In-Car Black Boxes: Safety Measure Or Spy Tactic?
Some Argue Device Invades Privacy
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The following is a transcript of John Boel's report shown exactly the way it appeared on WLKY NewsChannel 32 at 11 p.m. on Feb. 17, 2003.
Anchor: "Target 32 consumer alert focuses on
something inside newer cars that most people do not know they have."
Anchor: "And it's becoming controversial, because if you get in an
accident, it will tell the truth about what happened, even if you don't.
John Boel joins us with his special report."
Boel: "Some believe 'the black box' is an important breakthrough,
capturing more information about how crashes develop, and maybe saving
lives in the future. But others fear it's an intrusive attempt to find a
way to blame the driver for doing something wrong. See for yourself in
this Target 32 consumer alert."
Boel: "Until now, the only time you thought you were being recorded
while driving was when you saw something like this (video shows officer's
radar gun). But a speed gun is nothing compared to what's going on inside
many cars these days."
Boel: "Many car companies are installing the auto industry's
version of 'The Black Box.' Ford calls it the 'Electronic Data Recorder.'
GM calls it the 'Sensing Diagnostic Module.' It's a small device that
records your speed, the percentage of throttle, your RPMs, whether you
have your foot on the brake and whether your seat belt is buckled. And if
you get in an accident -- deploying an airbag."
Boel: "The final five seconds of that information before the crash
can be downloaded and printed out in black and white. The Department of
Transportation estimates most 2002 passenger cars have the so called black
boxes. Ford and GM began phasing them in six years ago."
Boel: "It sounds like an amazing piece of technology, but it's also
something a lot of people would like to get their hands on, like insurance
companies and attorneys, to determine who's at fault in a crash. Think
about it, you say you were going the speed limit, and slowing down, but
the box tells a different story."
AAA Kentucky spokesman Roger Boyd: "It's one of the best kept
secrets in auto manufacturing right now."
Boel: "AAA's Roger Boyd says it could be a useful device, but he,
too, is concerned about invasions of privacy."
Boyd: "We believe this is evidentiary, just like anything else. And
we could see the scenario, yeah, where Freedom of Information Acts are
invoked. People can go in and get this information, and it could be used
good or bad in trials, litigation, etc. Insurance companies are excited
about this in a lot of ways because they believe it will help them
determine exactly what will happen and who's to blame."
Boel: "A Ford spokeswoman says the information is only used for
research, and not to snitch on drivers."
Ford Motor Co. spokeswoman Kristen Kinley: "That is a concern, but
I can only speak for Ford Motor Co., not the industry. We will not obtain
the data or release to a third party, like an insurance company, unless
we've been subpoenaed, or a warrant or court order for the information.
Ford will not fulfill a request for that information. Unless it's a legal
request, we won't provide that information."
Boel: "The man who teaches a course on the data recorders says the
information is not just for the car companies. He says police can get
their hands on it without even going through the courts."
Local accident investigator Bruce Gazdick: "In a criminal case,
it's part of your evidence. As long as you maintain custody and control of
that vehicle from the time of the crash until you download it, most
states' attorneys will tell you you don't need a subpoena or search
Boel: "It makes you wonder, 'Are you really getting away from it
all?' When you take off in your car?"
Boyd: "Between this and global positioning and things people pay
for, like on-board navigation systems, are you ever truly in a private
situation in your own private vehicle? It is something people need to look
at and consider."
Boel: "Roger Boyd wonders what car companies are really doing with
this information because he says he deals daily with traffic safety
studies. But he has yet to see a report using this information. And he
says these boxes are not federally mandated, so he wonders why they can't
be disconnected if you so choose."
Boel: "Bruce Gazdick says if you do that, you will be disengaging
the airbag. And Gazdick says that would likely affect your insurance
company's coverage if you get in a wreck."
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