Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Will all cars have 'black box' data recorders after 2015? Motorcycles?..

A bill has passed the Senate and is now before Congress, that has conspiracy theorists up in arms.

The bill is S. 1813: MAP-21, an arcane title for a fantastically verbose and multifaceted bill to, "reauthorize Federal-aid highway and highway safety construction programs, and for other purposes."

What's got some eagle-eyed observers' knickers in a knot is a provision, about a million words into this bill, to equip all new cars with aircraft-style black box event data recorders. I.E., after a crash or other 'event', the data in the black box could be downloaded to determine, presumably, driver liability. The legislation specifically applies to 'passenger motor vehicles' which is a class of vehicle that does not include motorcycles - although it's easy to imagine that once every car has such a black box, motorcycles may not be far behind.

Although the bill makes some provision for the private nature of the information contained in the black box, there's essentially no scenario in which the information would be useful in which it would not be subpoenaed. 

Conspiracy theorists have latched onto this provision as a way for the dad-blamed gummint to tax drivers per mile traveled, or possibly combine the event data with GPS data to compile electronic 'speeding tickets' any time you speed, whether the cops see you or not. And indeed, if the lessons of Google and Facebook have taught us anything in the last few years, it's that data has a way of moving from the private realm into the money-generating realm.

I don't know what pressures are being put on Congress. Clearly whatever companies think they'd have a shot a supplying black boxes will be lobbying for the bill. I am sure car manufacturers don't want to be told they've got to include another piece of expensive standard equipment on every new car, and their arguments that doing so will imperil the U.S. auto industry's post-Bush recovery will probably carry some weight.

On the face of it, I suppose the insurance industry will favor the bill -- the black boxes would, in theory, make it much easier to determine which driver's at fault in a multi-vehicle accident. That seems like something they might want to know, although if you do all the math (which is a little too complex to go into here) the insurance industry doesn't necessarily benefit from being able to impute causation in two-vehicle accidents. (I haven't done the math for multi-vehicle crashes, but I suspect there may not be a benefit there, either.) At the end of the day, the insurance industry will lobby for the bill because it will create a tool they can use to deny coverage for vehicles being used in a manner deemed reckless.

And, call me paranoid, but I'm sure many legislators will realize that knowledge is power, information is valuable, and data is the new currency. They may not know what they'll do with all that data yet, but I'll bet they find the prospect of mining it pretty irresistible. 

Is this the dawn of a new era in which vehicles simply can not speed? Given the whacky performance envelopes of contemporary sport bikes and the fact that motorcyclists are politically disenfranchised, we've probably got more to worry about than car guys at this point -- even though as of right now, that part of the bill doesn't even mention bikes.

For insomniacs, the whole text of the bill can be found here. If you just want to read the provisions for event data recorders, read on...


  1. (a) Mandatory Event Data Recorders-

    • (1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to require, beginning with model year 2015, that new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States be equipped with an event data recorder that meets the requirements under that part.
      (2) PENALTY- The violation of any provision under part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations--
      1. (A) shall be deemed to be a violation of section 30112 of title 49, United States Code;
        (B) shall be subject to civil penalties under section 30165(a) of that title; and
        (C) shall not subject a manufacturer (as defined in section 30102(a)(5) of that title) to the requirements under section 30120 of that title.
  1. (b) Limitations on Information Retrieval-
    • (1) OWNERSHIP OF DATA- Any data in an event data recorder required under part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, regardless of when the passenger motor vehicle in which it is installed was manufactured, is the property of the owner, or in the case of a leased vehicle, the lessee of the passenger motor vehicle in which the data recorder is installed.
      (2) PRIVACY- Data recorded or transmitted by such a data recorder may not be retrieved by a person other than the owner or lessee of the motor vehicle in which the recorder is installed unless--
      1. (A) a court authorizes retrieval of the information in furtherance of a legal proceeding;
        (B) the owner or lessee consents to the retrieval of the information for any purpose, including the purpose of diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the motor vehicle;
        (C) the information is retrieved pursuant to an investigation or inspection authorized under section 1131(a) or 30166 of title 49, United States Code, and the personally identifiable information of the owner, lessee, or driver of the vehicle and the vehicle identification number is not disclosed in connection with the retrieved information; or
        (D) the information is retrieved for the purpose of determining the need for, or facilitating, emergency medical response in response to a motor vehicle crash.
  1. (c) Report to Congress- Two years after the date of implementation of subsection (a), the Secretary shall study the safety impact and the impact on individual privacy of event data recorders in passenger motor vehicles and report its findings to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the House of Representatives. The report shall include--
    1. (1) the safety benefits gained from installation of event data recorders;
      (2) the recommendations on what, if any, additional data the event data recorder should be modified to record;
      (3) the additional safety benefit such information would yield;
      (4) the estimated cost to manufacturers to implement the new enhancements;
      (5) an analysis of how the information proposed to be recorded by an event data recorder conforms to applicable legal, regulatory, and policy requirements regarding privacy;
      (6) a determination of the risks and effects of collecting and maintaining the information proposed to be recorded by an event data recorder;
      (7) an examination and evaluation of the protections and alternative processes for handling information recorded by an event data recorder to mitigate potential privacy risks.
  1. (d) Revised Requirements for Event Data Recorders- Based on the findings of the study under subsection (c), the Secretary shall initiate a rulemaking proceeding to revise part 563 of title 49, Code of Federal Regulations. The rule--
    1. (1) shall require event data recorders to capture and store data related to motor vehicle safety covering a reasonable time period before, during, and after a motor vehicle crash or airbag deployment, including a rollover;
      (2) shall require that data stored on such event data recorders be accessible, regardless of vehicle manufacturer or model, with commercially available equipment in a specified data format;
      (3) shall establish requirements for preventing unauthorized access to the data stored on an event data recorder in order to protect the security, integrity, and authenticity of the data; and
      (4) may require an interoperable data access port to facilitate universal accessibility and analysis.
  1. (e) Disclosure of Existence and Purpose of Event Data Recorder- The rule issued under subsection (d) shall require that any owner’s manual or similar documentation provided to the first purchaser of a passenger motor vehicle for purposes other than resale--
    1. (1) disclose that the vehicle is equipped with such a data recorder; and
      (2) explain the purpose of the data recorder.
  1. (f) Access to Event Data Recorders in Agency Investigations- Section 30166(c)(3)(C) of title 49, United States Code, is amended by inserting ‘, including any electronic data contained within the vehicle’s diagnostic system or event data recorder’ after ‘equipment.’
    (g) Deadline for Rulemaking- The Secretary shall issue a final rule under subsection (d) not later than 4 years after the date of enactment of this Act.

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