NHTSA wants Black Box EDR in all Cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Friday that it was proposing a new standard that would require light passenger vehicles built on or after Sept. 1, 2014, to have event data recorders, or E.D.R.’s, an earthbound and much less complex version of the “black boxes” long seen in airplanes. The rule will not apply to vehicles weighing more than 8,500 pounds.

It also will not result in a huge change to the status quo, because approximately 96 percent of model year 2013 cars and light-duty vehicles already have E.D.R. capability, the safety agency said. It also said that the cost for an E.D.R. was about $20, and that the total incremental expense associated with its new standard was approximately $26.4 million (in 2010 dollars). It identified 1.32 million light cars and trucks that do not have E.D.R.’s.

Perhaps because it isn’t a costly mandate, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers is not actively opposing the standard, though it has some concerns about privacy and what the future might hold. Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the trade organization, which represents 12 automakers, said that the alliance was “genetically opposed to mandates.” She said the new requirement would simply replace “the current voluntary approach that has put E.D.R.’s in 96 percent of vehicles.”

Ms. Bergquist said she anticipated “further rule-making that will start to expand the data collection — it’s a two-step dance.” She said she expected a N.H.T.S.A. rule requiring rear-view cameras in new vehicles to be made public by the end of the year, but that the alliance considers today’s consumers smart enough to pick their own safety equipment from a widening list of options. “There are at least 19 different kinds of such driver assistance, including adaptive cruise control and blind spot monitoring,” she said.

In 2006, N.H.T.S.A. set forth a rule with some requirements for data collection and other elements of E.D.R.’s, but did not require their installation, in part because it said the automakers were acting voluntarily. In 2010, the safety agency’s administrator, David Strickland, said the agency was considering making the devices mandatory, after the recall of millions of Toyotas with suspected unintended acceleration issues. The agency said its investigation left it with “high confidence” in the reliability and usefulness of Toyota’s E.D.R. data.

In an e-mailed statement, Mr. Strickland said: “E.D.R.’s provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to N.H.T.S.A. to evaluate what happened during a crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries. A broader E.D.R. requirement would ensure the agency has the safety-related information it needs to determine what factors may contribute to crashes across all vehicle manufacturers.” The new rule doesn’t change the requirements for the type or amount of data collected, though that could come later.

The proliferation of E.D.R.’s has led to privacy concerns. Ms. Bergquist said that “some consumers are worried, with all the G.P.S. systems out there, about people knowing where they were, say, at 2 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon.” The collected data also includes some potentially embarrassing information about vehicle speed and whether its driver was wearing a seat belt, and it can be a factor in lawsuits or criminal prosecutions.

But E.D.R.’s do not record a vehicle’s route, speed or safety system performance over an extended period of time, instead recording technical data for a few seconds only. The most recent information is retained in the event of a crash (usually when the air bags deploy).

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