Black Boxes: A New Standard for Cars?

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Black boxes could come standard in all new vehicles if newly-proposed safety regulations are adopted.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) have drafted a bill in response to Toyota’s massive recalls that includes a provision requiring the installation of black boxes in all new cars, according to The Washington Post.

If installed in cars, so-called “event data recorders,” which will likely be simpler that those used in airplanes, will be used to collect data on a vehicle’s performance leading up to, during and after a crash. A black box in an out-of-control Toyota (Stock Quote: TM), for instance be able to record the speed at which the vehicle was traveling, ideally whether the driver tried to hit the brakes, and whether the airbags were deployed.

They’re Already Here

Many cars on the road today already contain event recorders that can provide data including a car’s speed, acceleration and driver inputs like braking, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In fact, about 64% of 2005 model-year cars had some sort of vehicle data recording capabilities, the NHTSA says.

The devices were first recommended by another government agency, the National Transportation Safety Board, in 1997, but recent Toyota recalls have led regulators to reconsider industry-wide use of the recorders.

Not only would data collected be used to identify potential problems with cars themselves, in some cases, it could be immediately dispatched to emergency responders and reported to regulators. If they'd been installed in the recalled Toyotas, however, it's unclear whether they would have been able to identify why they sped out of control.

The Proposal

Drivers have been able to purchase and install their own black boxes for the past few years, but officials are currently proposing industry-wide adoption of the devices.  The recorders would be required in all new cars, but not old ones, and automakers would have to pay the NHTSA “vehicle safety user fees," according to The Washington Post. Car companies would pay $3 per vehicle for the first three years, then up to $9 thereafter, the Post writes. The conditions that constitute a crash or other serious incident have yet to be determined, but the increased collection of data could help both automakers and regulators improve driver safety.

Unlike black boxes in airplanes, the ones for cars probably won’t have voice recording capability, according to DailyTech.com.

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