A black box for your car

Adriene Hill May 16, 2012

Congress is working on legislation that’ll require “black boxes” in all new cars.  Scary sounding, right?  “Black box” reminds me too much of terrible plane crashes–so I’m going to use the more formal Electronic Data Recorder (EDR) from here on out. From Wired

Bill 1813 that mandates EDRs for every car sold in the U.S. starting with the model year 2015 has already passed the Senate. The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to pass a version of the bill with slightly different language. 

Apparently these EDRs can help determine what caused a car crash –and were helpful in the resolving the Toyota-sudden-acceleration controversy.  

But there’s an interesting question these boxes raise, who can access the data.  Here’s Car and Driver:

What the Senate bill does make clear is that the data is owned by the car’s owner or lessee. But if the police or other agencies want to retrieve it without the owner’s consent, they’ll need a court order. First responders such as paramedics would also have access to the data—without a court order, even—in cases where it will help them respond to an emergency.

The sensitivity, of course, comes from the potential incrimination of drivers by using the data. Stuff like intake-manifold pressure and fuel mixture are of interest only to the hardest-core gearheads, but information on raw speed and pedal application could be used against a driver. While finding fault in a fatal accident—or, say, clearing an automaker of unintended-acceleration accusations—are noble causes, what’s stopping agencies from seeking court-mandated access to the box for simple speeding violations? A lot, as it turns out. The requirements for getting a court order for access are likely to be as stringent as they are for issuing a search warrant.

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