It's estimated that about 90 percent of new cars and light trucks today have some form of data recorder, or "black box," installed, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is expected to make the devices mandatory on all new cars.
The last hurdle before NHTSA finalization was a sign-off by the White House of Office of Management and Budget, which gave the a-okay yesterday. With the ball now in NHTSA's court, it's only a matter of time before the regulations are finalized, although it's unclear when the rules would take effect.
Event Data Recorders, or EDRs, entered the public conscience many years ago when they became integral parts of investigating plane crashes. The recorders were dubbed "black boxes" by mechanics because they're basically untouchable items--most recorders are proprietary and require special approval and tools to be read. Today's automotive EDR is now governed by NHTSA regulations from 2006 that standardized the types of information it must collect.
Today's EDRs connect to an army of sensors and computers on-board: an EDR can remember the last few seconds before a crash occurs, and keep track of things like occupancy and seat-belt usage, traction control status (on/off, activated, etc.), and speed. A black box was what finally implicated Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray when he totaled his state-issued Ford Crown Victoria late last year: data showed that he was traveling at about 75 mph (without a seatbelt) when he fell asleep, taking the car up to roughly 100 mph when he veered off the road. Murray was later fined by Massachusetts State Police.
Whether or not the NHTSA guidelines are supported by automakers is almost irrelevant--most of the world's largest automakers, including General Motors, Ford, and Toyota, already package new cars with EDRs--but the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers urged the government to include privacy provisions in the new regulations. It's unclear what those provisions would look like--especially as many consumers are already warming up to usage-based car insurance programs like State Farm (which tracks miles driven through OnStar) and Progressive (which uses a car's On-Board Diagnostics port to track driving habits), which open up a driver's where/when/how to new parties.
We'd love to know what you think about data recorders--are mandatory black boxes a step too far, or is this par for the course? Should your last 10 seconds before a crash be recorded for insurance adjusters and police officers? What types of information are ok to share? Let us know in the comments below.