WASHINGTON - Congressman Gene Green (D-TX) on Feb. 26 announced plans to introduce legislation in the near future that will direct the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to mandate electronic data recorders on all new cars and trucks. 

The legislation will seek to regulate a uniform minimum standard of information to be recorded on pre- and post-crash data. 

Electronic data recorders (EDRs), also commonly known as black boxes, record certain information such as vehicle speed, change in forward speed, status of airbags, and whether safety belts are engaged. EDRs provide information that cannot be obtained through traditional investigation techniques and may be useful in determining whether a particular driver was at fault in an accident. 

"Electronic data recorders are necessary tools to assist in crash reconstruction and to describe specific crash characteristics," Green said. "This information is essential to ensure consumers are being properly protected in their vehicles and to improve future consumer safety systems." 

Green's legislation, in addition to setting a uniform standard of vehicle criteria, will require a standardized EDR download tool; require accessibility by law enforcement, crash investigators, and emergency services; and require data reporting to NHTSA. Consumer privacy will be protected, he said, by restricted access of the information to official requests, where the law requires it, the request of the vehicle owner, or in connection with litigation. 

Green said the idea for this bill stems in part from a recent Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigation (O&I) hearing on the Toyota vehicle recalls. "As we witnessed in the Toyota hearing, there is a demonstrated need of detailed crash information," Green said. "It is clear from the testimony, there can be a discrepancy in what a driver claims happened and what NHTSA concludes happened. This would mandate equipment that would remove any human emotion or bias to provide much more precise data." 

As a member of both O&I and the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection (CTCP), which has jurisdiction over NHTSA, Green will be involved in all efforts to get this legislation passed or added to a NHTSA reauthorization bill. 

The proposed mandate has already gained the support of General Motors. 

"Broad EDR application and collection of data will help save lives and prevent injuries," said Michael J. Robinson, GM's vice president of environment, energy and safety policy. 

GM began widely installing the predecessor version of today's EDRs in vehicles in the 1990 model year, and they became standard equipment in light duty vehicles in the 1995 model year. A device that allows for limited public retrieval of the data in GM EDRs has been available since 1999.   

"It is essential that decisions on important safety issues be supported by the best available data, and we are convinced that EDRs can help that process," Robinson said. "We agree with those who called for mandatory installation of and greater use of the data from EDRs during recent Congressional hearings." 

GM said it also supports wider availability of the crash data stored in EDRs. This data can help in determining crash causes more quickly, and can contribute significantly toward improving the amount and quality of real-world data in state and national safety databases, such as the NHTSA's Fatality Analysis Recording System (FARS) and National Automotive Sampling System (NASS). 

"GM will work with NHTSA, Congress and others on this issue, including taking the necessary steps to assure that important concerns about privacy are adequately addressed," Robinson said.