The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would like to make it mandatory for automakers to install a so-called “black box” in all new cars and light trucks.
The devices, also known as event data recorders, have long been used by investigators to discover the root cause of commercial airplane crashes. In recent years however, automakers have quietly begun installing similar products in more and more cars.
Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray of Massachusetts found out the hard way last year.
He crashed a car he was driving and told police that he was wearing a seatbelt and was not speeding at the time of the crash.
However the black box installed in his car revealed he was actually speeding at 75 miles per hour in a 65 mile per hour zone, before accelerating to more than 100 miles per hour.
According to Scott Ferson, a spokesman for the lieutenant governor’s campaign, Murray believes he either fell asleep or hit black ice.
The lieutenant governor was not issued a ticket at the time of the accident. However, after police examined the vehicle’s black box they handed Murray a $555 ticket for speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour.
Ferson says that Murray did not dispute the findings of the black box investigation and elected to pay the fine in full. He also said the lieutenant governor reimbursed the state for the cost of the vehicle he crashed, which was government owned.
The data recorders track a number of items, including vehicle speed, whether a driver tried to step on the brakes before a crash, information about engine throttle, air bag readiness before a crash, and whether seat belts were buckled.
The NHTSA believes the data the black boxes could collect will save lives in the future by providing a broader picture of why and how crashes occur.
“A broader EDR requirement would ensure the agency has the safety-related information it needs to determine what factors may contribute to crashes across all vehicle manufacturers,” NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said.
Consumer and privacy advocates do not disagree there are many potential benefits from the devices, but insist that proper safeguards be put in place to prevent your car from turning into a spy of sorts for insurance companies that may want to raise your rates.
“There are important safety concerns here and they shouldn’t be ignored, but there are also pressing privacy concerns,” said Chris Calabrese of the American Civil Liberties Union. “Chiefly, who’s going to access this information and how long is it going to be collected? I’d make sure that the owner of the vehicle controls the data.”