The White House has given its OK to a plan that would require all future cars and trucks be equipped with event data recorders — more commonly known as "black boxes."
Most vehicles produced today already have such devices on board, and they have aided in recent investigations into such safety issues as the so-called unintended-acceleration scare at Toyota. But the use of the technology has also raised some privacy concerns.
Congress failed to pass legislation that would have required the use of EDRs in 2010. That prompted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to consider its own mandate. A review was completed this week by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and final regulations will likely follow early next year.
The proposal was originally expected by late 2011, but the process was delayed without explanation. Nonetheless, NHTSA has listed the use of black boxes as a "priority," and a spokesperson insists such devices are critical to "continued improvements in vehicle safety."
Automotive EDRs are similar to — though not nearly as sophisticated as — the black boxes used in commercial airliners, which are routinely used to provide critical information about crashes and other aircraft incidents. They are already installed in nearly 92 percent of today's vehicles, according to industry officials, and provide important information for industry engineers and, in some circumstances, law enforcement authorities.
During several investigations looking into claims that Toyota products would unexpectedly begin to accelerate without driver input, researchers used such recorders to see what actually happened. They discovered the issue often was, in fact, driver error, such as the application of the throttle rather than the brake.