Flight data recorders, commonly known as “black boxes,” have been a standard feature in airliners since the early 1960s. More recently, various companies have started offering apps and dedicated devices that essentially serve as black boxes for cars, keeping a record of the vehicle’s parameters and location when involved in an accident. Now, the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing that similar devices become mandatory in all new light passenger vehicles sold in the U.S. by September 1st, 2014.

According to the NHTSA, an estimated 96 percent of model year 2013 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles already come equipped with event data recorders (EDRs).

Unlike the aftermarket devices, which are aimed chiefly at providing proof that a driver wasn’t at fault in an accident, the factory-installed EDRs are intended more as a way of collecting data regarding which actions lead to accidents, and how a vehicle’s safety systems respond when an accident occurs. That data could then be used by automakers or government agencies, to help make roads and vehicles safer.

Some of the EDR-recorded data that the NHTSA hopes to analyze includes things such as vehicle speed; whether or not the brake was activated before a crash; crash forces at the moment of impact; engine throttle level; deployment timing and readiness of air bags; and whether or not the vehicle occupant’s seat belt was buckled. EDRs are triggered by an impact or air bag deployment, and only save data from the moments leading up to and during an accident.

In 2006, the NHTSA established a set of data collection standards for the devices. The new proposal calls for automakers not only to follow those standards, but also to provide a commercially-available tool for copying that data from a vehicle – and for EDRs to be required equipment in any passenger vehicle weighing less than 8,500 pounds (3,856 kg). The agency couldn’t access or use the data without the vehicle owner’s consent, however.

“EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash – and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “A broader EDR requirement would ensure the agency has the safety-related information it needs to determine what factors may contribute to crashes across all vehicle manufacturers.”

Source: NHTSA via ars technica