Unlikely Duo Pushes Automakers to Install Black Box Recorders

A former top transportation safety official and a community college professor have launched a quest to prod automakers to install black boxes — resembling the data recorders on airliners — in all new cars.

“The way to leapfrog safety is to copy the model from aviation,” Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board from 1994 to 2001, told the Los Angeles Times. “Most of the major air safety improvements have come as a result of information from recorders.”

Hall teamed up with Tom Kowalick, a history professor at Sandhills Community College in Pinehurst, N.C., and the author of seven books on event data recorders, or EDRs, after meeting him at a government conference in Washington. Unlike Hall, a veteran legislative aide and regulator, Kowalick was drawn to the issue of EDRs after becoming obsessed with the mysterious traffic death of his father in 1982.

In 2001, the “unlikely duo” became co-chairmen of an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers committee and began pushing for a wide-ranging EDR standard.

The auto industry, to put it mildly, has not been receptive to their efforts — representatives from General Motors,Toyota and Chrysler walked out of the committee. Hall and Kowalick published a 171-page standard under the institute’s sponsorship in 2005 requiring automakers to record 86 streams of data — including whether a motorist was using a turn signal before a crash, and the acceleration forces in every direction that affects a vehicle in a rollover.

The federal government, meanwhile, has moved hesitantly. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is only now considering requiring automakers to install EDRs. Previously, it proposed regulations for car companies that voluntarily add the devices, but called for only 15 data elements to be recorded–and even that is being challenged by the industry.

Hall says the whole process is a textbook study in how to paralyze an idea. “It has been tied down in the bureaucracy of Washington, D.C.,” he laments.

Print Print  

One comment to “Unlikely Duo Pushes Automakers to Install Black Box Recorders”

  1. Ron & Lori Eves

    It is time for the governing transportation agencies such as NHTSA and Transport Canada to take a firm, and progressive hold on this industry towards EDR’S.

    The example of the both air safety and accountabilty should not be a strange concept to the driver of an automobile.

    The surrounding facts of an unwitnessed loss of life are and should be available to law enforcement. To deny this is like fishing in a dry ditch, unable to understand a drivers last second actions or inactions.

    Sure we can measure estimate and possibly venture a guess or two, but perhaps the time has come in automitive history to take the next step. We as parents suggest while fuel effiency is important so is saftey and accountability.

    Toyota to name names sat on a rather large world wide problem for the sake of profit.
    While profit is a very health word so are timely accountability.

    Perhaps id the Washington State Patrol had seen at the time the later recalls they would have examined our loss further.

    Ron & Lori Eves
    Parents of Chris Eves (Deceased)

Leave a comment