|Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Lt Gov caught getting blown by secretary at 100MPH by black box
So - survailence continues to make news but not public alarms
A Black Box for Car Crashes
By JACLYN TROP
When Timothy P. Murray crashed his government-issued Ford Crown Victoria
in 2011, he was fortunate, as car accidents go. Mr. Murray, then the
lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, was not seriously hurt, and he
told the police he was wearing a seat belt and was not speeding.
But a different story soon emerged. Mr. Murray was driving over 100
miles an hour and was not wearing a seat belt, according to the computer
in his car that tracks certain actions. He was given a $555 ticket; he
later said he had fallen asleep.
The case put Mr. Murray at the center of a growing debate over a
little-known but increasingly important piece of equipment buried deep
inside a car: the event data recorder, more commonly known as the black
About 96 percent of all new vehicles sold in the United States have the
boxes, and in September 2014, if the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration has its way, all will have them.
The boxes have long been used by car companies to assess the performance
of their vehicles. But data stored in the devices is increasingly being
used to identify safety problems in cars and as evidence in traffic
accidents and criminal cases. And the trove of data inside the boxes has
raised privacy concerns, including questions about who owns the
information, and what it can be used for, even as critics have raised
questions about its reliability.
To federal regulators, law enforcement authorities and insurance
companies, the data is an indispensable tool to investigate crashes.
The black boxes “provide critical safety information that might not
otherwise be available to N.H.T.S.A. to evaluate what happened during a
crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and
prevent injuries,” David L. Strickland, the safety agency’s
administrator, said in a statement.
But to consumer advocates, the data is only the latest example of
governments and companies having too much access to private information.
Once gathered, they say, the data can be used against car owners, to
find fault in accidents or in criminal investigations.
“These cars are equipped with computers that collect massive amounts
of data,” said Khaliah Barnes of the Electronic Privacy Information
Center, a Washington-based consumer group. “Without protections, it
can lead to all kinds of abuse.”
What’s more, consumer advocates say, government officials have yet
to provide consistent guidelines on how the data should be used.
“There are no clear standards that say, this is a permissible use of
the data and this is not,” Ms. Barnes said.
Fourteen states, including New York, have passed laws that say that,
even though the data belongs to the vehicle’s owner, law enforcement
officials and those involved in civil litigation can gain access to the
black boxes with a court order.
In these states, lawyers may subpoena the data for criminal
investigations and civil lawsuits, making the information accessible to
third parties, including law enforcement or insurance companies that
could cancel a driver’s policy or raise a driver’s premium based
on the recorder’s data.
In Mr. Murray’s case, a court order was not required to release the
data to investigators. Massachusetts is not among the states to pass a
law governing access to the data. Asked about the case, Mr. Murray, who
did not contest the ticket and who resigned as lieutenant governor in
June to become head of the Chamber of Commerce in Worcester, Mass.,
declined to comment.
Current regulations require that the presence of the black box be
disclosed in the owner’s manual. But the vast majority of drivers
who do not read the manual thoroughly may not know that their vehicle
can capture and record their speed, brake position, seat belt use and
other data each time they get behind the wheel.
Unlike the black boxes on airplanes, which continually record data
including audio and system performance, the cars’ recorders capture
only the few seconds surrounding a crash or air bag deployment. A
separate device extracts the data, which is then analyzed through
The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade
association that represents 12 automakers including General Motors and
Chrysler, said it supported the mandate because the recorders helped to
monitor passenger safety.
“Event data recorders help our engineers and researchers understand
how cars perform in the real world, and one of our priorities for
E.D.R.’s continues to be preserving consumer privacy,” said Wade
Newton, a spokesman for the trade association. “Automakers don’t
access E.D.R. data without consumer permission, and we believe that any
government requirements to install E.D.R.’s on all vehicles must
include steps to protect consumer privacy.”
Beyond the privacy concerns, though, critics have questioned the
In 2009, Anthony Niemeyer died after crashing a rented Ford Focus in Las
Vegas. His widow, Kathryn, sued both Ford Motor and Hertz, contending
that the air bag system failed to deploy.
The black box, however, derailed Ms. Niemeyer’s assertion that her
husband had been traveling fast enough for the air bag to deploy.
Though Ms. Niemeyer lost the suit last year, her lawyer, Daniel T. Ryan
of St. Louis, was successful in excluding the black box data as evidence
on the grounds that the device is not fully reliable. The judge in the
case ruled that because an engineer working on behalf of the defense
retrieved the data, the plaintiffs, who maintained there were errors,
had no way to independently verify it.
“It’s data that has not been shown to be absolutely
reliable,” Mr. Ryan said. “It’s not black and white.”
The origins of black boxes, which are the size of about two decks of
cards and are situated under the center console, date to the 1990 model
year, when General Motors introduced them to conduct quality studies.
Since then, their use and the scope of the data they collect has
The lack of standardization among manufacturers has made it difficult to
extract the data, most notably during the investigations into the
crashes caused by sudden, unintended acceleration in some Toyota
Until recently, crash investigators needed an automaker’s
proprietary reader as well as the expertise to analyze the data. The
safety administration’s regulations will help enable universal
access to the data by using a commercially available tool. At the same
time, police departments are receiving training on the new regulations.
In Romulus, N.Y., last week, the Collision Safety Institute, a
consultancy in San Diego, helped teach New York State Police
investigators how to read the devices.
But privacy advocates have expressed concern that the data collected
will only grow to include a wider time frame and other elements like GPS
and location-based services.
“The rabbit hole goes very deep when talking about this stuff,”
said Thomas Kowalick, an expert in event data recorders and a former
co-chairman of the federal committee that set the standard for black
Today, the boxes have spawned a cottage industry for YouTube videos on
how to expunge the data. And Mr. Kowalick, seeing an opportunity,
invented a device that safeguards access to in-vehicle electronics
networks. It is controlled by the vehicle’s owner with a key and is
useful in the event of theft, he said.
“For most of the 100-year history of the car, it used to be ‘he
said, she said,’ ” Mr. Kowalick said. “That’s no longer
going to be the way.”
Bill Vlasic contributed reporting.