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New Regulation Requires Automakers To Disclose 'Black Boxes'

The devices record information before, during, and after an accident. States are determining who can access the info and under what circumstances.
Federal authorities decided this month that U.S. automakers will have to inform buyers that their cars contain "black boxes," which record data before, during and after accidents.

The Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued the rules in a 207-page document released this month, but the requirements will not take effect until 2011.

The NHTSA states that nearly 10 million cars in the United States are equipped with event data recorders (EDRs) and 64 percent of new vehicles are equipped with the devices as part of their air bag control systems. The devices store information when an impact is forceful enough to activate an airbag. They are not required but most U.S. automakers install them.

Privacy advocates, including the Electronic Privacy Information Center and the American Civil Liberties Union, have said that the devices could infringe on vehicle owners' privacy rights.

Recorders create a timeline and log of events and circumstances surrounding a crash. Information they glean includes speed, acceleration, use of brakes, information on seatbelt use, information about airbag deployment.

Notices will be included in owner manuals.

State legislatures are addressing issues surrounding who can access black box data and under what conditions.

Colorado, Maine, New Hampshire and Virginia enacted laws in 2006 restricting access to crash data and requiring consumer notification. California was the first state to enact such a law and a total of 10 states have enacted laws governing black boxes since 2004, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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