Privacy rules eyed for 'black boxes'

| 7/12/2006

As most anyone involved in the transportation industry can attest, event data recorders, or “black boxes,” are finding their way into more and more vehicles.

In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are roughly 30 million U.S. vehicles out on the road with so-called black boxes. Anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of new vehicles have them, NHTSA reports.

So popular is the technology that state legislatures are working on efforts to regulate vehicle data recorders, often referred to as electronic on-board recorders, to give vehicle owners control over any data collected.

At least 20 states have at least considered efforts this year to regulate information from black boxes. California was the first state to regulate the recorders in 2004.

Information that could be tapped includes the vehicle’s speed, direction of travel, location, steering performance, braking performance, seat belt status and accident information.

The issue was enough of a concern in Colorado that lawmakers approved a bill – SB224 – that requires vehicle manufacturers to disclose in a vehicle’s owner’s manual the presence of recording devices and the data collected. Information can be collected from the vehicle only under specific circumstances, such as efforts to advance motor vehicle safety, security, traffic management and emergency needs.

Data can only be accessed by consent of the owner or through a court order.

Similar legislative efforts also won approval in Maine, New Hampshire and Virginia.

Maine Gov. John Baldacci signed a bill into law this spring that requires anyone selling a motor vehicle to disclose the presence of a recording device.

The new law, previously LD1885, only allows access to data collected from the vehicle under specific circumstances. It also clarifies that data retrieved is the exclusive property rights of the vehicle owner. A similar rule – HB599 – has been OK’d in New Hampshire.

In Virginia, a new law requires that automobile manufacturers disclose the presence of recording devices in all model-year 2008 and later vehicles. It also clarifies that data retrieved from black boxes is the property of the vehicle’s owner. Insurance companies and auto manufacturers would only be allowed to access the data with the owner’s consent or through a court order.

Motor vehicle insurance companies are prohibited from refusing to renew a motor vehicle insurance policy solely because the vehicle owner refuses to provide access to recorded data from a recording device. The new law, previously HB816, also “prohibits insurance companies from certain other actions affecting rates and coverage if a motor vehicle owner refuses to allow the insurer access to recorded data.”

Efforts in other states still active include Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor