Your Automotive Black Box and Your Right to Access It

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has an article on black boxes on cars from the Japanese and the Detroit Three.     The “black boxes” store key vehicle attributes such as brake position, throttle position, speed and acceleration for the past few seconds of automobile operation.   Toyota’s black boxes store 2 seconds of limited information and, in addition, the data in those boxes can only be retrieved and interpreted by Toyota.   In contrast, the data from the black boxes on the Detroit Three can be accessed by the consumer.   Very interesting!  If only the Toyotas stored data for a few minutes of operation, and the data were accessible directly by consumers, the ongoing debate regarding whether sudden and sustained unintended problems were due to Toyota’s electronic throttle control systems would be settled very quickly one way or the other.

One good outcome of next week’s congressional hearings could be the following.  DoT regulations to have automotive black boxes store data for substantially longer than 3 seconds are required to be installed soon (rather than in 2013).   I would say that the black boxes should store at least the last 15 minutes of operation; memory is cheap, particularly when one considers the safety implications.   One must note that such black box data actually helps carmakers in exonerating their systems in case of driver error.

Add the right to access data in your car’s black box reader to the list of consumer rights…


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