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
"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
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
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.