DOT Proposal Calls for Mandatory Installation of "Black Boxes" in Cars, Light Trucks

A motor vehicle black box, which is a device that records crash-related data, may soon be required in new cars and light trucks under a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) proposal. The data records from these devices could keep tabs on various items that may help reconstruct auto accidents and lead to possible safety enhancements, but concerns regarding privacy issues have consumers and consumer advocates worried about the potential change in federal regulation.

Proposed 'Black Box' Rule

Per a recent proposal made by the DOT, automakers would be required to install devices that record crash-related data, or vehicle "black boxes," in all new cars and light trucks effective September 1, 2014. In the event a motor vehicle is in an accident, the black box would track a variety of crash-related information, such as vehicle speed, brake activation, seat belt use, and the force of impact, in the seconds prior to a collision and during it as well.

The recorded data would help automakers and investigators better grasp crash dynamics and the performance of air bags and vehicle systems, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The data may also help reconstruct traffic accidents, which can help develop safety enhancements. An NHTSA administrator states that these technological devices will help to know "what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries."

Controversy Regarding the Proposal

The DOT proposal regarding the mandatory installation of these data records has raised some concerns regarding several issues.

Consumer advocates believe these black boxes may result in higher insurance rates for drivers whose behavior is being monitored. In addition, privacy leaders believe the black box data could be used to spy on motorists, raising "pressing privacy concerns," according to a member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU member asks the pertinent question as to who will be able to access the information and how long the data will be collected.

The NHTSA, mindful of the privacy concerns, said the devices would not collect any personal, identifying information, run continuously, or record conversations. The agency adds that an airbag deployment or crash will typically trigger the on-switch. The recorded data will also not be accessed by the agency without owner consent under the proposed rule.

Preserving the Safety of Washington Drivers

At Hardwick & Pendergast, P.S., our Seattle car accident attorneys understand the importance of developing and enhancing safety technology in motor vehicles to help understand the causes of accidents as a way to prevent them. We also know that motor vehicle accidents are all too common of an occurrence and without proper compensation from the parties responsible for the crash, the road to recovery may be much more difficult.

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