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Safety vs. Privacy: the black box dilemma

Event data recorders – “black boxes” – will be standard on every new car sold in the U.S.  by the end of 2014.

Black boxes do not run all the time, but record your car’s information during a crash, including:

  • speed
  • brake activation
  • airbag deployment
  • seat belt position

There are good reasons to collect this data. Auto companies use black box data to study the effectiveness of safety features.  If you were hurt in a car crash because your airbag did not deploy on time, a black box record of that information would be very useful.

 “By understanding how drivers respond in a crash and whether key safety systems operate properly, NHTSA and automakers can make our vehicles and our roadways even safer…”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

Privacy concerns

Who owns the information collected by your car when you drive? That could potentially be the car manufacturer, which uses it for safety monitoring, the accident investigators who pull the data record from the black box, or even your car insurance company, which could obtain that data after a car accident.

Would there have to be a car wreck for the data to be pulled, or could it be checked anytime? Could GPS monitoring be considered part of the black box?

There are no answers, because there are no federal standards regarding permissible use of that data. And that lack of standards is alarming. It’s just not as alarming as the deaths of 36,200 people on U.S. roads in 2012 – the highest fatality rate in years. NHTSA should use black box data to determine the cause of these motor vehicle accident fatalities.

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