Regular readers of this column and blog may be shocked to read about my advocating government intervention regarding equipment on new cars. I’ve come out against silly proposed government suggestions like installing a “noise maker” in hybrid vehicles so that they can be heard when running on batteries. I’m also against a device that will prevent your car from starting if your cell phone is turned on. I don’t even like the check engine light which is mandated by law to be sure your car isn’t leaking too many pollutants.
However, I’m totally in favor of requiring all auto manufacturers to install EDR’s (electronic data recorders) in all vehicles. Interestingly enough, many manufacturers have been doing this for a lot of years, but they kept it a “secret”. I can remember customers calling me to ask if there was an EDR in their Toyota. At first, I said no because Toyota had never told their dealers anything about this. When word finally leaked out, I learned that this EDR was for internal use only and in fact Toyota and the other manufacturers encrypted the data so that, if somebody found the black box, they couldn’t translate the information.
Why would manufacturers keep an EDR secret from their customers, the government, and everybody else? The answer is fear of litigation. Plaintiffs’ lawyers could use this information against the manufacturer in product liability claims and lawyers could also sue manufacturers for violation of their privacy rights.
I have no sympathy for a manufacturer who is afraid of the truth. If the EDR proves that there was a defect that caused the accident, so be it. The manufacturer is guilty and should pay damages. The unacceptable alternative is to not learn or hide the truth. What’s even worse is that the known cause of the accident may not be corrected so that future cars won’t have the same problem.
I also have no sympathy for privacy advocates who say “It’s my car and the black box belongs to me. I can determine who looks at the black box.” It might be your car, but the government can tell you how fast you can drive without imperiling the lives of others. They should also be able to find out to a certainty whether speeding or driver error caused you to injure or kill another person(s).
A fringe benefit of EDR’s would be a huge savings in the costs of litigation and insurance. A black box is like DNA in that the evidence is indisputable. I wonder if one of the reasons the black box is being stonewalled is the resistance of lawyers.
The National Highway Transportation Safety Association (NHTSA) issued regulations in 2006 regarding an EDR but without making it mandatory. In other words, the manufacturers can take it or leave it. This is nonsensical. What good is rule if you don’t enforce it? What could be more important than a device that will scientifically determine the cause of an accident…whether the accident was caused by driver error, vehicle defects, or highway design flaws? Who can possibly be against this? They estimate that the cost to the manufacturer would be only about 50 cents!
The EDR, black box, has been mandatory in airplanes for many years. Thousands of lives have been saved as a result of being able to determine the causes of airline accidents and instituting remedies in the form of design changes and improved training and safety regulations for flight crews. If we had had black boxes in cars as long as airplanes, the number of deaths and injuries prevented would be many times greater than that in airplanes simply because of the larger number of people who drive than fly and the greater number of accidents.
Ironically, the highly publicized recalls of millions of Toyotas worldwide, may have awakened the car manufacturers and the government to the necessity of EDR’s. One of the things that proved the innocence of Toyota against the charges of vehicle defects causing “sudden acceleration” was Electronic Data Recorders that were furnished to NHTSA and deciphered by Toyota. All of the EDR evidence proved that the accidents caused from the alleged sudden acceleration were driver error. Drivers either accidentally stepped on the accelerator instead of the brake or had the wrong floor mats placed incorrectly (sometimes two sets stacked on top of each other) in their vehicles.
Hopefully all manufacturers and our government will get the idea. That idea is the one our mothers taught us when we were children…honesty is the best policy” and as Dr. Martin Luther King often quoted, “The truth shall set you free”.