• Aug 7, 2006
Though you may not realize it, your car is probably equipped with an automotive 'black box'. Also known as Event Data Recorders, these devices record information from a vehicle's various sensors during a crash – everything from airbag performance to the angle of the steering wheel to the speed of the vehicle is retained. Though an estimated 90 percent of new vehicles are shipped with the devices, each manufacturer uses their own hardware, software and file formats.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will rule on a universal format for Event Data Recorders in the next 30 days, according to Automotive News. While not going so far as to make EDRs mandatory in every new vehicle, the ruling will create a standard format for data collected by EDRs across many different vehicles. The Society of Automotive Engineers has been given the task to come up with the universal format.

The new ruling will only cost automakers about $8 million, which isn't much in the grand scheme of things. To date these black boxes have aided in voluntary recalls and accident investigations, and automakers claim they're used to make vehicles safer. Of course, the real debate is whether information recorded by an EDR can be submitted as evidence against a driver in court. In that case, Big Brother may now be riding shot gun.

[Source: Automotive News – sub. required]


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  • 22 Comments
      • 8 Years Ago
      I'm not sure how there's a real debate on whether the black box info could be admitted as evidence. Without going into legal details, under the Federal Rules of Evidence, this would be admissible. States are free to adopt their own rules of evidence but most adhere pretty closely to federal ones.

      People in lawsuits are generally required to give the other side evidence that "relates to a claim or defense". That's terribly broad language and would include black box info.

      The black box by itself isn't fundamentally different than what we already have. We have laws that compel you to have and use certain equipment when driving and information about that use is admissible in court.

      For instance, you're required to wear your seatbelt when driving. A witness who sees you wearing it or not wearing it can testify about it. That witness can be compelled to testify just like the other side can compel you to hand over the black box info.

      The major difference is that the black box will make many fewer testimoial mistakes than a person about what really happened.

      I'm not saying it's good or bad to have the black box requirement. I'm merely saying it's not much of an extension of what we've already got. The camel's nose and all that.

      The RFID stuff is nuts though. While it may or may not come to cars, it's coming to your US passport starting this fall. The feds will then have the ability to know where your passport is at all times if they want to track your RFID signal.
      • 8 Years Ago
      although you may not want big brother to look over your shoulder when you drive, we are not perfect. when we drive we feel that we own the road, because we pay taxes. but look at it from a different angle. you are involved in an accident which you are not at fault, but no one believes you. the event data recorder can be the proof. case in point in july of this year my wife was killed in an auto accident. all evidence pointed to that each participant was driving at 45mph when the person that killed my wife jumped the curb exiting a curve and with his truck flattened my wifes car killing her instantly. all evidence said they were each within the speed limit, but the damage was way to extensive for the speed of the accident. the event recorder in my wife car (1998 camry) said she was doing 48mph, the event recorder in the truck (2005 dodge tundra) said he was doing 75mph. it was the only way to stop this guy from getting off with a too bad.
      • 8 Years Ago
      The black boxes collect at least 15 types of data, including vehicle speed, whether the driver was wearing a seat belt, and whether the driver hit the accelerator or the brake before the crash. So it could after all prove to be a very useful device for our vehicles.
      • 8 Years Ago
      Rusty wrote: "there is no tattletale, big brother "black box" in your car - ANY car - recording any "history" of where you go or what you're doing from one minute to the next on a routine basis. There is not now and there WILL NOT be in the future. "

      WRONG! Can you spell ONSTAR??? It's been used for just that purpose and more, for example when a carjacker takes off with a baby in the back. Police have even monitored the sounds inside the car through the installed cell phone microphone without alerting the carjacker (by connecting to the cell phone without ringing it) to make sure the baby is OK. Google it, tons of info on this, including successful baby rescues... It takes a warant or an emergency to get ONSTAR to feed this data to the police, but the capability IS there and HAS been used.

      Rusty also wrote: "What IS in your car is an airbag control module which has a CAPABILITY to record certain crash related bits of information (a) when there's a crash and (b) when the module is still powered shortly after the crash to store that data. It is not "always on" watching your every move. It does NOT store data when the car's simple being driven down the road" "pre crash data" which, for GM, means (1) vehicle speed, (2) engine RPMs, (3) throttle application and (4) brakes ON or OFF (not a percentage of braking) ) and stores that for later retrieval."

