Federal legislation aims to protect personal data contained in a car's event data recorder.

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Federal legislation aims to protect personal data contained in a car's event data recorder.

— While the auto industry works its way to self-driving cars, our vehicles are already so electronically connected that personal privacy has become an issue on the highways.

One of the electronic gadgets that have some privacy advocates worried is the car's "black box," also known as an event data recorder (EDR). Similar to the so-called black boxes found in airplanes, the EDR has the ability to collect at least 43 pieces of information including direction, speed, seat belt usage and other data. It can be a valuable tool to learn what happened seconds before a crash and if the car or driver is to blame.

With the advent of EDR's, owners have questioned just who owns and has access to the data and how it's used. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates 96 percent of model year 2013 vehicles have data recorders, yet NHTSA says it doesn't have authority to address privacy concerns.

This leaves the concerns to legislators to figure out, and 15 states have passed some form of laws related to EDRs. Those states include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

That's well and good, except for the states without EDR legislation. That's where the Driver Privacy Act comes in, a bill that would create uniform rules for the entire U.S. The bill, which recently passed out of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, would require more action from NHTSA.

The Driver Privacy Act would force NHTSA to conduct a study on the amount of time an event recorder should save data in relation to a crash or other type of incident. New regulations would be created based on the results of the study.

The Driver Privacy Act would further specify data from an EDR cannot be retrieved in any state unless:

  • Authorized by a court of law
  • The data is retrieved in connection to an investigation
  • The owner consents to the data retrieval
  • The information is used for traffic safety research and all personally identifiable information is not disclosed
  • The information is used to determine the need for emergency medical response following a crash

Learn more about the Driver Privacy Act.

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