Government to require black boxes in all new cars

Government to require black boxes in all new cars »Play Video
This July 16, 2003, file photo shows emergency officials assisting injured pedestrians after a car plowed through a crowded farmers market in Santa Monica, Calif. (AP Photo/Nate Rawner)
When we talk about getting information from data recorders, we're usually talking about the "black boxes" installed in air planes. But the federal government just proposed a new standard that requires event data recorders in all new cars and light trucks weighing less than 8,500 pounds, starting September of 2014.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says the motivation is safety, but the new push is raising a lot of questions about what happens to the information.

The event data recorders, EDRs for short, are designed to record and preserve specific information during the 5 to 10 seconds before a collision, perhaps a few seconds after. How fast was the vehicle traveling? Were the brakes activated? What was the force of impact? When did the airbag deploy? Was the seat belt buckled?

Right now EDRs are voluntary. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants them mandatory to give crash investigators critical information that might not otherwise be available to evaluate the dynamics of a collision. The proposed regulation also requires car makers to provide commercially available tools for retrieving the black box information so the data cannot be controlled or withheld, by the manufacturer.

Safety advocates like the idea. Manufacturers say it's not necessary, since most new vehicles already have the boxes. Privacy advocates worry there are no limits on how the information can be used.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it's investigators could only have access to your EDR data if you give permission. But the information could be obtained without your permission, by law enforcement, insurance companies and attorneys. In fact, EDR information has been used increasingly in court- to refute testimony when drivers change the facts about how a collision occurred.

Public comment on the proposal will be accepted starting Monday, Dec. 10. The comment period will only be open for 60 days. For more information and a link to add your comments, visit nhtsa.gov.