If you have purchased a new vehicle within the last few years, chances are it includes an event data recorder, also frequently referred to as an automobile black box or EDR system. In the United States, EDRs have been installed in about 80 percent of all passenger cars produced since 2004, though many people are not even aware that this device is in their cars. These people might be aware if they read their owner's manuals, which few people really do. Quite a few states in America have regulations in place that require car manufacturers to disclose the use of EDR's in the vehicles owner's manual, and many manufacturers provide this information voluntarily if there are no governing disclosure laws in place. General Motors, Ford and Toyota all include mention of the presence of an EDR system in the vehicles owners manual and describe the nature of the data that is recorded and stored.
Event data recorders are incorporated into the air bag system of a vehicle and its sensors are capable of and intended to record pre and post crash information. This information is stored in the vehicles processor and typically includes the speed at which the car was traveling and brake utilization within 5 seconds prior to impact, as well as the throttle position and whether or not the driver and passengers were wearing their seatbelts. This information can be influential during automobile accident investigations by helping to determine the cause of the accident. Though often compared in theory to the black box installed on an aircraft, the EDR's used by the automotive industry are not as sophisticated and do not record audio or nearly as much information as the black boxes used in aircraft.
EDRs were first designed to help car manufacturers monitor the performance of certain safety features, such as airbag deployment and seatbelt tension performance in the event of an accident. Various manufacturer professionals would analyze vehicles that had been in accidents and then use the information provided by the EDR to improve their safety systems. EDRs have also provided information that has been instrumental in determining the need to recall vehicles for necessary upgrades and repairs that improve the safety of the vehicle. Those in favor of EDR systems believe that the information that is gathered and stored has the potential to save lives as well as aid law enforcement without being too invasive.
Despite this potential, many people are concerned about their privacy and many questions surround who owns the EDR data and who has the right to retrieve that data. Currently, there are no industry or government standards that regulate these devices to ensure their accuracy and reliability. It has also been noted that EDR's record speed related data based on wheel speed, which is different from ground speed or the actual rate of speed the car is traveling and can be affected by road and vehicle positions.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently put forth a proposal requesting that the data from these automotive EDR systems be standardized within the automotive industry in terms of how the information is stored and measured. The NHTSA has furthermore suggested that ownership of the data be the possession of the owner of the vehicle, which would mean that an owner's permission would be necessary in order to download and analyze the data for any reason. Until these suggestions become law, the gray area and controversy surrounding automotive EDR systems and the data collected will most certainly be a hot legal topic visited by insurance companies and automotive rental agencies, as well as automotive consumers.