Back in April, we told you that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would soon require "black boxes", or event data recorders, on all new cars sold in the U.S. by the 2015 model year. Such recorders can already be found on 91.6% of vehicles in America -- including all GM, Ford, and Toyota models -- but they're there because automakers installed them to gather crash data, not because of a federal requirement.
Such a requirement was proposed to Congress as a part of S.B. 1813, which went on to become a part of the massive (and massively mangled) surface transportation bill that passed over the summer. However, we've given that bill a fairly thorough review, and we can't find any mention of event data recorders, so it looks as if plans to make them mandatory via the legislative branch may have tanked. (You're welcome to look over the bill yourself, though, and see if we missed something.)
NHTSA also tried issuing the requirement through the Obama administration, but according to Detroit News, the proposal hasn't moved beyond the esteemed desks of the White House Office of Management Budget.
But while NHTSA continues its efforts to make event data recorders mandatory, there's one thing we do know: on September 1, the agency will issue new regulations for the black boxes already being installed by manufacturers.
This is both good and bad, depending on how you look at it.
It's good if you're a safety fan. The new rules standardize not only the data collected by black box recorders, but also the way in which it's collected. Under the new guidelines, NHTSA will be able to compare data from all automakers and know that they're looking at apples and apples, not apples and oranges.
It's bad if you're an automaker -- though only slightly. Since most vehicles on the road already have black boxes, upgrading them is less expensive than installing a completely new piece of equipment.
However, there are negative implications for drivers, too. The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which represents automakers, says that some companies may disable their existing devices to avoid breaking NHTSA's new rules. Disabling wouldn't conflict with any rules since the devices aren't legally required.
So far, GM appears to be the only automaker planning anything like that. GM told Detroit News that it would disable some data collection on the Malibu and the Savanna, but that it wouldn't deactivate event recorders entirely.
The Alliance appealed to NHTSA to delay roll-out of the new regulations, but yesterday, NHTSA declined. The agency said that it had already adjusted the requirements to make things easier for automakers. Also, NHTSA finalized the new rules in 2006 and has already delayed their implementation by two years, so it would seem that automakers have probably had time to prepare.
We'll keep you posted on NHTSA's efforts to require data recorders as they progress.