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Auto Manufacturers, Consumer Safety Advocates Spar Over Black Box Requirements in New Cars

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If a new auto safety bill passes in Congress, all new cars could potentially be equipped with “black boxes”, which can record crash data and provide useful insight into the cause of any particular accident. Since the Toyota sudden acceleration accidents and subsequent recalls of millions of vehicles, auto industry and consumer safety groups have both showed support for making black boxes mandatory. Nevertheless, while black boxes may be in all cars in the coming years, automakers and safety advocates still disagree over the extent of data that black box devices should collect and the extent that they should be able to survive the worst of crashes.

For example, on the safety advocacy side, one proposal by Representative Jackie Speier (D-California) would require that black boxes be strong enough to withstand high-speed rollover crashes, as well as fire or water accidents. Additionally, the proposal also calls for black boxes to collect at least 60 seconds of data before a crash and the 15 seconds after. However, auto manufacturers argue that such extensive rules, particularly those that require black boxes to withstand fiery crashes, would cost companies large amounts of money. Specifically, Gloria Bergquist, the vice president of the Auto Alliance, noted that black boxes such as those Speier and safety advocates desire, would cost between $5,000 and $25,000 each.

So far, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not made any moves on drafting specific requirements for black boxes, arguing that “the agency would have to weigh the cost and benefits” prior to making any decisions.