DOT wants to mandate black boxes for cars

Car crash data could be a big data boon for government.

We’ve come a long way from crash test dummies.

The Transportation Department proposed a new rule this month that would require all automakers to begin installing the equivalent of an airplane’s black box in their vehicles by September 2014.

More than 95 percent of 2013 model passenger cars already carry the “event data recorders,” according to estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The recorders collect information in the moments before and during a crash, the agency said, such as “vehicle speed; whether the brake was activated in the moments before a crash; crash forces at the moment of impact; information about the state of the engine throttle; air bag deployment timing and air bag readiness prior to the crash; and whether the vehicle occupant's seat belt was buckled.”

The devices are an example of how new data-rich technology might help government and industry take a lot of the guesswork out of policy decisions such as car safety standards.

The devices only begin recording in the moments before a crash, require special software for decoding and are considered the car owner’s property unless the owner voluntarily gives them to government researchers, the agency said. If enacted, the mandate is still likely to raise concerns among privacy activists, who may fear the recorders could be hacked into remotely or subpoenaed during a trial. 

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