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Long before shows like CSI misled the public about how long a DNA test takes and introduced the mythical world of "zoom and enhance," airplane black boxes were making people think you could minutely recreate an air disaster if you could just get the box. Not so. Turns out that quite a few cars sold in the U.S. have black boxes as well, with the same limitations: you can retrieve a certain set of data from them, but its quality and usefulness varies.

Toyota has been phasing black boxes into its cars since 2001, but stresses that the data collected is for "general safety research, not accident reconstruction." The data collected comes from several collection points like the acceleration and airbag modules. While it can help solve a case like the one of the zooming Prius in New York, where the woman was actually pressing the accelerator and not the brake, in other cases it won't prove effective, such as when the data being gathered is from the same corrupt source that's part of the problem.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has laid out some uniform regulations to cover black boxes from 2012. Just about every automaker selling cars here uses them, but they collect different data and an owner's access to that data differs across the country. Carmakers are generally in agreement with the new regs, but want to push the date back a year to fall in line with vehicle development timelines. The bigger issue, though, isn't what a black box is going to record, but what it will do with those recordings, who can get to them, and how easily.

[Source: USA Today]

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      there goes the last part of my freedom... :)
        • 4 Years Ago
        Many people have great reasons for taking our freedoms away. Mainly due to immorality. It makes me sick that I (as a moral, law abiding citizen) have to give up freedoms due to others immorality. Therefore I am against it, even if claimed for the greater good. Im a firm believer in keeping my freedoms even though others insist on abusing them and getting them taken away for others.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Ripping it out likely has consequences.

        They wouldn't mandate it without them.

        It could theoretically break a signal protocol that would prevent your car from starting, or something.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Agreed. They keep doing this crap and then saying "We would never use it to impose on your freedoms" Well they are making VERY easy to do so. I would rip it out if I had it in mine.
      • 4 Years Ago
      katshot is right, this is nothing new. For those who are paranoid about "everybody seeing what I'm doing" just relax. This is a necessary piece of equipment that could save your financial butt in a collision that you are convinced isn't your fault.
      • 4 Years Ago
      So, how do I remove the box from my car?
      • 4 Years Ago
      Nothing new. These items have been in cars for a LONG time. We had them in our 2000 Cadillacs. As I recall, they basically take a snap-shot of many of the input sensors around the car once an airbag blows. It grabs a few seconds prior to the event, so the OEM can see what the car was doing at the time of the airbag deployment. My understanding is that the data is only retrievable with a court-order.
      • 4 Years Ago
      no boxes-no boxes-no boxes. nothing is safe in the hands of the government or anyone else anymore. computer hackers are into everything. also you cannot believe anything the government tells you, they are always changing their minds. and if a big government official runs into you while he/she is drunk or whatever, guess whose guilty or the box got lost or did not work.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I love how the VIN is written on it with permanent marker.

      How can the part of a car that can be used to determine whether or not you are at fault for an accident be one of the only parts of the car without the VIN on it?
        • 4 Years Ago
        the vin is programmed in the module. The marker is so you can see it w/o a computer.
      • 4 Years Ago
      You guys are up in arms over nothing. I work at GM and I have used data off of these recorders a couple times in the past. Law enforcement has to send us a request for the data and even then they have to supply a good reason for wanting it or they don't get it. The recorders on GM vehicles have quite a bit of information, but only record a 30 second running timeframe, and 5 seconds around any airbag deployment.

      For instance, I got a lawsuit once that alleged that a customer got into an accident and had $4000 in repairs on her car because her rollover airbags just deployed out of nowhere. What did the recorder and vehicle inspection reveal? She hit a curb going almost 50 mph and the side curtain airbags deployed when the vehicle was at a 46 degree angle (they are designed to deploy BEFORE you roll over so you don't get thrown from the car). Had a screwed up tire and wheel where she hit the curb and everything.

      If you think police are going to write you tickets or insurance is going to deny coverage because of the information on these, you'd be wrong. Insurance companies aren't even on the short list of people we could possibly release this information to (which would be a) courts b) police if necessary c) NHTSA).
      • 4 Years Ago
      What this has anything to do with freedom that some of you are talking about. Does it prevent you drive to somewhere or lock you in the car? Serious dudes, the only time information been pulled is after accidents, and wouldn’t you want truth being uncovered then? Unless you are hiding something.
      Maybe FBI shouldn’t allowed to gather fingerprints in the crime site either, that also violate someone’s freedom.
      • 4 Years Ago
      It will be abused! As in; you are doing 75 in a 60, driver pulls out in front of you without looking, you bulls eye the driver side, EDR says you were doing 75, you get charged, the fact that someone pulled out in front will never get mentioned.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Precisely Joinger D, they will use the data as they see fit. Even if the other driver is drunk they will say it is speed that caused the accident not impaired driving, or speed contributed to the accident. I do not trust the police, the insurance companies or the lawyers with this information.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Err, why were you doing 75 in 60? Thats breaking the law already.

        Also, I've been in a situation where the person was driving 60km/h in 30 km/h zone and slammed into my side as I was pulling out - I saw him coming but far away that it seemed safe. Sure wish they considered his speed before making me pay for the whole thing
      • 4 Years Ago
      If I get a car with one, it's getting taken out. I don't care if I have to re-wire my entire harness to do it. Right to privacy much?
      • 4 Years Ago
      "The bigger issue, though, isn't what a black box is going to record, but what it will do with those recordings, who can get to them, and how easily."

        • 4 Years Ago
        Is there a list of cars with and cars without? My next new car will not have a black box.

        If Big Sister requires that all cars be sold with them in the future, I will rip out this festering cancer....
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