      WRONG! Think about this and use common sense... Unless it has a time machine inside it, it HAS to be recording this information BEFORE the crash, because these conditions no longer exist AFTER the initial crash events. The modules write this info on a periodic basis (a few times a second), overwriting older data, and if a crash happens the last set of info is not overwritten because the next write cycle has been stopped by the crash sensors. Loss of power in the crash just helps ensure the last data set (pre-crash) is not overwritten. The memory buffers typically hold three or four sets of data on a rotation in case one set is being written as the crash happens, which can corrupt the data.
      • 8 Years Ago
      OK, time for a deep breath and a reality check. First off, let's get rid of the mindless hysteria, there is no tattletale, big brother "black box" in your car - ANY car - recording any "history" of where you go or what you're doing from one minute to the next on a routine basis. There is not now and there WILL NOT be in the future.

      Currently, there is physically and practially no way no way to expand this technology to capture more than it does. In GM modules, the amount of available storage space not to mention RAM is limited since the "Event Data Recorder" function is secondary to the need to use this processor space and RAM to make sure the airbags work when they're supposed to. The paranoid alarmist pinheads who suggest this technology "could" be expanded to spy on our everyday driving loose sight of the simple realities of the infrastructure and cost involved in expanding the technology to be capable of doing that. THEN they loose sight of who would - or, better who would NOT - fund that effort and to what realistic, practical end? Sure, we "can" do nearly anything but, from a realistic, rational, clear headed analysis of (a) what it takes, (b) who would want it (c) who would pay for it and (d) who would use it...it's not somewhere now or in the future this society is prepared to go despite the hysteria mongers.

      What IS in your car and what CANNOT be disabled without effecting your safety, your warranty and your legal rights in some cases is an airbag control module which has a FUNCTIONAL secondary CAPABILITY to record certain crash related bits of information (a) when there's a crash and (b) when the module is still powered shortly after the crash to store that data. It is not "always on" watching your every move. None of us, not one of us here are so interesting that the black helicopters are following us (you) around watching your every move.

      OEMs get the airbag control module from the supplier and that airbag control module is capable of analyzing crash data to make a decision whether or not to deploy an airbag THEN, that control module may be capable of capturing crash data. The modules only store crash data when there's a crash event of some sort, when there's something that causes the module to evaluate data and decide whether or not to deploy an air bag. It does NOT store data when the car's simple being driven down the road so, no a policeman can's walk up to a car he's stopped and get data unless there's been some manner of crash.

      Assume then that a car gets in a crash, lets say the air bags deploy. After that safety function is completed THEN, the module takes crash severity information, belt use status and other system information as well as - for SOME modules - "pre crash data" which, for GM, means (1) vehicle speed, (2) engine RPMs, (3) throttle application and (4) brakes ON or OFF (not a percentage of braking) ) and stores that for later retrieval. There is no steering, no swerving, no communication with outside communications center(s), no history of where the car goes, no identification of the driver, no indication of its direction of travel...none of that.

      As to the misguided discussion of privacy here. Privacy "rights" do NOT apply to this technology (there's already case law on this). Privacy is something extended to the individual. For someone to suggest that these systems intrude on an individual's privacy is intellectual dishonesty. There's no name, date of birth, social security number, driver license number which are part of the crash data report: read: NO personal, private information. Notably, all of those bits of information ARE already part of the normal police report when there's a crash anyway...so what would it hurt if they were part of this report...but they're not. You cannot assert privacy rights when there is no individual identified, in this case, by the data. Moreover, what activity IS recorded is that which is conducted in PLAIN VIEW in a PUBLIC PLACE where there is (important legal term) no "expectation of privacy." If you think there is, try keeping the testimony of an bystander eyewitness to your diving out of court.

