Black Boxes: The Bill, the Vote, and the Year 2015

By Edward Cammarato May 1, 2012

On July 18, 2011, I published “Black Boxes: The Problems and the Promise.” At that time, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had issued a rule requiring all event data recorders (EDRs) installed in new cars after September 1, 2012, to capture data in the same way. The rule required EDRs to record 15 specific data elements. The rule also gave requirements for recording 30 other data elements if manufacturers voluntarily configure their EDRs to capture them.

True to my promise to watch for further developments, here’s an update: On March 14, 2012, the U.S. Senate approved the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” legislation (aka “MAP-21”). Senate Bill 1813, sponsored by California’s Senator Barbara Boxer, passed by a vote of 74 to 22. The section we’ll discuss here is found in Division C, Title 1, Subtitle D — Vehicle Electronics and Safety Standards, Section 31406, Vehicle Event Data Recorders. 

Senate Bill 1813 would amend Part 563 of Title 49, Code of Federal Regulations, to include a mandatory requirement, beginning with model year 2015, for all automobile manufacturers to equip new passenger motor vehicles sold in the United States with EDRs. The bill also lays out specific details as to penalty, ownership of data, privacy, next steps, and disclosures. 

Focusing on the ownership section, the act says that any data in an EDR “is the property of the owner, or in the case of a leased vehicle, the lessee of the passenger motor vehicle in which the data recorder is installed.” 

On the privacy front, no one but the owner or lessee may retrieve the data unless:

  • a court orders retrieval for a legal proceeding
  • the owner or lessee consents to the retrieval for any purpose, including diagnosing, servicing, or repairing the vehicle
  • the Secretary of Transportation orders an investigation or inspection under certain statutory authority, and certain personal and vehicle information is not disclosed in connection with the retrieved information
  • the retrieval is related to emergency medical response to an accident

S. 1813 doesn't specifically address insurer use of the retrieved information in connection with auto insurance, claims, or policy ratemaking. That said, how an insurance carrier can use the collected data — specifically with regard to the legislation’s conditions on court orders or investigations — remains to be seen. Verisk will continue to monitor these developments. Watch our blog for future updates.

The bill awaits House action. If S. 1813 becomes law, the Secretary of Transportation will study the safety and privacy impact of EDRs in passenger autos and, within two years following enactment, will report back to Congress on topics including safety benefits; manufacturers’ costs; and an analysis of how the recorded data conforms to legal, regulatory, and policy requirements for privacy. Based on the findings of that study, the Secretary will issue revised rules for EDRs. The deadline for the final rulemaking is four years after enactment.