Obama Bypasses Congress to Mandate Black Boxes for All Cars -- Beginning in '14

Pete Winn | December 13, 2012 | 5:06pm EST
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Electronic Data Recorder, or "Black box." (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Bypassing Congress, the Obama administration has issued a proposed administrative rule, which if adopted, would mandate the installation of "black boxes" in all automobiles and light trucks beginning in 2014.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed the regulation on Dec. 7, which it said “would capture valuable safety-related data in the seconds before and during a motor vehicle crash.”

The proposed standard would require automakers to install event data recorders (EDRs) – so-called “black box devices” -- to collect specific safety related data in all light passenger vehicles beginning Sept. 1, 2014.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said approximately 96 percent of model year 2013 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles are already equipped with black-box capability.

“By understanding how drivers respond in a crash and whether key safety systems operate properly, NHTSA and automakers can make our vehicles and our roadways even safer,” LaHood said in a news release. “This proposal will give us the critical insight and information we need to save more lives.”

EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and do not run continuously, according to LaHood.

After a crash or air bag deploys, the EDR would collects data in the seconds before and during a crash, including: 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.

But Horace Cooper of the National Center for Public Policy Analysis called the move “an unprecedented breach of privacy for Americans.”

“Not only will this new requirement give new resources and data to the DOT to support more economically-damaging regulations in the future, this mandate itself represents an unprecedented breach of privacy for Americans,” he said.

Cooper said that contrary to what is being claimed, EDRs “can and will track the comings and goings of car owners and even their passengers.”

Black boxes, he said, are already being used to track myriad activities -- and what they can record is virtually unlimited, he said.

“EDRs not only provide details necessary for accident investigation, they can also track travel records, passenger usage, cell phone use and other private data -- who you visit, what you weigh, how often you call your mother and more is captured by these devices,” he said.

House Republicans, citing privacy concerns, had succeeded in removing a Senate provision requiring EDRs from the final transportation bill earlier this year.

But GOP members were not alone in their concerns about the proposal. Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) tried unsuccessfully to introduce a measure that would allow car owners to disconnect or disable EDRs.

"Consumers should have control over the information collected by event data recorders in vehicles that they own and they should have the option of disabling the device if they choose to do so. This is a basic issue of privacy," Rep. Capuano said at the time, in a statement.

The public now has 60 days to comment on the proposed rule, which will be published in the Federal Register.

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