(Dave Larsen) The increasing computerization of cars allows them to capture and transmit data that can help 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 devices.
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 on consumers.
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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.
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