Final Rule on Black Boxes for Crash Data Wastes Valuable Opportunity, Sets Bar Too Low for Automakers

Jan. 14, 2008

Final Rule on Black Boxes for Crash Data Wastes Valuable Opportunity, Sets Bar Too Low for Automakers

Statement of Joan Claybrook, President, Public Citizen*

With the announcement of the completion of a final rule for event data recorders (EDRs), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proves yet again that setting the rulemaking bar low has become the agency’s guiding principle during the Bush administration.

NHTSA today has squandered a unique opportunity. The agency could have proffered a rule making the inclusion of EDRs, also known as black boxes, mandatory in all vehicles to help ensure the collection of maximum amounts of crash data. Instead, NHTSA gave automakers the choice of whether to include these devices in vehicles, and through this rulemaking established a minimal set of data that the devices, if installed, must gather during a crash.

EDRs have a unique ability to gather unbiased and accurate crash environment and causation data. EDRs operate by electronically recording many pieces of information, such as speed or the deployment of safety features, for eight seconds during a crash.

The totality of this information, once examined by safety experts, could help reconstruct crashes and highlight vehicle performance areas in need of improvement. Mandating the inclusion of EDRs on all vehicles could have given NHTSA and other experts access to broader amounts of data to better inform future design and safety efforts. NHTSA, however, in setting its goals low, failed to take advantage of this critical market-wide opportunity to gather additional data about a variety of crashes, including higher speed, side, front, rear and rollover crashes.

* Joan Claybrook was NHTSA administrator from 1977-1981.

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