More and more drivers are ratted out to police and insurance adjusters – by their own cars. “Event data recorders that function much like the “black boxes” on airplanes, and which are now installed on virtually all new vehicles, can give investigators incriminating details about your driving behavior in the final seconds before a crash,” writes The Tennessean. The paper quotes Gary Biller, executive director of the National Motorists Association:
“It’s in the cars, it can’t be turned off, and the information is available to anyone with a court order. Our members ask whether these devices can be disabled, but they can’t, because they are integral to the computer systems that control modern cars.”
A Nashville company, VCE Inc., is in the business of making the boxes talk. Says VCE Vice President Todd Hutchison:
“We have been involved from the start and were among the first ones to begin downloading the data from these recorders for the accident reconstructions we do for attorneys and insurance companies. We typically get permission from the owner of the vehicle, but that’s not necessarily who owned it at the time of the accident. If the insurance company has bought the salvaged vehicle, they can give us permission.”
On some cars, connecting a cable is no longer necessary. Beginning with the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, GM will be able to access the information from the recorders wirelessly through the OnStar system included on most of the automaker’s vehicles, The Tennessean writes.
Biller has heard of remote readers that could access the data just by coming close to a vehicle.
It doesn’t need an accident to make the data change your life. Buddy Oakes, a Columbia-based insurance claims adjuster says that some insurance companies are using the data to help rate customers’ driving habits to determine how much their premiums should be.
General Motors safety spokeswoman Sharon Basel says:
“We have them in all of our vehicles, and have had since the mid-’90s. It’s not a continuous recording; it’s only during an event. And we can’t access the data without the consent of the vehicle owner or lessee.”
Help is near – from the government: Beginning with the 2011 model year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires that automakers tell in the vehicle owner’s manual whether a recorder is installed and where it is located.