12 January 2005

Be careful

Now your car can be used as a witness for the prosecution:

The National Transportation Safety Board wants all cars to be equipped with black box data recorders, which keep records of, as Fox News reports, "everything from speed, brake pressure, seat belt use and air bag deployment."

The Fox story sums up some privacy advocate objections, and includes this mordantly amusing example of regulators' thinking:

According to Joe Osterman, director of highway safety at the NTSB, the recommendation was inspired in part by a tragic auto accident involving a 86-year-old man who drove his car into a crowded Santa Monica farmers├ó€™ market last summer, killing 10 and injuring 63.

Osterman said a black box in the car might have not saved the people in the crash, but would have allowed investigators to find out how it happened and how cars could be better designed to reduce the likelihood of greater injury in the future.


Since there is no reason to believe that that tragedy occurred for any reason other than a bad driver stepping hard on the gas, thusly propelling him forward, at a time when a competent driver would have been stepping on the brakes, Osterman's comment belongs in the hall of fame of lame uses of tragedy to justify government action.

I debated this topic last December, when California became the first and so far only state to mandate that car buyers had to be told when their cars had the devices, on CNN's Talkback Live with Public Safety's Joan Claybrook; transcript here.


I saw an article in Newsday (the fishwrapper) yesterday at the shop about an accident here on Long Island where the anti-lock brake computer was allowed as evidence against the driver at fault. I'm still looking for the link to the story online. The story above was written last September.

Now, I personally think the computer is the greatest thing that ever happened to the automobile. They're cleaner, faster, and more powerful while using less gas than ever. You three-huggers bitch about a 10-cylinder Excursion, but it still gets better gas mileage than a mid-60s 6-cylinder and runs a thousand percent cleaner.

Thing is, if you got a problem with your car's computer tattling on you, you'd better get with your elected representatives, cause the computer in your car is here to stay.

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