      Lastly, will this data be admitted in trial: yes. It has in more than 9 states thus far and there are more to come. Is it always used "against you?' No, and to believe that is nothing more than simple ignorance. Thin of it this way: you're driving responsibly and "the other guy does something wrong" and you crash. Do you want to rely solely on a human being (the investigating police officer) to get the calculations to find your speed and that of the other guy right or would you rather he get some additional help in the way of crash data from "the other guy's car?" By definition it will be used "against" you 50% of the time and for you 50% of the time.
      • 8 Years Ago
      "the slippery slope that bleeding hearts have created with regard to allowing regulation ad nauseum is now coming to home to roost..."

      Dude...you are so backwards!! Your bleeding hearts will probably make the biggest noise against this.

      BTW: Most cars already have a version of this technology. If you google the topic, you'll come across several sites that show you how to disable some.
      • 8 Years Ago
      as far as the consumer is concerned there is 'no value added'

      if it isnt mandatory who is going to want this in their car?
      • 8 Years Ago
      The Constitution does not give the Federal Government the authority to administer or to require such devices; the slippery slope that bleeding hearts have created with regard to allowing regulation ad nauseum is now coming to home to roost. The time is now folks to tell Uncle Sam, your congressman and your senators that you will not stand for more invasion of our private lives. Standardization of black boxes is not in any power granted by the founding fathers to the Feds and it is about time we start pushing back lest they start mandating you also pay your tolls, taxes, and pay user fees through this box. Don't think it will happen - 50 State Houses are looking at this black box mandate with keen interest so that they can charge you buy the mile. It will happen. Mark my word!
      • 8 Years Ago
      If its not mandatory then who is going to put this in their car? have they even heard the term no value added? I will never own a vehicle with a black box in it.
      • 8 Years Ago
      OnStar (and the Mercedes equivalent) CAN monitor your car's position for you, of course, that's what you're paying for when you subscribe to that service. But (a) OnStar is NOT part of the airbag control module and the key concept here is that the infrastructure doesn't exits to (b) do that real time for any significant number of cars on the road. Not only that but you PAY for that SERVICE, OnStar isn't doing it for themselves or for you or the government for free. Read what I wrote before: real time, wide spread monitoring is logistically and financially impractical. No one will pay for it, no OEM and surely no government agency will pay for the development of the capability to do that on a wide spread basis. On a case-by-case basis with a court issued warrant - sure. On a case-by-case for the owner at their request and if they give OnStar their PIN - sure. That's a lot different than a bunch of guys sitting around drinking beers "spying on" YOU on some screen as you cruise the roadways. Moreover, OnStar does NOT send ANY information to the airbag control module.

      Ok anonymous "Accident Analyst", perhaps a little elementary computer education is required: when you wrote "Unless it has a time machine inside it, it HAS to be recording this information BEFORE the crash," what you're saying demonstrates a total ignorance on the working of this system and simply misstates what "recording" means. NO DATA IS WRITTEN AND RECORDED to the airbag control module's EEPROM until AFTER a crash. Of course it has to reside somewhere before the crash to capture the 5 seconds worth of data before that crash and that place is RAM. Whatever is in RAM is lost when the key's turned off and there IS NO SYSTEM available to capture what is actively in RAM at any one minute. Ever have power cut to your computer before you pushed "save?" Was anything available when you rebooted? Of course not. If you don't affirmatively SAVE to some nonvolatile storage location (the HDD in your computer and the EEPROM in the airbag control module) whatever resided in your computer in RAM is lost when the machine is turned off or power cut.

      So, despite more ignorant unqualified hysteria mongering with a guise of being an "accident analyst" what little you've added here does not detract from the simple truths posted before. This is not a spying system, it won't be used to track people - that's simply impractical - and it's not something that can be accessed from one moment to the next short of their being a crash.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Rusty, thanks for the computer education. Unfortunately, it's also wrong. Look up the technical details of these systems (patent office is a good place to start). They don't use RAM and HDs, they use flash memory (like an iPod or iPhone). The data is written as collected, as my original post stated. On loss of power the data is retained, not lost (that's how flash memory works...).
      william mcgurk
      • 8 Years Ago
      what next,make sure you wipe from front to back?
      • 8 Years Ago
      I will make sure I remove mine before I drive.
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