‘Black Box’ In Your Car: What the Insurance Institute, Laws About It, and How It Affects Consumers

The ‘black box’ located in your car always knows the speed at which you are driving, when you have on your seatbelt, and even if you accelerating or on the brakes. These actions are only remembered for a few seconds until you collide with something or someone. Just like the black boxes that are located on airplanes that everyone has read about after a crash, this information is stored, often giving clues to the investigators, lawyers, and insurance companies attached to the case.

These devices, known as event data recorders (EDR), are currently located in many automobiles. Estimates have the devices in anywhere from 65% to 90% of all vehicles. Nearly all brand new cars on the road come with EDRs. They are designed to retrieve information during an accident and are usually situated under the driver’s seat and is wired to other parts of the car.

Since 2011 models came onto highways all across the nation, automakers are mandated to inform buyers that there is a recorder in their brand new car. Currently, each automaker is allowed to build these boxes to their own specifications, but by 2013, all car makers will be required to use a standard EDR that keeps track of all relevant information like the following:

  • how fast the car was traveling
  • how far down the accelerator was pressed at the time of collision
  • ignition cycle during crash
  • whether a safety belt was worn
  • total number of crash events
  • if the EDR was recording incident

This information and more is considered vital for state accident statistics as they can help manufacturers to build more efficient cars and better roads. EDRs enable car manufacturers to produce better vehicles. They also give information that cannot be discovered through conventional investigation techniques. An EDR is also maybe the most unbiased witness to any incident that is recorded.

There are strict rules involved with EDR usage, with rules stating that the owner of the vehicle has first right to the information retrieved and in most cases this information can only be used with the consent of the owner. This is subject to change under a criminal investigation, however, if a court order mandates the information. In the past, EDRs have proven to be important in manslaughter and reckless driving charges. The insurance company that covers your vehicle must have your permission before they access the EDR located in your car. This permission is granted once you bought the policy and agreed to investigation. There are some states which do not allow insurance contracts that require consent. If an insurance company has this information, they would be able to find out your exact motions before, during and after the incident in question. Depending on the severity of the case in hand, these EDRs can provide significant information that can help in understanding the cause of the accident.

The largest insurance agencies in the country have begun voluntary programs that offer drivers incentives for more attentive actions that is then confirmed by the data capture devices installed in their cars. These devices are not associated or linked to conventional EDRs in any way, however.

National insurance companies contend that the information gained from a claims investigation would only be used if required by law to do so. Opponents contend, however, that once this evidence is gathered, it could be used for other means. Could it be possible that this information could be used against policyholders. Could the police get hold of these records, learn your driving habits and report them, for example? These are valid questions currently on the table since all cars became mandated to have them this year.

Studies have shown that many people in the general public are suspicious of the potential for the government and insurance to use this information for their own gain. Others argue that the improved safety conditions and legal aspects outweigh any possible disadvantages. Is this a clear line that that government is stepping over when it comes to Americans and their right to privacy? The debate lingers on.

The bottom line is that EDRs are here to stay for the foreseeable future and the repercussions of their presence will be closely monitored to determine their effectiveness.

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