Don’t Box Me In

Q: I thought I heard somewhere that there is a “black box” type device in some cars. First of all, is this true? Second, will someone, including the government, be able to track my personal history?
— W. Diggs, Via the Internet

Event data recorders (EDRs), commonly know as “black boxes,” have indeed been installed in automobiles — including those from General Motors and Ford (among others) — since the early 1990s, according to Vetronix Corp., ( one of the manufacturers of such devices. These devices were initially introduced as a safety measure, recording information such as vehicle and engine speed, brake and airbag status, and vehicle impact time in the event of a car crash.

Although they have also proven useful to insurance companies and police officers investigating auto accidents, the devices have generated some controversy because of privacy concerns. However, the devices record information immediately before (roughly five seconds) and after a crash and does not monitor driver behavior or history on an ongoing basis. Additionally, the information recorded belongs to you, and not the government or the auto dealer (although information has been introduced in court cases to prosecute drivers accused of causing accidents or deaths).

For a list of automobiles that feature the Vetronix “black box,” visit _list.html. You can also contact your auto dealer to find out whether your car has such a device.