NHTSA proposes accident recorders inside all cars

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new standard for event data recorders in citizens' vehicles that would capture safety-related information in the seconds before and during an accident, extending the devices to all light passenger vehicles starting Sept. 1, 2014.

In a Dec. 7 announcement, the Transportation Department's NHTSA said these devices, often called black boxes, would be triggered by a crash or air bag deployment and require special hardware and software to retrieve the information.

Under the proposed rule (.pdf), the agency will collect information including vehicle speed, use of brakes, force at the moment of impact, air bag deployment and timing, measurements on engine throttle and notice of whether or not seatbelts were in use. The rule says it "does not have any authority to establish legally-binding rules regarding the ownership or use of a vehicle's EDR data" but that it will treat the data as property of the vehicle's owner and will not use or access it without direct consent.

These devices are already in use in 96 percent of the 2013 model year cars, says NHTSA, but current EDRs use a variety of systems that access data in multiple ways. The agency notes that 92 percent of 2010 model vehicles also have some EDR capabilities.

The single standard would provide better security for these devices since the agency could describe exactly what data should be collected, how it is to be stored, how it can be accessed and in what way the data can be made anonymous.

The agency estimates that requiring EDRs would add just $20 in manufacturing costs to each car.

The Senate recently placed the Motor Vehicle and Highway Safety Improvement Act of 2011 (S.1449) on its legislative calendar, and part of the bill seeks to require the Secretary of Transportation to mandate the use of EDRs in passenger motor vehicles under the federal motor vehicle safety standards.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the goal of the EDRs is to understand how drivers respond in crashes and to determine if safety systems are operating properly.

For more:
- read the DOT statement
- download the NHTSA proposal (.pdf)

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