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US lawmaker wants more 'Black Box' crash data

COMPUTER QUERIES: Data pertaining to advanced driver-assist systems can facilitate a better understanding of actions that lead to road accidents.

NHTSA hopes to collect more detailed crash data from car manufacturers

28 Jun 2022

IN A development that has potential ramifications in Australia and elsewhere, US automotive lawmaker, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), has said it wants carmakers to collect more crash data from event data recorders (EDRs) – otherwise known as "black boxes."


The NHTSA believes that motor vehicles’ rapidly increasing onboard computer power can be better utilised to help understand the actions that lead to road accidents. In-depth data, which is logged by vehicles’ electronic management systems, has been downloadable from many car and truck models in Australia for several years. In some cases, law enforcement here has subpoenaed this information.


This includes detailed data on brake application, ABS activation, throttle position, vehicle speed, steering angle, selected gear and, in the more recent applications, which drive mode is selected, whether radar-controlled assist systems were activated (including cameras) and much more.


The NHTSA wants access to the data in vehicles’ event data recorders (EDRs), specifically, motor-vehicle event data recorders (MVEDRs). An MVEDR is similar to an accident data recorder (ADR), which is installed in some motor vehicles to record information related to traffic collisions – it is colloquially referred to as a black box (so named after recorders used in the aviation industry). 


EDRs must meet federal standards as described within the US Code of Federal Regulations. An EDR refers to a simple, tamper-proof, read-write memory device whose role is limited compared to more sophisticated recorders such as digital tachographs in Europe or electronic logging devices in the US.


According to Autonews.com, modern trucks use EDRs that are triggered by electronically sensed problems (faults) in the engine or a sudden change in wheel speed. One or more of these conditions may occur because of a collision. Information from such devices can be collected after an accident and analysed to help determine what the vehicles were doing before, during and after the event.


 “The NHTSA has this week proposed a new requirement that black boxes increase data collection to 20 seconds of pre-crash information at a higher frequency rate. They want more information than is currently harvested to aid investigations, law framing and implementation,” the report said.  


“The current requirement is for five seconds of pre-crash data at a slower collection rate for vehicles with EDRs.”


“The agency had studied adopting the regulation for more than three years and was supposed to have finalised the new data-collection rules by 2020.”


“Black box data is a key tool for NHTSA investigations, including crashes where advanced driver assistance systems are suspected as a factor.”


NHTSA says the data provides a "comprehensive snapshot" of driver actions before a crash and can help "improve future vehicle designs and (lead to the implementation of) more effective safety regulations." The agency has already used EDR data in US court cases.


According to the Autonews report, in 2019, under the Trump administration, the NHTSA withdrew a 2012 proposal to require EDRs in all new cars because it said automakers had voluntarily installed the devices in nearly all (of their contemporary) vehicles.


“In 2006, NHTSA required for automakers that installed EDRs to collect certain data, including vehicle speed, crash forces at the moment of impact, whether an air bag deployed or if the brakes were applied in the moments before a crash and if seat belts were fastened,” the report said.


NHTSA estimates that 99.5 per cent of new vehicles have EDRs. The new rules are expected to pass Congress in the US and take effect in September 2023.


Honda has already voluntarily commenced voluntarily collecting EDR data on the status and operation of advanced driver-assistance systems.


Other carmakers are expected to follow suit before the legislation is enacted. 

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