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New rule: Car buyers must be told about ‘black box’ . . . in 2010

November 18, 2010

By the 2011 model year, automakers must inform consumers when their car has been equipped with an Event Data Recorder, under a regulation announced Aug. 21 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.


Event Data Recorders, similar to "black boxes" used in commercial airliners, record data about what a car is doing in the moments just before and after a crash. They don’t record the voices of occupants but they do record things like speed, steering wheel movement, how hard the brakes are pressed and the car’s actual movement. 

About 65 percent of model year 2005 cars were equipped with EDRs, according to the NHTSA. Data from the recorders is used by law enforcement and attorneys to recreate events leading up to an accident. Data also is used by car companies to research how cars and drivers perform in actual crashes.


Some privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data, which can be used as evidence in court cases, is being collected without the knowledge of vehicle owners and drivers. 

Several states have already passed laws that restrict how the data can be used. Information about the EDR, if one is installed, will have to be included in the vehicle’s owner’s manual.


The new rule also requires EDRs to collect a uniform set of data. Having uniform data will help investigators to recreate crashes and determine causes, the agency said. More-uniform data will also make it easier to develop systems so that, in cars equipped with automatic 911 emergency notification, data about the crash can also be passed along to paramedics and ambulance crews.