While the details have yet to be finalized, these “black boxes” will “capture and store data related to motor vehicle safety,” including direction of acceleration, throttle position, airbag deployment, speed prior to impact and a range of other data points that tell what events led up a crash.
As Car and Driver points out, there’s no need for panic just yet. First, many manufacturers have already implemented data recorders into new vehicles in the aftermath of the Toyota unintended acceleration debacle.
It was data from such recorders that proved the majority of unintended acceleration cases not caused by a sticking accelerator or pedal entrapment were caused by operator error, namely confusion between the gas and brake. Implementation benefits the automakers, so the addition of data recorders will likely happen even without a mandate.
Another reason not to panic is ownership of the data on the recorder. As the Senate bill is worded, the data belongs to the car’s owner or lessee. Yes, the police can access the data, but only with a court order, which means that you aren’t likely to be ticketed via your car’s diagnostic port any time soon.
Be forewarned, though: first responders, such as paramedics and fire fighters, will have access to the data without a court order, in the event that it helps them render aid at an accident scene. Attorneys can get access to the data too, via a subpoena, and such data is now used regularly in cases involving accident reconstruction.
In other words, your car won’t narc on you for doing 80 mph in a 65 mph zone, but it will tell investigators and attorneys who’s at fault in the event of a serious accident. Whether or not that induces paranoia depends entirely on your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, regardless of speed.