EOBRs and EDRs: Is Big Brother Riding With You?


This legislation would impose civil penalties against individuals who remove or dismantle the EOBR equipment.

While some of us may think of the “Big Brother” viewpoint as just an Orwellian theory, believing we can’t possibly be headed for a life in which every move we make is being watched, news reports have announced that even within the privacy of your limousine, actually within your place of business, everything you and likely your passengers do, can be scrutinized. Now, this isn’t limited to professional limousine drivers, but also personal vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has backed legislation to make Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs), also known as Event Data Recorders (EDRs) and “Black Boxes,” standard equipment on all new vehicles beginning with the 2015 model year.

Already passed in the Senate and expected to be approved by the House, this portion of the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” (Map-21) legislation would impose civil penalties against individuals who remove or dismantle the EOBR  equipment. The devices are meant to record certain information from a vehicle immediately before and/or during most serious crashes, but NHTSA wants them to also be capable of recording longer and more detailed vehicle, driver and even passenger information.

What may be surprising is that, according to an article from USA Today,  the black boxes are already recording driving behavior in 96% of newer cars and in 150 million older vehicles. And unless you thoroughly read your owner’s manual, you may not be aware that the device is even in your car, with the added possible complication that you do not necessarily own the device or the data it is recording. This is causing much controversy with regard to legal and privacy issues and, as the public becomes more informed and aware that the devices are installed in their vehicles, the conflict will only intensify.

For example, there is a question as to whether the EDR and the data can be confiscated without a warrant. In New York, two courts ruled that warrants are not needed and the prosecutors argued that drivers have no expectation of privacy on public roads. One judge said that the EDRs are akin to having an on-scene witness testimony. A California appeals court tossed out a drunken-driving manslaughter conviction because the police failed to get a warrant for the box. Approximately a dozen states require that at every car sale, the existence of the black boxes be disclosed
to the buyer. Privacy advocates are, however, increasingly nervous about how, no matter where we go or what we do, can be located through GPS tracking in cell phones and from our vehicles. This is exacerbated by everyone sharing their locations on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks, and the traditional ideas of privacy are changing rapidly.

NHTSA contends that the EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information, record conversations or run continuously. But as a professional limousine driver, you know that one of the devices you most likely have in your vehicle is windshield mounted and does contain one or more of these features. It seems likely that in the near future, technology will be mandated to improve safety and help with determining the factors that contributed to a crash.

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