Dec 26, 2012 |


Dec 26, 2012 - Car Accidents

The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is not mincing any words: The government must have access to information about your driving habits and personal vehicle to keep everyone safe. David Strickland told the Detroit News that his agency backs calls from other regulators for mandatory in-vehicle data recorders for crash investigations, and he promises the government will absolutely protect everyone’s privacy.

The idea of government investigators collecting information in this fashion, without a search warrant or other legal need beyond a federal regulation, leaves a lot of people interested in their personal privacy uneasy. Some have suggested a driver-controlled switch that could shut the recorders off but Strickland is firm in his opposition; it would be a “horrible thing for safety.” Strickland believes concerns about data recorders are overblown and besides, cars have been storing information in their computer systems for a couple of decades now. They don’t record everything, he says, and they don’t track your location, at least not yet. How hard would it be to advance the argument that knowing the exact location of a wreck could lead to road and intersection safety improvements?

NHTSA wants recorders made mandatory in 2014, and will specify what they record and how long the data is retained. The American Automobile Association and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents the auto industry, are demanding privacy protections when the regulations are adopted. AAA says Congress must pass a law forbidding access to the data unless the owner consents, a court orders it, or it is collected for research purposes and completely stripped of identifying information. Strickland solemnly assured the News that NHTSA is “very concerned about motorist privacy as well” and accuses the news media of exaggerating the risk of government snooping.

The recorder requirement is all but certain to go into effect in 2014 since NHTSA does not need Congressional approval. All the agency has to do is issue a regulation which has the same force as a law. The recorders report on things like speed, brake application, seat belt use, air bag deployment, various forces on the vehicle structure and other mechanical parameters. There is no audio recording feature like that found on commercial aircraft. Strickland says the information is “essential” so NHTSA can “figure out what went wrong (in a crash) so we can fix it or we can ask the manufacturers to fix it.”

Source: Detroit News, “NHTSA: data recorders ‘essential’ to auto safety,” David Shepardson, Dec. 19, 2012

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