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Black Boxes on the Highways: Standards for Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders in Development

New York, Jun 19, 2003

Like the “black box” on aircrafts that records critical information over the course of a flight, event data recorders (EDR) in automobiles have the potential to capture critical data elements, aiding in accident prevention and law enforcement by better understanding the specific aspects of a crash. Government agencies and safety organizations are promoting the utilization of Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders (MVEDRs) to aid in the compilation of more accurate data to reduce the destructive and tragic effects of crashes. The voluntary standardization community has responded and is developing standards in this area.

It is becoming more common for light-duty motor vehicles, and increasing numbers of heavy commercial vehicles, to be equipped with some form of an MVEDR. Many motorists might not be aware the vehicle they drive is equipped with the technology. A drunken driver in Florida that took the life of two teens was recently sentenced to 30 years in prison on a double manslaughter conviction. He was not aware his Pontiac Trans Am was actually a silent witness to his crime; evidence from the MVEDR contributed to his conviction. While defense testimony asserted the driver was traveling at 60 mph, the “black box” documented the vehicle’s speed at over 100 mph.

A working group of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is developing a draft standard for MVEDRs – P1616, Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders – to collect, record, store and export data related to motor vehicle (pre-defined) events. P1616 will define what data should be captured, including date, time, location, velocity, heading, number of occupants and seat belt usage. It will also define how that information should be obtained, recorded and transmitted.

According to IEEE, Project 1616 was born out of the lack of uniform scientific crash data needed to make vehicle and highway transportation safer and reduce fatalities. A joint effort of industry and government experts, P1616 working groups aim to formulate a minimum performance protocol for the use of onboard tamper- and crash-proof memory devices for all types and classes of highway and roadway vehicles.

"The more accurate the data we gather on highway crashes, the better chance we have to reduce the devastating effects of crashes," said Jim Hall, co-chair of the IEEE P1616 Working Group and former head of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

In 1997, the NTSB charged the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop and implement a plan to gather better information on vehicle crashes, utilizing sensing and recording devices. Four years later, the Event Data Recorder (EDR) Working Group Final Report was issued, declaring that "Event Data Recorders (EDRs) offer great potential of improving vehicle and highway safety."

P1616 believes adoption of the standard will make MVEDR data more accessible and useful to end users. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) is also investigating work in this area.

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