Black Box Bill Moves Closer to Reality, But Skeptics Remain

Automobile Staff
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The dark cloud surrounding recent automotive safety-based recalls might have a silver lining, albeit a pricey one, if a new bill advances to the House floor.

As we reported earlier, the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 is an attempt to give greater authority to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to prevent a fiasco similar to the one Toyota faced earlier this year. Among the bill’s provisions are the inclusion of overrides for brakes and keyless ignition systems, establishment of a standard pedal placement, and improving “the conspicuity of the neutral position” on transmission gates.

However, the item receiving the most attention is a stipulation to mandate black box recorders that meet stricter requirements that would carry a price tag nearly three times their current price. The black boxes are used to monitor vehicle activity and keep records of overall vehicle performance as well the functionality of safety features, such as airbags and seatbelts. According to Automotive News, the new black boxes would be required to perform in the event of harsher crashes, and withstand extreme heat and water damage.

Both suppliers and lawmakers have expressed reservations about the bill.

OEM suppliers see no way to absorb the higher cost of the new black boxes in the near future, but realize the potential for companies that already produce the black boxes. Put into perspective, the buyer of a higher-priced automobile might not feel the difference of a $4000 data recorder, but “for the guy who is out there buying a Chevy Cobalt, that's a big change to the price of a car,” said an executive at a Tier 1 supplier.

The bill was spearheaded by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), but faces opposition from leading Republicans who see it as an attempt by the government for more control and bureaucracy. Last week, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) argued that the bill’s per-car surcharge of $3 to $9, designed to help fund the initiative, is a further example of misuse of government control.

“If you think this bill helps the automotive industry … I've got a bridge in Brooklyn that I don't own that I'd be happy to sell to you,” Barton said.

What do you think? Will the increased peace of mind and security offset the cost of the black box?

Source: Automotive News (Subscription required)

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