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Posted: 6/15/2003 9:57:26 PM EDT
[url]http://www.newhouse.com/archive/jensen061203.html[/url] Cars' `Black Boxes' Hold Crash Data, New Privacy Issues BY CHRISTOPHER JENSEN c.2003 Newhouse News Service When Edwin Matos killed the girls, he didn't know his car would become a witness for the prosecution. Like millions of Americans, Matos had no idea his car contained an electronic device recording what he did just before the crash, but it was information that would help send him to prison. Matos was driving the 2002 Pontiac Trans Am in a 30 mph zone of a suburb near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when the car driven by a teenage girl pulled out of a driveway into his path. The driver and her friend died instantly. Defense lawyer Robert Stanziale said Matos was going about 60 mph. Assistant State Prosecutor Michael Horowitz said that his accident investigator calculated Matos was traveling about 98 mph. The electronic data recorder in Matos' car showed his peak speed was 114 mph in the seconds before the crash. Last month, the information from the EDR helped convict Matos of two counts of manslaughter and two counts of vehicular homicide. Matos, 47, is scheduled to be sentenced this Friday. He faces a minimum of 22 years and a maximum of 30 years in prison. While most people are familiar with the black boxes in aircraft, which also serve as event data recorders, few motorists know there are similar devices in their vehicles as part of the system that controls air bags. Only 36 percent of the 38,000 people surveyed by the Insurance Research Council were aware of EDRs. But at least 10 million vehicles have them, estimated Philip W. Haseltine, president of the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, a lobbying group in Arlington, Va. The most sophisticated EDRs collect pre-crash information including the speed of the vehicle, whether the driver was accelerating or braking and whether the seat belts were buckled. The collection of such information has excited a wide range of groups for different reasons, and EDRs have the potential to become one of the more controversial issues in the auto industry. Safety researchers see EDRs as an excellent way to get more detailed information about real-world crashes so they can see how to improve safety. Insurance companies see EDRs as a way to determine who is at fault in an accident and whether seat belts were used. One day they could also allow an insurance company to know who is naughty and nice in everyday driving. The courts see EDRs as an new tool to determine the guilt or innocence of people involved in serious, criminal accidents. Privacy groups see EDRs as electronic snoops and a threat to privacy. Consumers Union, the nonprofit group that publishes Consumer Reports, says "there are significant potential dangers" to motorists' privacy. The prime role of EDRs has been to control air bags and to record information about how well they worked during a crash. General Motors Corp. took the lead in collecting more information. Starting with the 1999 model year, all GM vehicles had EDRs programmed to record about five seconds of pre-crash information. That included whether the driver was accelerating or braking and the speed of the vehicle, according to a study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The idea was to learn more about how to improve crash performance. After selected, serious crashes, GM would collect the information with the permission of the owner of the vehicle, said Jim Schell, a GM spokesman. GM routinely shared that information with the highway traffic safety administration. While all vehicles with air bags use EDRs, other automakers have not been as quick to increase the amount of information recorded. Some are worried that consumers may resent having such personal information collected and they're waiting to see what happens to GM, Haseltine said. Those include Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Corp., where company officials say they generally have limited capability on their EDR systems. "We don't want our vehicle owners thinking that their manufacturer is conspiring against them," said Rick Ruth, Ford's manager of design analysis. So far, GM doesn't appear to have suffered any public backlash, said Haseltine, whose group is funded by major automakers. But he acknowledges that could be because relatively few people know about the devices and how they could be used. During the Florida case, the accuracy of the EDR was challenged by Matos' lawyer, Stanziale, in several areas. He argued that it was new technology and that it had not been accepted or proven. The judge dismissed that argument in the face of various studies by groups including NHTSA. Stanziale also argued that Matos had modified his Trans Am, changing the size of the tires and even the engine's software to make it faster. That, he said, would have caused the EDR to make wrong calculations. Horowitz said there was no proof the changes affected the EDR. Horowitz contends the EDR played an important role in convincing the jury because it was part of the car's safety equipment and was simply recording the information. "It is not for the prosecution or defense," he said. The devices can provide important information ranging from the force of the impact to how the air bag