Line Car

On April 12, 2007, New Jersey Governor Jon S. Corzine was seriously injured in a crash on the Garden State Parkway. In the days following, witnesses, including a state patrol officer assigned to ride with the governor, gave varying accounts, most estimating the governor’s SUV traveling at a speed of more than 70mph. Now it seems that the vehicle had been traveling at 91mph in the final seconds before the crash, and, moreover, the governor, seated in the front passenger seat, was not wearing his seatbelt. How do we know this? Because the Chevy Suburban used in his motorcade contained a black box. A lucky fluke? Turns out most domestic cars sold within the last few years all contain them as well. Who knew?

Since 2000, most domestic automobile manufacturers, namely General Motors (GM) and Ford, have been quietly installing what are technically called Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders (MVEDR). These are devices based on IEEE standards formally adopted in 2002. Since the 1970s, GM has been installing something it called Sensing and Diagnostic modules (SDM) in car models fitted with airbags. SDMs, which captured and recorded data only after a crash, were originally designed to help GM improve the performance of the airbags and its crash defense mechanisms. MVEDR data, in at least one case, prompted GM to make at least one vehicle safety recall.

Beginning in 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will require standards for MVEDR data collection, including some 42 points of common data deemed beneficial to crash investigators. Turns out that, with antilock braking systems (ABS) on most cars these days, skid marks left at the scene of an accident are no longer accurate in predicting how fast a vehicle was traveling, if skid marks are even present. The use of traction control and stability systems mean most cars don’t even leave skid marks these days.

The data specified by the NHSTA include vehicle speed, engine RPM, service brake on/off, lateral acceleration, vehicle roll angle, antilock braking system status, seatbelt status (driver and passenger), steering wheel angle, and a variety of specific airbag-related details. And beginning in 2008 the NHTSA requires a standard statement to be included in the owner manual for each vehicle containing an EDR. But there is no requirement that a vehicle must include an EDR, nor is there a prohibition on what the manufacturer collects beyond the NHSTA standards, or how it is used.

  1. mark says:

    30. “If you go to a sporting event in an area does it piss you off because they ask for a ticket. They are monitoring my attendance. ”

    Um, What? Apples vs Oranges my naive friend.

  2. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    29, I think that’s just it….we do see it clearly.

    You fick up on the road, YOU pay for it. Got a problem with that? Please do explain how you shouldn’t be held accountable for your actions, OK?

    But hey, classic cars don’t have black boxes. Wanna by a ’79 Mustang?

  3. MikeN says:

    Have you bought a new car lately? Maybe it’s not every model, but the seat belt sensors are annoying now.

  4. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    #32 – Why do you think I think I shouldn’t be accountable for criminal acts? Where did I say it? Who said it? What the hell are you talking about?

    I’m talking about the hypothetical where my car’s every movement is monitored at all times by some domestic spying arm of the hypothetical police state… That is the hypothetical police state that will eventually grow out of the current police state.

    Listen Dad, I’m an adult now and you have no right to know where I go and when I go there. This is my car and I have broken no law, am a suspect in no crime, and I am free to move about this free society as I please without your permission or watchful eye.

    You are not doing this for my protection. I do not need your guiding hand in my life. I am perfectly able to be on my own. But thank you for your “concern.”

    Now if I am speeding, a cop with radar is welcome to pull me over. But there are far more important things in this world than catching speeders. And if you really wanna open the floodgates to a never ending stream of uncontestable tickets for every last minor infraction you don’t even know you committed, which will surely lead to bankruptcy, then by all means… willingly allow the eyes of the government to be laid upon you 24 hours a day.

    It amazes me how willing some of you are to trade your citizenship for a role as an inmate to a state that is no longer of the people, for the people, and by the people.

  5. Tom says:

    The vast majority of new cars these days from all manufacturers have computers that keep track of such things routinely. Buying a non GM or Fodrd vehicle won’t insure that your vehicle isn’t watching you too.


  6. Tom says:

    One of the reasons that car manufacturers are adding such monitoring to their computer systems is to monitor warranty claims (went 1000 rpm past redline? No, we won’t replace that engine under warranty!) and to simply collect statisitical information on vehicle usage, emissions, crashes, and the like.

  7. OhForTheLoveOf says:

    And it seems too, that two things are being talked about here. The thing this artical is about, and the science fiction soon to be reality tin foil hat thing.

    I want a device that can be accessed to tell what the last thing the car did before it dies was. That sort of “black box” is a good thing.

    What us crazy people are talking about is a device that actually transmits constant data to a reciever that records everything we do.

    One will help me in an insurance claim because it will prove I wasn’t driving like a jack-ass.

    The other is an Orwellian nightmare and will hasten the inevitable bloody revolution that this will all surely end in.


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