This article was co-authored by Jeff Lange, PE.
Big brother is watching! Our privacy is at risk. Who owns the rights to the information stored in the vehicle? These are all good questions, but we are not politicians, lawmakers or judges who can answer those questions.
But what we can answer, or should we say dispel the myths about, is “black boxes.” We have all heard the term "black box" recorder and we usually associated the term with airplanes, more specifically airplane crashes. Officially, the black box is known as a flight data recorder (FDR) and contrary to its name, it is in fact not black but coated in a heat resistant bright orange paint to make it highly visible after a collision event. The device collects information from the plane and records all incoming and outgoing communications from the time of taxiing, during the flight and up to the actual crash. This allows aviation authorities to determine what happened during that flight or, more importantly what went wrong during an in-air mishap.
Vehicle-based electronic data recorders (EDRs) are designed to give automakers feedback on how and when airbags deploy, in order to improve the technology, make vehicles safer and essentially lessen occupant injuries, in real life crash events. EDR data were instrumental, for example, in development of the dual-stage or "smart" airbag systems installed in today’s vehicles. Smart Systems determine which component deploys if any based on the severity of a collision, vehicle speed, vehicle deceleration, longitudinal and lateral deceleration, occupant position, occupant weight and seat belt usage. These “smart” airbag systems help reduce the number of airbag-related injuries and deaths to adults and children.
EDR data can be used to track manufacturing defects and issue recalls. For example, the data provided by EDRs proved to be critical data during the federal investigation into the unintended-acceleration controversy that affected primarily Toyota vehicles. NASA found only one case that could be attributed to Wide Open Throttle (WOT).