deployed. That all helps investigators to understand "the nuances of a crash," said Sean Kane, a partner in Strategic Safety, a safety research firm based in Alexandria, Va. But for the complete crash picture, EDR information must be considered along with other crash investigation techniques, Kane said. Generally, EDRs have been found to be accurate, but not perfect, according to studies by groups like NHTSA and its Canadian counterpart, Transport Canada. There is a need to use caution, warned one Transport Canada study. "It is evident that, in certain situations, the stored data may not correspond to the actual situation in the vehicle." Automakers say the information collected by EDRs belongs to the owner or the person who leased the vehicle and they will not download it without permission. But that doesn't mean others can't get it. In the Matos case, a judge issued a search warrant allowing the prosecution to harvest the information. Criminal court cases involving EDRs have been rare, but industry observers expect them more often as the number of vehicles with EDRs increases. That may make many people unhappy. Fewer than half of the 38,000 surveyed by the Insurance Research Council favored the use of EDRs to investigate accidents and determine fault. But the insurance industry maintains EDRs are a good idea because the information can help determine what really happened, said Sean McManamy, a spokesman for the American Insurance Association, a lobbying group. Consumers Union has warned the NHTSA that without regulations to limit the disclosure of such information, there is the potential for abuse, such as insurance companies requiring consumers to have EDRs and make the information available as a condition for providing insurance. Such electronic devices also raise the possibility of routine monitoring of how customers drive.
Link Posted: 6/15/2003 10:36:51 PM EDT
I knew about that years ago but this is the first case I've heard. If that dude wanted to go fast he should've went to a track.
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 1:42:39 AM EDT
Damn, first I heard of this. And I just bought a 2003 GMC Sierra! If I would have known this I would have bought something else.
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 3:16:30 AM EDT
This isn't new, but using them as part of an accident investigation is. Years ago, I went to pick up a patrol car, and the fleet service guys were bitching at me; when they checked the "chip," they found that car wouls spend a couple hours running at 15 MPH, a couple hours at idle, with periodic bursts of 40-70MPH, and they were upset about the wear and tear (campus agency). There is nothing new about that, and these have been around for probably close to a decade, though I wonder why nobody has never thought about using them in serious accident investigations before now. Hey, it gets worse. We are getting GPS trackers in our work cars. The system can be set to alert a supervisor any time you exceeed certain speeds, or lights and sirens are activated. It also gives a constant read-out on your vehicle's location, which can be queried afterwards.
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 4:17:30 AM EDT
Buy an old Jeep Wrangler or a diesel Ford F-150. End of discussion.
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 4:20:54 AM EDT
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 4:46:53 AM EDT
Originally Posted By BenDover: Buy an old Jeep Wrangler or a diesel Ford F-150. End of discussion.
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I don't believe Ford ever put diesels in the 150s. At least not for the last 10 years.
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 4:53:20 AM EDT
Yep. My car is spying on me, and so is my dishwasher and cordless drill. I'm starting to suspect my couch, too.
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 5:08:39 AM EDT
Originally Posted By Cincinnatus: Yep. My car is spying on me, and so is my dishwasher and cordless drill. I'm starting to suspect my couch, too.
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Don't forget the chip in the ass too!![:D]
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 5:09:27 AM EDT
Don't get fresh!
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 5:25:54 AM EDT
black box in the car... neat... I thought I'd read about those a few years ago. Not a bad idea, if you're a SANE FUCKING DRIVER. Why would you care about it much, if you obey the freaking laws and drive safely? You've got nothing to worry about. Now, if it were something like the Brits were talking about, having GPS in your car, and having it control a governor, so you don't speed according to the speed limits of the road you're on, then I'd be pretty damn against it. That guy should have the book thrown at him. 114mph in a 30mph zone? Most 30mph zones are residential areas. It boggles my mind how he could even get up to that speed. He should be charged with murder 1. You go that damn fast in an area like that, you want to kill someone. Period. Strap his ass into a cheap ass tin can Metro, and hit it at 114mph with whatever kind of car he was driving.
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 5:53:22 AM EDT
What about the chip on my shoulder? Is that a personal data recorder?
Link Posted: 6/16/2003 6:14:41 AM EDT
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