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Black Box Technology In Vehicles Friend Or Foe? Yes Your New Car has an Event Recorder

Is “black box” technology a new way for companies to intrude on your privacy? Do you realize the vehicle you may be driving could be outfitted with a black box? If you are in the market for auto insurance you may want to think about what is in your vehicle too.

this image shows how under the driver's side of the car to extract EDR or Black Box information

Showing the position under the driver’s side of the car to extract EDR or Black Box information from a vehicle. Image courtesy of Proctor Subaru.

Since August 2014, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would like automobile manufacturers to install black boxes in passenger cars. According to the NHTSA, getting information about how a driver responds and if the safety features are properly working is a way to make the roads safer for drivers. Since 2013, approximately ninety-six percent of new light passengers vehicles will have a black box installed.

Important for Consumers! Black Boxes do not record your conversation while in a vehicle.

Table – What do Black Boxes or EDR’s Record?

List of Events Recorded by a Black Box or EDR
Number of crash events
Time between two crash events
Whether or not brake was applied
Whether or not driver was using safety belt
Speed vehicle was traveling
How far the accelerator pedal was pressed
Change in forward crash speed
Maximum change in forward crash speed
Driver frontal airbag deployment
Right front passenger frontal airbag deployment
Whether or not frontal airbag warning lamp was on
Ignition cycle (number of power cycles applied to the EDR) at the time of the crash
Ignition cycle (number of power cycles applied to the EDR) when the EDR data were downloaded

Note: There can be other “Event Points” which black boxes record. At this time the minimum is 15 which may become law.

What are Black Boxes or Event Data Recorders (EDR’s)?

Black boxes or Event Data Recorders (EDR’s) are similar to the box installed in airplanes. If you are in an accident the black box is going to be able to record data such as, how fast the vehicle was traveling, did the air bags deploy, or if the driver hit the brake or gas pedal.

Is the technology going to be an invasion of privacy? Some suggest it may. For example, ABC news reported about LT. Governor Murray of Massachusetts crashed a car he was driving and told the police he was not speeding and was wearing a seat-belt.

However, once authorities retrieved the black box data from his vehicle, it revealed LT. Governor Murray was speeding at seventy-five miles per hour in a sixty-five speed zone, and then he accelerated to more than 100 miles per hour. During the time of the accident, the lieutenant governor was not issued a ticket, but once the data was retrieved a couple of days later he received a $550 ticket.

This image shows a person Extracting information from a black box in a vehicle

Extracting information from a black box in a vehicle. Image courtesy of Bloomberg Consulting.

Black Box Technology & Your Privacy

Is black box technology going to violate privacy? The NHTSA states the only data collected is about safety information and what happened during the seconds before and after the accident. They assert the data collected is going to save lives in the future by being able to get a “bigger” picture of why crashes occur.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) realizes safety is important and does not disagree with the possible benefits. On the other hand, the ACLU would like to know who is going to access the information and how is it going to be collected?

What to know if your vehicle has a black box?  Here is a list from CDRvehicle.

Is the Black Box your Personal Property or Not?

The black box which is installed in your vehicle should be part of your property. If so, the owner of the vehicle should be able to control the data. This is why proper safeguards should be in place to prevent a vehicle turning into a “spy” data collection tool for insurance companies to raise rates on drivers.

Even AAA, an organization for drivers, joined the NHTSA with black box technology installed in vehicles. However, AAA asserted as long as the vehicle owner has access to the information and their privacy is protected.

The only time anyone should access the black box should be through the owner’s authorization or a court order. Including privacy protection, AAA recommended putting a sticker on the vehicle to make it clear of the existence of EDR devices installed.

With the banter back and forth of privacy, the NHTSA has specifically stated what the black box does and does not do.

Chart – What is recorded in a Black Box?

This chart shows what is recorded in a black box device or EDR in a vehicle.

Image courtesy of AutoBody Review

The data which is collected according to NHTSA:

  • Crash forces if there is an impact

  • Automobile speed

  • Whether the seat-belt was buckled or not

  • State of the engine throttle

  • Whether the brake or gas pedal was operated during the moment of the crash

Experts of EDR’s & Black Boxes Suspect Abuse and Invasion of Privacy

The sites claims “EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and not run continuously”.

Many advocates against the black box assert there is going to be abuse and invasion of privacy. If you are breaking the law then you shouldn’t have anything to worry about, but citizens of the United States do have rights. Many believe as technology advances the EDRs may become “spy” device of sorts without any regulations and if the insurance companies are going to back the devices it could happen in the future.

The Huge Benefit of Black Boxes

The boxes have helped in some instances. According to Wired.com, in 2002, two teenage girls backing out of their driveway in Florida where killed when their vehicle was struck by a Pontiac Firebird driven by Edwin Matos. After the Event Data Recorder accessed by investigators it was revealed that Matos had been traveling at 114 miles per hour in the residential area before impact. Matos was convicted on two counts of manslaughter and the Florida Supreme Court upheld the conviction although his attorney appeal the admission of the EDR.


Even with many against EDRs there are instances where the devices are helpful to get accurate information such as who caused a crash, how fast the driver is traveling, and in the instance of Matos; he is held accountable for his actions. Next time you drive without insurance think of Matos or better yet compare car insurance quotes to find the best deal possible and you will be protected.

Greg Fowler

Greg Fowler

Managing Member of AutoInsureSavings LLC, Greg has been in the insurance industry for 12 years and enjoys rebuilding vehicles. His goal is to help drivers save on anything related to automobiles. Travel and enjoying the outdoors are some of his hobbies. The best way to reach him is at his Twitter or Facebook Profile.

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