny valid insurance claims.

The benefits of providing accurate, complete data regarding a car crash should not be underestimated. Making highway transportation safer is the goal of the NHTSA. Concerns over privacy should be addressed appropriately so the benefits of this technology can be fully realized.

Source: The Detroit News, "NHTSA: Data recorders 'essential' to auto safety," by David Shepardson, 19 December 2012

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