It used to be that if you owned a car, you could fix a car. Not much to it other than four wheels, a few spark plugs, and a couple nuts and bolts. But this isn’t the Model-T era. It’s not even the Pontiac Fiero era. Cars are such complicated computers that, when you take them in for service, they need other complicated computers to diagnose what’s wrong with them. That’s why, yesterday, a division of the National Academy of Sciences recommended new safety monitoring features to help with accident data reporting. According to the New York Times, it made the recommendations to “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to add technical help, refine its investigative techniques and push for automakers to install ‘black boxes’ that record data in car crashes. It also recommended that the federal agency form an advisory panel of specialists who can assist both in regulatory reviews and specific vehicle investigations.”
The recommendations stem from the gigantic Toyota recalls in 2009 and 2010, where accelerators were found to be sticking. Although an NHTS investigation found that there was nothing, electronically, wrong with the cars, there is still some doubt. Expect some serious privacy debates before a black box, capable of tracking your every move, becomes as common as the manifold.