All new U.S. cars may require a "black box" by 2014


December 28, 2012

The mandatory use of event data recorders may help keep events like this from occurring (Photo: Shutterstock)

The mandatory use of event data recorders may help keep events like this from occurring (Photo: Shutterstock)

Flight data recorders, commonly known as “black boxes,” have been a standard feature in airliners since the early 1960s. More recently, various companies have started offering apps and dedicated devices that essentially serve as black boxes for cars, keeping a record of the vehicle’s parameters and location when involved in an accident. Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing that similar devices become mandatory in all new light passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. by September 1st, 2014.

According to the NHTSA, an estimated 96 percent of model year 2013 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles already come equipped with event data recorders (EDRs).

Unlike the aftermarket devices, which are aimed chiefly at providing proof that a driver wasn’t at fault in an accident, the factory-installed EDRs are intended more as a way of collecting data regarding which actions lead to accidents, and how a vehicle’s safety systems respond when an accident occurs. That data could then be used by automakers or government agencies, to help make roads and vehicles safer.

Some of the EDR-recorded data that the NHTSA hopes to analyze includes things such as vehicle speed; whether or not the brake was activated before a crash; crash forces at the moment of impact; engine throttle level; deployment timing and readiness of air bags; and whether or not the vehicle occupant’s seat belt was buckled. EDRs are triggered by an impact or air bag deployment, and only save data from the moments leading up to and during an accident.

In 2006, the NHTSA established a set of data collection standards for the devices. The new proposal calls for automakers not only to follow those standards, but also to provide a commercially-available tool for copying that data from a vehicle – and for EDRs to be required equipment in any passenger vehicle weighing less than 8,500 pounds (3,856 kg). The agency couldn’t access or use the data without the vehicle owner’s consent, however.

“EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash – and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “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.”

Source: NHTSA via ars technica

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

It sounds like maybe the resale value of my 2012 just went up.


Just because it is technologically possible doesn't mean they should.

Not hard to see where this goes. Next the car will notify the cops whenever you are speeding and soon after the police will track where you are when they want a "word" with you.

Eventually, the cops will be able to push a button to stop you dead in your tracks.

I love technology but not in the hands of the authorities and most certainly not compulsory.

Paul van Dinther

@Diachi They have already been putting them in new vehicles since 2008. Granted not all manufacturers have done this, but most are already there.

Shawn Sieben

"Next the car will notify the cops whenever you are speeding and soon after the police will track where you are when they want a "word" with you.

Eventually, the cops will be able to push a button to stop you dead in your tracks."

Of course, there's an easy solution to that dilemma.

Don't speed.

The fact that a device like this might make it easier for crime prevention agencies to prevent crime is NOT a strong argument against introducing it.

Keith Reeder

This is good news for those who take road safety seriously.

We need all the evidence we can get because Science is bulls#!t without evidence.


When would they include auto seat eject buttons just like what we see in jet fighters?

Cedric Naculangan

It is my understanding that ALL cars built in the USA since 1999 MUST already have such a device. It is located either under the dash or under the driver's seat, and can be 'polled' or its data recovered when 'necessary'. I dont understand why this fact is ignored by the various recent news reports on the matter.

Existing devices 'loop' every 20 seconds ...


About time too! Let's hope the idea goes global. All we really need to do then is put some gaffer tape over the mouths of some motoring journalists, such as Jeremy Clarkson, and we will have much safer roads.

Why are heavier vehicles not subject to the same regulation. Most accidents that they are involved in are usually more dramatic.

Mel Tisdale

It should be made mandatory. To begin with the high priced and/or high speed cars. Evenually insucance companies could promote it elsewhere.


I'm also left to wonder what the definition of "light vehicles" is. The US has an ugly history of excepting light trucks from all kinds of regulations, from fuel efficiency to safety. I also have a low opinion on how light truck drivers behave on the road, but that's not entirely scientific :)


Why anyone would want to give the government more power to intrude on one's privacy is incomprehensible to me. Shades of "Soylent Green". Belief that our government bureaucrats and politicians have our and the country's best interest as the top priority is naive.

Jeffry Florentine

Didn't know about the 20 second loop thing. That sounds reasonable to me. Collecting all data regarding driving habits I find a bit intrusive, i.e. insurance companies basing your speeding habits, or the aforementioned "come in for a talk" come to mind.


It's about time we admitted that we are all bad drivers sometimes. I remember reading somewhere that if you put the fuel tank on the front fender/bumper, would you take so many chances ?? We can't be trusted and the statistics prove it.


This is a red flag for me. The new affordable healthcare plan will give govt. access to health records, now law enforcement and other govt. agencies can see when, where and how fast I drive. Add 2nd amendment changes and the hair on my neck starts to stand up. This is not political, I'm just saying...


I am also against government intrusion on my life. Except on the highway I am generally considered by people that have followed me or ridden with me as too slow a driver and to careful at stop signs (I check left and right twice).

"The agency couldn’t access or use the data without the vehicle owner’s consent, however." is only a court order away from being accessed without permission. It is also only protected until the law changes. That said, in an actual accident I really think the information if present (older cars without would not have) should not only be available but investigators (not insurance until after any legal actions are settled) should be required to access and review the information especially in cases involving a death or serious injury.

I do not agree with the idea of antenna connections such that information can be transmitted via radio signals or similar effects. My reason is not for speeding rather for reasons that some state, county, and local communities have complained about not receiving enough revenue from gasoline taxes. There was even a proposal by one government that vehicles be required to carry gps type devices so the government could monitor road usage and at the end of the year provide a statement to people for taxes owed based on the amount of miles driven by their vehicles. Because many are trying to save fuel purchasing more fuel efficient, hybrid, or total electric vehicles governments are looking for new ways to tax.

I am totally against any technology that allows the government to monitor my vehicle usage amounts. This includes vehicle gps monitoring, black box accumulators (just totals is all they would need), or anything they can come up in the future.


Really - I only see more of our rights to privacy being sucked away in the name of technology so we can all be tracked and controlled using technological intimidation - to keep us accessible for ready access by a control freak society - give us a break! I remember the day when people were concerned about Social Security Cards invading our rights to privacy - so they passed a law that read on the card, "Not to be used for indentification". Now look at us - they use it for everything. It's all just a matter of time, if we do not stay vigilant and stand up against this total takeover which will enslave us into something far worse than serfdom. Think about it people!


The insurance companies have been pushing for this for a long time. I don't need big brother in my car watching my every move, where I go and what time I go. The majority of the people that drive, (probably in the upper 90%), are law abiding citizens. Who's going to pay for this? Right!!! Get out of my car and get the people with 6 DWI's off the road! Get the unsafe cars, trucks and buses off the road! Vehicle safety inspection would be much more fruitful of an idea.


Taken to the next level you should never get a speeding ticket. Control of the on-board electronics can set your speed to coincide with wherever the GPS says you are. It can also be varied depending on road conditions when wet or icy. Accident up ahead in the dense fog? Not a problem. Reduce the speed and communicate with the driver to pull over where it's safe then put the 4 ways on and shut the car down until it's OK to proceed.

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