The electronic spy in the car

Accident data recorders or black boxes for cars are getting cheaper and better – and they open up new monitoring possibilities

The freedom on the roads could soon be over with the further advent of electronics in cars and the surveillance possibilities it opened up. Toll and navigation systems provide an entry point, advanced accident data recorders or. -The use of an accident data recorder (UDS) or a driving data recorder (FDS) for cars is another matter. Costs are falling for the automotive black box, which could potentially curb risky driving, but also extend surveillance capabilities onto the road. Earlier this year, a majority of the participants in the 41. At the 5th Traffic Court Conference in Goslar, the government advocated the mandatory introduction of such a black box for cars.

With a UDS for automobiles, certain driving data such as speed, longitudinal and lateral acceleration as well as changes in direction, overtaking maneuvers, skidding, cornering and jerking, activation of the brakes, turn signal or light are continuously recorded and rewritten. Accidents and critical driving maneuvers are automatically recorded, with a certain period of time before and after the incident, for example, the last 30 seconds before a collision and the first 15 seconds after it. It is possible to delete the memory or save the data of an incident.

So far, accident recorders in Germany are mainly used in vehicle fleets. They serve not only to reconstruct an accident and to clarify the question of guilt, but also to prevent risky driving and to demand defensive driving. With increasing memory, GPS localization and real-time data transmission, drivers could be monitored at any time in the future. Despite calls for mandatory installation of UDS in all vehicles, the associated legal and social problems have not yet been clarified anywhere.

This is also the case in the USA, where the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) also advocates mandatory installation in all vehicles. However, without this being generally known, most new cars in the USA have already been equipped with this system. Between 25 and 40 million vehicles are already equipped with a UDS or EDR (event data recorder). GM, for example, has been installing devices in vehicles equipped with airbags since 1974, which not only trigger the airbags at the right time, but also store accident data. Airbags are still the gateway, so to speak, through which UDS with improved capacities are also being smuggled into private vehicles without the owners’ knowledge.

With a price of about 500 euros for the UDS 2, for example.0 from VDO-Kienzle, the price is still relatively expensive. Therefore, so far in Germany only about 30.000 cars equipped with them. In the USA, on the other hand, the company Road Safety International now offers the RS-1000, also known as Safeforce, a cheaper version of a tachograph or black box, which can be used to directly influence driving behavior.

After the drivers employed by companies and authorities, young beginners are the first target of the black box, which not only records data such as the use of seat belts, speed, sharp braking, the position of the accelerator pedal or fast cornering, but can also read them out on a PC via a memory card. The black box, located under the driver’s seat, emits a loud warning tone if the driver is speeding or otherwise behaving in a risky manner. If the driver does not correct his behavior within 10 seconds, the warning tone becomes continuous. And the data is recorded naturally.

It is like being able to sit next to your driver, every second they drive. For the first time, you have control over how your teen is driving, even when you are not there!

But in a few months, Road Safety International plans to offer a GPS system for the black box at a cost of $200, so that the driver can see where he or she is going. And next year, a communication module will give parents the ability to track online in real time where their offspring are and how they’re driving. It would also be possible to require the installation of such a black box for certain groups of drivers, e.g. for beginners or for conspicuous drivers.

In this case, therefore, young people or adolescents are to become pioneers of the black box for automotive control, thus opening the door to further surveillance possibilities that, thanks to technology, are also moving into all other areas of society. Even in the case of simple accident data recorders, however, it is problematic who owns the data and who has access to it. Legally, a person may not normally be forced to incriminate himself by data from his own black box, but more precise legal regulations do not yet exist.

In the USA, buyers of new vehicles do not even have to be informed that they are equipped with a UDS. According to a survey conducted in 2002, two thirds of car buyers have no idea about the technology. In California, as the Washington Post reports, the governor, who is still in office, has before him a bill unanimously approved by the legislature that would require vehicle manufacturers to disclose whether their cars have a black box and what data is recorded by it. The law also stipulates that the data belong to the vehicle owner and could only be viewed with the owner’s permission, by a court order, or for security studies in which the vehicle owners remain anonymous.

The data is of interest not only to manufacturers and the police, but also to insurance companies. Last year, Injury Sciences opened a web portal for this purpose, so that it is possible to quickly determine which cars are equipped with a UDS and what data they collect. In addition, links are offered to companies that can read and analyze the data.