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New standards implemented for collecting black box data from new vehicles equipped with the instruments take place as of September, 2012. The black boxes now have to meet certain criteria for the categories of data that are captured. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is working on a rule requiring all new cars to have the devices installed. As it currently stands, there is no federal rule that says that cars must be equipped with black boxes.

The technical name of a black box is event data recorder, but it got its name from similar devices used on airplanes. Airplane mechanics coined the term black box due to the fact that the device can only be handled and serviced by a specialist, and are actually a specific shade of orange. The units, when installed on cars, are either black or sometimes silver. An event data recorder has a circuit board with a memory chip that stores information, and a data jack for downloading information.

A black box records data from the last few seconds before a crash occurs, collecting such information as speed of the vehicle, if the brakes were applied, force of impact, and even if the seatbelts were buckled. All of this information is useful for many uses, including lawsuits. Crash data has the potential to show who was at fault during a crash amongst other uses in the courtroom.

The NHTSA is putting the rules into effect after turning down the auto industry’s request for a one-year delay on standardization. The rules specify how precisely the sensors must measure parameters, as well how the information collected is to be retrieved.

Ensuring a standard of accuracy and method of data retrieval makes it easier for a variety of industries to understand and utilize the information collected. An engineer can find ways to improve the vehicles, or a lawyer can use the information to advantage in a court case involving a crash.

Source: New York Times, “N.H.T.S.A. Sets Standards for Data Collected From Black Boxes in Cars,” Matthew Wald, August 17, 2012

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