Data Recorders in Cars Might Open Pandora's Black Box
Some carmakers are dubious about the rulemaking proposal. They predict that it will discourage the expanded use of event data recorders simply because of questions about who owns the data, the security of the information and the feelings consumers will have about its collection.
Robert S. Strassburger, vice president of vehicle safety and harmonization for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said the proposal would require significant changes for some manufacturers while others would have to invest in expanding their capability.
The automakers are likely to ask the agency to be definitive about the kind of information it needs for safety research. "It's got to be more than, 'It would be nice to have this information,'" Strassburger said.
The problematic issues are privacy and disclosure.
"If vehicle owners are not made aware of these systems, then potentially we have problems. By and large, the public is unaware they are in their vehicles," said Philip Haseltine, president of the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, a group funded by the automakers. Consumers Union told the agency that it is concerned that insurers will require the use of EDR information as a condition of coverage in the future.
GM has responded to these concerns by highlighting the black box in owner's manuals and making related information easier to find. The car company said it gets the permission of owners or lessees before it downloads information. Courts can order the release of the information, and search warrants can be issued to obtain it.
Though the NHTSA proposal calls for disclosure in every owner's manual, Henry Jasny, general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a consumer group, said there has to be more widespread publicity because few people consult the manual.
Debate in the states already is hot, particularly over who owns the information. California passed a law requiring disclosure that the device is in the vehicle and requiring the vehicle owner to give permission to download any of the data.
Nine other states, including Maryland and Virginia, are discussing legislation.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
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