The Drive for Data: Automobile Black Boxes

Will an increase in automobile defects drive manufacturers toward new and improved event data recorders for motor vehicles?

Consumers are reeling from recent recalls by General Motors, Toyota, Nissan and Ford. While these recalls may be a symptom of corporate fear of liability rather than responsibility, the recalls do warn motorists of dangerous defects built into their cars.

Event data recorders (EDRs) are also built into cars. The devices, which use similar black box technology to airplanes, are examined by car manufacturers and law enforcement when investigating the details of serious motor vehicle accidents.

With the tragic disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370, discussion of black boxes went mainstream. Airline black boxes capture analytics useful in analyzing everyday airline operations as well as crash scenarios.

In contrast, automotive black boxes record only the last seconds of data prior to a collision. Some safety experts suggest that automobile EDRs should be improved to record more data over longer periods of vehicle operation. On the other hand, expanding the recording capabilities of EDRs is controversial. Consider the following points and issues:

  • Enhanced EDRs could allow safety agencies to more quickly identify deadly defects like the GM defective ignition switch.
  • In an accident or emergency situation, more intelligent black boxes could signal for emergency help.
  • More data give automakers in-depth feedback about a vehicle’s operation and performance.
  • Increased data gathering by EDRs is likely to spark concern over privacy issues and the ownership and use of data.

As the only witness to some accidents, EDRs offer valuable information. Current EDRs record important, but brief, information. Improved EDRs would reveal more — but how much more are consumers willing to allow in the same of safety? And where are legal lines drawn in terms of protecting privacy and preventing illegal searches?

In a culture driven by data and documentation, EDRs are sure to evolve. If you are injured in an automobile accident in North Carolina, information on your EDR may help your case. Consult an attorney to review your rights.

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