Automakers Must Tell Consumers About Black Boxes

Under a new federal rule issued this week by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), automakers, for the first time, will be required to inform new car buyers if an Event Data Recorder (EDR) has been installed on their vehicle by September 1, 2010. The new federal legislation will apply to all passenger vehicles and light trucks having a gross weight of 8,500 pounds or less, on which EDRs are installed.

The new rule will not require automakers to install the electronic EDR devices that capture crash data for a few seconds before, during and after a crash. It is estimated that 64 percent of model year 2005 passenger vehicles came equipped with EDR devices. In 2004, 30 million cars and trucks were equipped with them, according to the National Motorists Association (NMA).

Automakers choosing to install EDR devices on model year 2011 vehicles will be required to note in the owner’s manual that the safety monitoring equipment has been installed. The new rule also includes requirements designed to ensure that the data collected by EDRs can be used to improve highway safety and improve the durability of the devices in order to protect the data during a crash.

The NHTSA notes that having access to uniform crash information from EDRs, regardless of manufacturer, will assist investigators in recreating a crash scene and determining the causes of it. Therefore the new rule requires automakers who choose to install EDR devices, to collect the same types of crash data in order to support the development of new safety regulations based on accurate data from vehicle owners who agree to share information from the EDR with the NHTSA.

Ars Technica reports that the data to be recorded by the EDR includes:

  • Vehicle speed during the 5 seconds prior to the crash
  • Change in forward crash speed
  • Brake use
  • Driver use of a seat belt
  • Airbag deployment
  • Vehicle roll angle (in the event of a rollover crash)
  • Lateral Acceleration of the vehicle

The rule does not require that EDR devices record data regarding the location of the vehicle, and according to Ars Technica, this is not a capability of the devices, although it can be added.

The NMA, which supports reasonable traffic laws and fair enforcement practices that don’t conflict with individual liberties, has raised questions regarding the research value of EDR data collected from all 200 million vehicles on American roads. Concerns have also been expressed about the true purpose of installing EDR devices on passenger vehicles, and the NMA has taken the position that it has more to do with “regulatory, enforcement, judicial, and corporate economic interests” than valid research. Nonetheless, the NMA has taken a position intended to permit research while preventing EDRs and similar devices from being used to the detriment of uninformed and unwilling vehicle operators and owners.

The NHTSA said it expects the new rule will enhance the value of automatic crash notification systems, including the Enhanced 911 emergency response system currently under development, by making it easier for vehicles equipped with automatic crash notification features to provide accurate and immediate information to emergency personnel, as well.

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