The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Safety Advocates & Automakers Ask Feds to Rewrite Data Recorder Rules

November 06, 2006

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new federal rule to standardize minimum requirements for “black boxes” in vehicles wasn’t expected to be controversial, but it has ignited a firestorm of protests from groups that largely agree the information collected by the devices improves auto safety, according to the Web site All U.S. and foreign automakers have asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to rewrite the rule because they say it’s too vague and will cost too much to implement. Safety advocates say it doesn’t go far enough. A NHTSA spokesman said last week the agency will respond to the requests, but did not outline a time frame. If denied by NHTSA, the petitioners can ask a judge to block the rule from being implemented. The new rule is set to take effect in September 2010. Automakers have asked NHTSA to respond by March because product planning for 2010 models will begin as early as next year. The standoff comes a decade after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and NASA recommended using data from auto event data recorders, or EDRs, much like airlines use information from black boxes in airplanes. NHTSA has said standardizing black-box data can help the auto industry and safety researchers study how and why accidents occur and how to prevent them. The devices collect a variety of data in the moments before, during, and after a crash, such as speed and acceleration, whether the driver was wearing a seatbelt, and whether the driver hit the accelerator or the brake. In August, the NHTSA unveiled its final rule for standardizing EDRs, which are now installed in most new cars and trucks, paring back some mandates in its original 2004 proposal to acknowledge concerns raised by automakers. The final rule reduced the number of data elements required from 18 to 15, data recorders must be able to record two events in very serious crashes, rather than three, and required data to be retrievable for 10 days instead of 30, according to The NHTSA did not mandate that the devices be put in all vehicles. Rather, it followed California’s lead in telling automakers they must inform customers if their vehicle has one. Forty states haven’t passed any legislation governing data recorders. Ten states — Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia — have laws on the books. The laws generally require manufacturers to disclose the presence of recorders in vehicles or clarify that the data is owned by vehicle owners and can only be accessed with their permission.
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