Could your car tell on you?

Molly Wood May 17, 2012

You might be driving in a car right now with a black box recorder, kind of like the black boxes airplanes have. Congress could make every car have one of these in the next couple of years.

Justin Berkowitz is an editor at Car and Driver.

Justin Berkowitz: The technical term is event data recorders. They’re much dumber than the black boxes you get on an airplane. And they record typically events related to actual collisions. So, they’re going to be looking at how hard you pressed the brake if you’ve collided with something, for how long you pressed it, how far away were you when you pressed the brake. What was your speed? And then they collect some safety data as well. How did the airbags deploy? Were you wearing a seat belt?

Hill: And so is it collecting this data all of the time and then it just stops if I’m in a crash? Or how does that work?

Berkowitz: It doesn’t store anything in the long term. It doesn’t want to keep a record of how fast you went on Tuesday, but the computer is interested in how fast you were going right before a collision.

A lot of cars already have these devices, but there’s not much clarity about how and when and who can see the data they collect. Should my car be able to tell on me for driving too fast?

Scott Peppet is a professor at the University of Colorado Law School. He says, “Could your insurance company have as a condition of getting an insurance policy that you, in advance, say, if I’m ever in an accident, you can get to my black box data. A couple of states right now, Oregon, North Dakota, Arkansas, have rules that say they can’t make that a condition of your insurance policy, but the vast majority of states haven’t said anything about that.”

And Peppet says more advanced recording devices are on the way. “Right now, you can get really big discounts on your insurance premiums in programs like Progressive’s if you’re willing to put a different kind of black box sensor in your car. Those are actually much more privacy invasive in a sense. They record data for 30 days about how you drive and then Progressive says you’re a good driver, we’ll give you 25 percent off your insurance premiums.”

And what about the people who don’t want to sign up for the program?

“Does that mean your insurance premiums are kind of automatically higher because the insurance company says well, gee, then you must be a bad driver.” Peppet says this is the direction we’re headed, until there are clearer rules.


Verizon’s CFO Fran Shammo says customers grandfathered into unlimited data plans are going have to get on a tiered data plan when they move onto the 4G network. We decided to reach out for a few pop-stars for their reaction.

Milli Vanilli, what do you think about the withering away of unlimited data?

Milli Vanilli: It’s a tragedy for me to see the dream is over.

Tragedy might be a little strong, but you guys have misrepresneted things before.

How about you, Sarah McLachlan?

Sarah McLachlan: Clinging to a past that doesn’t let me choose.

That’s a little intense.

And Gloria Gaynor, what was your reaction when you heard the news?

Gloria Gaynor: At first I was afraid, I was petrified.

And then what’d you realize?

Gaynor: I’ve got all my life to live, I’ll got all my love to give, I will survive. I will survive.

You go girl.

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