My car the snitch - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

My car the snitch

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Does your car have a black box? If you're driving a new car the answer is likely yes. Black boxes or event data recorders as car manufacturers refer to them track things like acceleration, breaking and whether you're wearing a seat belt the information is saved if you're in a car accident.

"I've never heard of a black box," Ruthie Devuse, a Memphis driver said.

They're called black boxes but the devices are usually silver. They are often linked to the vehicle's air bag system. The federal government estimates black boxes are in 96 percent of new cars.

"I can understand the information that can be used from it, but I mean I didn't know there was on in the car already," Memphis driver Lennard James said.

The National Highway Traffic Administration wants to require event data recorders in all new cars starting in 2014. Privacy watchdogs also want the federal government to pass strict standards for who owns the information collected on the black boxes.

"People need to know what exactly is being recorded and then the second thing is people need control over that data," Nate Cardozo said. Cardozo is a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco based digital rights group. They are pushing privacy rights.

"The black boxes are being mandated at a federal level we think there should be privacy mandates at the federal level as well," Cardozo added.

Some states like Arkansas have passed their own laws prohibiting insurance companies from requiring customers to hand over black box data. But there are no such laws in Tennessee of Mississippi. 

Some drivers believe black boxes will help protect their rights.

 "You know how people cause accidents and might say they're not going so fast, if it's in the car it's going to tell the story," Memphis driver Shelia Harrison said.

Black box supports say the devices improve safety by helping researchers understand what happened during a crash.

 "I've got mixed feelings, I think anything that can make us be more careful is a plus, But I'd be a little concerned about some of the legal aspects." Memphis Driver Mark Matheny added.

Prosecutors and police officers around the Mid-South are very familiar with these devices. If there's a serious crash, they can get a search warrant and pull the data off the black box.

"It reconfirms what the officer's telling you, what his investigation shows," prosecutor Billy Bond said. Bond handles vehicular homicide prosecutions for the Shelby County District Attorney General's Office. He used the black box data along with the information gathered by police during their standard crash investigations.

 "As a prosecutor our burden is always to prove what we're trying to prove beyond any reasonable doubt. So if I prove one way and then prove it another way it comes pretty conclusive that that's what happened," Bond added.

Black box advocates argue you have nothing to worry about if you're following the law. Even so, some drivers aren't comfortable with all the information being collected.

"It's my car, I pay for it, I don't really think it's anybody else's business," Ruthie Devuse said.

Like it or not, the vehicle black box is a new reality is the increasingly digital world.

 "You know Big Brother's always watching so that's just part of the game," Lennard James said.

If you have questions about black boxes in your car contact your car manufacturer of dealer. User manuals will usually disclose if the car has an event data recorder.

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