Is your car recording the way you drive?

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) - Many people are familiar with voice and flight data recorders on airplanes, often referred to as “black boxes”, but not many may be familiar with similar devices that are present in 90 percent of automobiles.

These “black boxes”, known as event data recorders (EDRs) in automobiles, have been installed in vehicles since the 1990s.  They collect information in a continuous loop; recording what happens before, during and after an accident.

Some people News 4 spoke to expressed concern about these recording devices being in their vehicles when they learned about them.

“I understand people want to know what goes on after an accident, but do you need to go to such extremes?” Mitchell Vasquez of Buffalo said.

Another Buffalo resident, Edward, said he had “no idea” about these devices and commented, “Big brother is watching.”

CHECK YOUR CAR | Click here for a list (PDF) of vehicles with EDRs installed

Shea Kolar saw some benefits to the recordings and told News 4, “It would certainly unlock a lot of mysteries to an accident especially if the person in the car is deceased or they’re unconscious.”

An industry group said event data recorders were originally installed by manufacturers to protect themselves from lawsuits.

They’re also used to provide accurate crash data for safety improvements and evidence in court.

“Whether criminal or civil, the information that’s captured by an event data recorder can be crucial to either side.” said Joe Morath, an attorney at Connors and Vilardo.

Morath said the event data recorder takes the ‘He said, She said’ aspect out of a court case.

“A lot of times what you have is driver with differing versions which is what you’d expect,” said Morath. “It’s as simple as getting the data, getting it interpreted and at that point it proves itself.”

The vehicle’s owner owns the information that’s contained within the vehicle’s black box. If police or another authority want to get information from the device, they will first need to obtain permission.

However, there are exceptions.  “If the event is severe enough and we don’t receive permission from the owner of the vehicle we obtain a search warrant,” said Deputy Joe Raczynski of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office.

After authorities get permission to retrieve information from a vehicle’s EDR they extract the data via a cable onto a PC. Information is sent to the computer so authorities can copy the crash data.

Authorities are able to learn number of things such as how fast the accelerator pedal was pressed, angle of driver’s seat or steering wheel, and even how long a key was in ignition before an event occurred.

EXTRA: More information on what types of data an EDR records is below.

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“This is good especially during a fatal accident where we don’t know where a person was coming from. So we can back track the amount of time and we will essentially be able to find out where they came from,” said Dep. Raczynski.

Mechanics cannot disable these event data recorders. They’re part of the airbag module so tampering with the device immobilizes it. The small recorders are also hard to find.

“Event data recorders that are in vehicles are typically buried away inside the dash board, center console or other places where they won’t get harmed in case there’s an accident,” said Robert Gugino, the owner of Bison Automotive and Detail.

So-called “black boxes” in vehicles are on track to become a mandatory installation in all vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed a new rule that would require automakers to install EDRs in all light passenger vehicles beginning September 1, 2014. A spokesman for NHTSA says the agency is in the process of working towards its final ruling on the matter.

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