The same technology that's long been used to investigate plane crashes is now frequently employed in car crashes. The New York Times recently reported that about 96% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. now include an event data recorder, better known as the black box. "They can be a great tool to investigators to gather certain information (after a crash), such as how fast the vehicle was going prior to the crash, who might have been wearing a seatbelt, were the headlights on," says Sergeant John Sampa with the Texas Department of Public Safety. He tells KTRH these car black boxes are effective at gathering data that can improve the safety of cars and road design in the future. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration apparently agrees, as the agency is seeking to have the boxes mandated in all new cars by next year.
Privacy and consumer advocates are concerned about the increased use of the black boxes, because the info on them could potentially be used against drivers in court, to raise insurance premiums, or to regulate their behavior on the roads. So far, only a handful of states have laws that govern how and under what circumstances the data can be used. Without clear standards, privacy groups worry all of this crash data could fall into the wrong hands. Sgt. Sampa says the data is only used by law enforcement in certain cases. "We use these data boxes when there's a fatality or some type of serious crash," he explains. "These data boxes are not normally used on a normal crash where both parties are still able to state what happened."
Regardless of state or federal laws, the boxes themselves have built-in safeguards. For instance, the data can only be extracted by a specific separate device, and then must be run through a special computer program in order to be read. In addition, the boxes only record data when there is a collision or the air bag deploys. They do not constantly record data like the black boxes on airplanes. The debate over safeguards is likely to heat up between now and next year, but for officers like Sgt. Sampa, the advent of these auto data recorders is a positive thing. "All of the information that's recorded with these boxes is utilized for traffic safety and saving lives on our roadways," he says.
Get more auto info with the Car Pro Jerry Reynolds Saturdays from 11a.m. to 2 p.m. on Newsradio 740 KTRH