DAVE LARSEN DAYTON, OHIO DAILY NEWS
Monday, May 27, 2013
The increasing computerization of cars allows them to capture and transmit
data that can improve highway and driver safety, federal officials said.
But the technology also raises privacy concerns about the ownership and
unintended uses of that data, experts said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is seeking a law that
would require automakers to install “black boxes” in every
new car and light truck sold starting September 2014. But unbeknownst
to their owners, many vehicles already carry event data recorders, or
EDRs. The NHTSA estimates that about 96 percent of all 2013 vehicles have
The recorders, typically triggered by a crash or air bag deployment, can
produce data generated shortly before and during a crash, including vehicle
speed, whether the brake was used and whether the driver’s seat
belt was buckled. The device records data from a variety of vehicle sensors
and typically is attached to the floor.
“EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise
be available to the NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash - and
what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,”
said David Strickland, the agency’s administrator, in a statement.
But privacy advocates say the technology is a new source of data collection
For example, some auto insurance companies are offering on-board devices
that monitor mileage data and other driver behavior, often in exchange
for discounted insurance rates.
“It is going to be harder and harder for people to ever get off the
grid. There are so many ways now that you can be monitored,” said
Thaddeus Hoffmeister, a University of Dayton associate professor of law.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington D.C.-based public
interest research group, has urged the NHTSA to adopt comprehensive privacy
safeguards for vehicle owners and operators, including driver ownership
of data, limitations on disclosure and better security for the data collected.
Thirteen states have passed laws that limit use of the recorders. Ohio
is not among them.
The Dayton Daily News obtained a copy of the proposed law, which would
require the recorders as mandatory equipment in vehicles that weigh less
than 8,500 pounds. The proposal also includes standardized data collection
requirements and mandates that automakers provide a commercially available
tool for copying the data.
The law would make it possible to seek civil penalties for failure to provide
an event data recorder or one that performs properly.
The cost per recorder is estimated to be $20 per vehicle, because the devices
capture data that is already being processed by the vehicle. The estimated
total costs associated with the proposal would be $26.4 million for technical
improvements and other costs related to the 1.32 million vehicles that
don’t currently have recorders.
The NHTSA said it would treat recorder data as the property of the vehicle
owner and that it would not be used or accessed by the agency without
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said it does not object to the
concept of requiring all light vehicles to be equipped with EDRs, but
it “strongly opposes” a law to impose such a mandate. Most
alliance members have voluntarily installed the recorders in their vehicles
for many years, officials said.
Some automakers, including General Motors, have been installing car “black
boxes” since the 1990s to help measure and improve the performance
of vehicle safety equipment.
Electronic data recorder evidence has been accepted by courts in at least
19 states, as well as in federal court, in cases involving crash investigations,
according to Harris Technical Services, a Florida-based crash reconstruction firm.
Progressive Insurance offers a voluntary, usage-based insurance program
called Snapshot that collects driver data in exchange for an insurance
discount. This month, Progressive surpassed more than 7 billion miles
of driving data from the more than 1 million customers who have used Snapshot,
said company spokesman Erin Vrobel.
Snapshot uses a small device that plugs into the vehicle’s onboard
diagnostic port to collect data on how much a customer drives, the time
of day he drives and how many times he brakes hard. Progressive uses that
information to calculate the customer’s rate, with an average annual
savings of $150, Vrobel said.
“The device doesn’t have GPS, so we don’t know your location,” she said.
Travelers Insurance offers a similar program, IntelliDrive, in eight states.
In the program, vehicle operation data is wirelessly transmitted to the
company in exchange for a small discount. Travelers markets the voluntary
program to the parents of teen drivers so that they can track how, when
and where their child drives, said Tony Hare, the company’s managing
Customers can monitor their teen’s driving using a secure online
dashboard. They also can receive e-mail or text alerts when their teen
drives outside of parameters set by parents, including speed, time of
day or geographic boundaries. Unlike cars’ black boxes, the IntelliDrive
device uses GPS technology, as well as an accelerometer to track acceleration
and braking information.
Travelers maintains the data but doesn’t use it for rating customers,
“We use it at a high level for research purposes so that we can understand
how vehicles are used,” he said.