Senate Committee Approves Black Box Privacy Bill | Edmunds

Senate Committee Approves Black Box Privacy Bill

Just the Facts:
  • A U.S. Senate committee has approved a bill that would help ensure the privacy of data collected by vehicle "black boxes."
  • The bill grants ownership of such data to the vehicle's owner or lessee and prevents other parties from accessing it except under tightly defined conditions.
  • Black boxes primarily collect data related to crashes, including airbag deployment, speed, throttle position, steering angle, braking, impact force and seatbelt use.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation has approved a bill that would help ensure the privacy of data collected by vehicle "black boxes."

Senate Bill 1925 Driver Privacy Act, introduced in January by Senators John Hoeven, (R-N.D.), and Amy Klobuchar, (D-MN.), is intended to grant ownership of information collected by a black box to the vehicle's owner or lessee.

All other parties, including law enforcement and insurance companies, would be barred from accessing the data without a court order, except in cases where it would be used to determine the need for emergency medical response or for traffic safety research (in which case the information would be kept anonymous).

Now that the bill has been approved by the committee, it will be sent to the full Senate for consideration. As bipartisan legislation with 23 co-signers on both sides of the aisle — and, reportedly, with the endorsement of auto manufacturers and even some insurance companies — it seems likely to move forward.

Black boxes, technically called Event Data Recorders (EDRs), began appearing in cars decades ago, but those first-generation units were only capable of collecting very basic data about crashes and airbag deployment.

Today, EDRs are commonplace in most vehicles, and they collect a much broader array of crash information. In addition to airbag deployment, this can include vehicle speed, engine speed, steering angle, throttle position, braking status, force of impact and seatbelt use. Some also have the ability to record location.

And they may become even more ubiquitous. In 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) put together a proposal to require black boxes in all cars and light trucks by September 2014. Although not yet been enacted, such regulation would put EDRs into the few vehicles that don't already have them.

Unlike those used in airplanes, automotive EDRs don't have voice-recording capability and most don't operate continuously. They only activate in the event of a crash and only capture a few seconds of data, which can then be downloaded and analyzed by computer.

But they could be configured to gather even more data. And with such developments as connected-car technology, in which vehicles can exchange information wirelessly, consumer concerns about privacy have grown considerably.

At the moment, 14 states have passed legislation defining ownership of black-box data, almost all of them restricting the download of information without the owner's consent. The current Senate bill, if passed into law, would bring personal control of this data to every car owner or lessee in the country.

Edmunds says: This legislation would address a major consumer concern related to automotive technology and privacy.

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