Life is about to get more complex and more expensive for automakers that equip their vehicles with event data recorders.
The devices, sometimes referred to as automotive "black boxes," record information about the performance of airbags and other safety systems during crashes, as well as some aspects of the way a vehicle is being driven.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is about to issue its final regulation on the devices, completing a process that started more than two years ago. In the next 30 days, NHTSA will spell out what data must be collected.
The agency also will require the crash data to be accessible by common diagnostic tools and stored in a standard format. The rule takes effect Sept. 1, 2008.
But the rule won't make the installation of event data recorders (EDRs) mandatory. An estimated 90 percent of new cars and trucks already have the devices.
EDRs now in vehicles can collect any crash or vehicle data the manufacturer wants. The data can be stored in any format the automaker chooses.
Automakers that install EDRs will be required to collect safety information in as many as 23 categories. They include vehicle speed, brake status, steering wheel position, occupant positions, airbag deployment and more. The data must be stored in a format created by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
The final rule likely won't change much from a blueprint NHTSA has been working on since June 2004. The data that are collected depend on the vehicle's equipment. For instance, if a vehicle has side-impact airbags, the rule requires data to be collected on them in a crash. The rule requires the data to be recorded from the instant a crash starts until one half-second after the crash ends, a time that could be as long as 10 seconds.
NHTSA says the rule has two main goals:
1. To help automakers understand what happens in a crash so that they can design safer vehicles and reduce fatalities.
2. To assist accident investigators in reconstructing crashes.
The changes could cost automakers about $8 million, according to NHTSA estimates. Gloria Berguist, spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, says automakers support the rule and don't view the added cost as too expensive. "It's not a major issue," she says.
GM spokesman Alan Adler says the automaker has used the data it has captured from EDRs to make its vehicles safer. GM, he says, has even carried out a voluntary safety recall based on EDR information.
You may e-mail Richard Truett at [email protected]