Do You Know Who’s Watching You Drive?


Thousands of drivers in the U.S. have their actions tracked every time they get behind the wheel–and very few of us are even aware of it. The reason? The event data recorder (EDR) has become an increasingly common device in automobiles. The device records information about a vehicle’s operation and details about driver behaviors in a way that is similar to the “black box” found in many airplanes.

Both safety and consumer rights activists are concerned about use and regulation of the devices. Initially, the EDR was intended to help automakers gather data about performance of their vehicles. However, some consumer rights advocates say, that is a far cry from how the EDR is being used today. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), EDRs are standard in about 85 percent of new vehicles. Yet many drivers are unaware that the devices even exist–and that they are constantly gathering data about what people are doing behind the wheel.

A recent article in Spectrum, a trade magazine for electrical engineers, called EDRs an “open secret,” saying that while many drivers are unaware of their existence, EDRs are used by law enforcement and the insurance industry on an increasingly regular basis. The article also discusses pending legislation, called “Mariah’s Act,”which would make EDRs standard equipment in all vehicles, beginning in 2015. According to the article, Mariah’s Act also has new requirements about the amount and type of data the EDR needs to gather–data that may be aimed at drivers, rather than their vehicles.

Many experts agree that the debate about EDRs focuses around issues of who has access to an auto’s data–and whether drivers can control that access. The National Motorists Association, for example, advocates for drivers to have primary control over EDR information and wants Mariah’s Act amended to prohibit law enforcement, insurers and others from accessing that information without a driver’s consent.

Still others, like California prosecutor Charles G. Gillingham, say that drivers give up any special right to the info on their EDR once they start driving on public lands. So far, only 13 states have weighed in on the EDR debate. South Carolina is not one of those states. The Supreme Court has yet to decide any cases that specifically involve EDRs, but the court recently struck down the use of data gathered from a GPS device which was placed on a suspect’s car without that person’s consent and without a warrant.

The debate over EDRs is far from over, and Mariah’s Act is still under consideration by Congress. In the meantime, it is important for all drivers to be aware of these issues and to be aware of whether their vehicle–or a vehicle they are purchasing–has an EDR. If you aren’t already aware of the status of your vehicle, you can use information on the National Motorists Association website to find out if your vehicle might have an EDR.


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