By now, most Americans are familiar with devices known as a flight data recorders, commonly called 'black boxes.' They record an airplane's functions and signal transmissions in case of an accident. This has proved to be a good idea, and the government wants to mandate the installation of the same kind of technology in cars, in just a few years.
Black boxes (they're actually bright orange) are small, sturdy devices that are sometimes the only thing left intact after a major airplane accident, providing explanation for accidents with no survivors and otherwise little in the way of physical evidence. In many new model cars, similar devices called Event Data Recorders (EDRs) come as standard equipment. Until now, the addition of EDRs has been voluntary, but a new proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) would make such event data recorders mandatory in all new light passenger vehicles starting on September 1, 2014.
Commenting on the prosposal, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said, "EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash, and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries." While mandating the devices might help improve safety, there are privacy concerns associated with being unable to purchase a car without an EDR.
However, in its proposal announcement, the agency is careful to state, "EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and do not run continuously." Clearly anticipating the privacy concerns that some will raise around such a new rule, the agency also stated, "EDR data would be treated by NHTSA as the property of the vehicle owner and would not be used or accessed by the agency without owner consent." The agency is currently seeking comment from the public on the proposal, and you can submit your comment here.