Feds Wants Black Boxes In All New Cars

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed making electronic digital recorders (EDR), aka black boxes, mandatory in all new cars sold in the United States. Currently, manufacturers are voluntarily complying.

In my book, When Gadgets Betray Us I talk about automobile black boxes. "First introduced into cars by General Motors in the 1970s, black boxes were designed to measure the performance of the air bag system at the moment of a crash—and that alone. Problems and deaths had been associated with early air bags’ inflating too fast and too hard at the time of a crash. Triggered by the g-forces that often accompany sudden acceleration, torque, or braking action, those early black boxes, known as air bag sensing and diagnostic modules (SDMs), only recorded events in one-second intervals for five seconds before the collision. The technical data from those car crashes allowed GM engineers to reconstruct the events leading to air bag deployment and design the safer air bag system we have today.

"Starting in the 1990s, GM and other auto manufacturers added memory to the SDM gadgets, allowing them to start collecting and recording data in the seconds before, during, and after a collision. Made by Bosch (formerly Vetronix), these new black boxes—they are actually silver—are known generally within the industry as event data recorders. Specifically, motor vehicle event data recorders (MVEDRs) are wired into a car’s electrical system and monitor multiple sensors located throughout the car. Although the MVEDRs receive data all the time, they only record when there’s an airbag deployment or an increase in g-forces."

The NHTSA declined to make it mandatory in 2005, but now appears to have changed its mind. "A broader EDR requirement would ensure the agency has the safety-related information it needs to determine what factors may contribute to crashes across all vehicle manufacturers," NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told ABC News recently.