Will you be a better driver with Big Brother watching you?

Recently passed legislation will require Event Data Recorders in new vehicles beginning in 2015.

Liane Yvkoff
Liane Yvkoff is a freelance writer who blogs about cars for CNET Car Tech. E-mail Liane.
Liane Yvkoff
2 min read

Pretty soon, car accidents will no longer be one person's word against another's -- a new bill will require "black boxes" that record vehicle data to be a standard feature of new cars.

The recently passed Senate Bill 1813 (known as MAP-21) mandates that auto manufactures install Event Data Records (EDR) in all new vehicles starting in 2015. The bill is expected to be approved by the House. The EDRs are similar to the black boxes used to determine what went wrong in an airplane crash, and record data such as speed, brake force, and electrical systems monitoring.

The National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration has been studying and mulling over EDRs in vehicles for several years, but has stopped short of requiring manufacturers to implement them. However, many auto manufacturers already use these devices to help engineers and mechanics perform diagnostics tests and identify malfunctioning parts.

Those little black boxes were crucial to the Department of Transportation finding Toyota not responsible for the so-called "unintended acceleration" accidents in 2009. They're also used in telematics systems, such as GM's OnStar, to alert emergency response operators in the event the vehicle sensors detect a crash or an airbag deployment.

The new legislation will standardize which events the black boxes record and require their installation in all new vehicles sold in 2015. While the new change offers considerable safety benefits, it does open the door to privacy concerns.

The time of day, how fast you were driving, how hard you were braking -- or not braking -- will be easily determined if the police or insurance company gets ahold of that information. Of course, these organizations will first need to subpoena the EDRs. If granted, this data could be used to recreate accidents, dispute driver claims, prove fault, or innocence.

Current NHTSA regulations require manufacturers to disclose to car buyers if the vehicle contains an EDR. Recently, some insurance companies, such as Progressive and State Farm, offered similar technology that lets drivers share driving behavior or mileage information with them in exchange for potential premium discounts. The safer the driver you are and the less you drive, the cheaper your premiums will be. However, if the EDRs report late braking, hard turning, late night drives, or mileage over your yearly estimate, your premiums may actually increase.

Yet, with Big Brother always watching you as you drive, you may have another reason to be a safer and slower driver.