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Along for the ride: motorists' black box recorders

"Most people who are operating a motor vehicle have no idea this technology is integrated into their vehicle," says one privacy advocate.

This technology is what comprises the central operating components in what are commonly termed "black boxes," small devices that reside within car and truck bodies and record certain types of information continuously.

That information is automatically preserved in the event of a car accident or air bag deployment, and safety advocates say that its subsequent evaluation by car designers and engineers leads directly to manufacturing improvements that make vehicles safer and car crashes less likely.

Those less enthused over the technology prefer to point out its problematic downside, expressed by one lawmaker on Capitol Hill as "a slippery slope toward big government and Big Brother knowing what we're doing and where we are."

That sentiment is being increasingly voiced by persons concerned that data collected and analyzed from black boxes -- which includes speed, whether a driver applied the brake, whether a motorist was wearing a seat belt, whether other passengers were in the vehicle, whether a car was being driven erratically and so forth -- is beginning to feature routinely in criminal investigations, lawsuits, insurance inquiries and high-profile crashes.

The memories of some New Jersey residents pondering that might be jogged by the 2007 accident of former state governor Jon Corzine. Data from a black box recovered from an SUV driven by a state trooper and in which Corzine was a passenger indicated that Corzine was unbelted and that the driver was speeding excessively at 91 miles per hour at the time of the crash.

Interestingly, and while many vehicle manufacturers have been installing the devices on new product models for years, a federal law disclosing their existence did not exist until three months ago.

The NHTSA and other safety groups staunchly support the widespread installation of black boxes in cars and light trucks. In fact, a new agency proposal recommends that all vehicles made after September 1, 2014, have event recorders.

The next step toward such a realization will entail congressional debate and legal drafting.

Source: Evansville Courier & Press, "Black box recorders snitch on motorists," Joan Lowy, Dec. 9, 2012

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