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EU urges use of black-boxes for motorists

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Tuesday, Nov 3rd, 2009

The European Commission is looking in to the efficacy of fitting black-box recorders into motorists’ cars.

The study, entitled Project Veronica, is looking at whether installing Event Data Recorders into cars would be useful to authorities and companies such as insurance firms in determining what exactly occurs in the moments leading up to and the moments immediately following road traffic accidents. The EDRs would be capable of tracking a driver’s every move and this has made the project unpopular with civil rights groups. Although information gathered by the EDR such as when brakes are applied, when the horn is used and when the indicators were turned on could all be useful in determining who is at fault during a crash, some say that the technology could be used to keep a constant eye on a drivers every move.

The 2.4 million pound study was commissioned by the European commission’s transport arm and taken three years to complete. Researchers believe the technology will improve safety if its recommendations of fitting the devices into all cars are carried out. According to the research drivers with black boxes were 10 percent less likely to be involved in a fatal accident, and their repair bills fell by as much as 25 percent. Ralf Schmidt-Cotta, director of the study, which is being carried out at the German car-parts group Continental, said, “The technology is like an independent, neutral witness. For police and insurance companies, it will be invaluable. It will also revolutionise road safety because of the psychological impact of having the boxes installed. Drivers know they cannot get away with simple excuses after an accident because their movements are recorded. They therefore drive more carefully.”

But a spokesman for Privacy International, Simon Davies warned that the black-boxes, similar to the devices used in aircraft, could be used alongside other technology to keep people under constant surveillance. But authors of the report say that Project Veronica addresses these concerns and points out that any data collected would be of little use other than in helping to explain what goes on in the lead up to an accident. They will only store data recorded 30 seconds prior to a crash and 15 seconds afterwards. The boxes will also alert emergency services to an accident. The project goes on to point out that the main reason for installing the EDRs was to make drivers more responsible, speed up court hearings and give a better insight into the causes of traffic accidents.

In Britain, the boxes are installed as standard in many emergency vehicles. When London’s Metropolitan police put them in 3,500 of their cars in 1999 there was a 2 million pound reduction in accident costs in 18 months. In the United States black-boxes became widespread after manufacturers agreed to adopt them on a voluntary basis. They are now standard in more than two-thirds of new vehicles. However, motoring groups and the British government are concerned about their use in the European Union. The Department for Transport said it had concerns about privacy and legal issues, while a spokesman for the AA [Automobile Association] warned that making black-boxes mandatory would be impractical.

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This article was posted: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 at 11:37 am

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