Seatbelts? Fuck seatbelts.
There’s been talk of putting “black box” crash data recorders in cars for a while now, and with the MAP-21 Act easily passing in the Senate, it looks like automobile black boxes will become a reality. Much like the “black boxes” in airplanes, the ones in cars would record data during a crash such as speed, impact, whether airbags deployed and whether the driver was wearing a seatbelt. But some people are concerned about data privacy.
These recorders would need to comply with title 49, section 563 (PDF) of the Code of Federal Regulations, which means they would have to record the speed and acceleration of a vehicle, whether or not an airbag was deployed, whether the seatbelt was buckled, and several similar factors either at the moment a crash is detected or a few seconds before. MAP-21 is has already passed the Senate and is expected to pass the House, so it’s likely this measure will become law.
EDRs don’t track where you’re going, and only information related to crashes is stored. Moreover, the data belongs to the owner of the vehicle and can only be obtained by others with a court order. However, EDR information has been used before to establish blame for crashes in court, so requiring more cars to collect it would provide data that — like phone or location information — could be abused. If you’re driving a recent model of car, though, it may well be a moot point. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been researching EDRs for several years, about 64 percent of all 2005 model passenger vehicles had the devices, and that number was expected to grow at the time of the 2006 report. There’s certainly potential for using “black boxes” in problematic ways, but it would have to be a slippery slope indeed for EDRs to suddenly present new privacy issues after years of widespread use.
If, or when this becomes law, all cars manufactured in the US would have to have black boxes by 2015.