Every Car an Informant

|

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' 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.

Advertisement

NEXT: In Defense of Reality TV

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Gee, here’s an easy solution. Insurers are starting to give insurance discounts to drivers who have a GPS in their cars, my guess is they will (or are) do the same for the device. The miracles of the free market. Of course, the problem then becomes, how long until most people have these devices and not having one lumps you with the unsafe drivers making it far more expensive than current insurance rates.

    I wonder what the Santa Monica accident black box would have said, he stepped on the gas, went faster and hit stuff. Then the car stopped.Not exactly rocket science.

  2. “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.”

    Ah but you fail to realize that a black box used to record what happens in the vehicle is merely the first step in the grand plan of our paternalistic betters.

    The next step is a black box that not only records what happens but controls it as well – sort of an involuntary remote control device. Are you exceeding the posted speed limit on the interstate? The nanny-box will slow the car down to the posted limit no matter how hard you stomp on the gas – all for your own good of course.

  3. This is all part of the grand public transportation plan. The NTSB wants to make passenger cars so privacy-invasive and government monitored that even libertarians will want to ride the bus.

  4. Gilbert: I still can’t figure out why they haven’t used the SpeedPass to determine when people are speeding on toll roads; and to issue speeding tickets accordingly. There is no technical reason they cannot do this today.

  5. A private insurance company is already doing the black box thing.

    I think ideas like this will spread. People will be willing to voluntarily sell their privacy in return for economic rewards. The positives of building a good electronic reputation, like a good credit rating, will outweigh negatives of the loss of privacy.

  6. steve –

    25-30 years ago I witnessed a tollbooth operator on I80 (I can’t remember if this was IN or OH, but it wasn’t PA) pull this trick. When entering the new section at the state border, drivers planning to travel more than a few exits were handed an IBM-style punchcard. When exiting the tollroad, an employee would note the milemarker you entered at, and charge the relevant toll. The cards were time-stamped, so an alert staffer could tell if you had sped to your exit. This was very low-tech, but it worked.

    I expect that, should black boxes become the norm, a new avenue for those with mahd skillz will be obvious.

    Kevin

  7. Shouldn’t they be standard on cop cars first?

  8. I just want all that data being recorded available to me realtime. One would have a much better picture of what maintenance could be done to head off major brewing problems. Also, having that data would be invaluable when your friendly neighborhood mechanic tries to stick you with several hundred bucks worth of unneeded repairs.

  9. steve,
    When I lived in NJ, I heard they had thought of doing that in NJ, but people were outraged. Also, they needed to come up with new terms of the EZPass contract, since that use was prohibited by the terms that were agreed upon.

    I know in Egypt, between Cairo and Alexandria they do a similar thing. They check when you left Cairo and when you hit Alexandria (there’s only one highway between the two. If you go too fast, you get a ticket. Though most people just stop off in the middle and bypass that.

  10. I know in Egypt, between Cairo and Alexandria they do a similar thing. They check when you left Cairo and when you hit Alexandria (there’s only one highway between the two. If you go too fast, you get a ticket. Though most people just stop off in the middle and bypass that.

    What’s the point of speeding if you’re just going to stop off and kill time?

  11. jc,

    I almost never see a cop car actually driving the speed limit.

    On the black box thing: shouldn’t they also require GPS, so our caretakers will know exactly where we are every minute?

  12. What’s the point of speeding if you’re just going to stop off and kill time?

    Egyptian Bubble Hashish. All the flavor and twice the head.

  13. Tim –

    The leadfeet get the best table at Stuckey’s.
    Mmmmmm….. Pralines.

    Kevin

  14. Usually, you’re not killing time. Often, you have to cool off the car or grab a bite to eat.

  15. I meant to add–

    As somebody recently said at the Undernews Blog, an accretion of legislation and executive orders over the last fifty years has had the cumulative effect of putting us a simple stroke of the pen away from full-blown dictatorship.

    Imagine if they’d had GPS and biometrics during the Palmer Raids, or if Hitler had had them after the Reichstag fire.

    You shouldn’t entrust powers to any leader that you wouldn’t feel safe giving to the worst leaders. Things change.

  16. Mr. Carson, please do not move from your present location. A HomeSec/FBI Joint Task Force will be by shortly to pick you up. To the other readers of Hit & Run, please understand that Mr. Carson is a: deranged psychopath/child molester/militia member/Islamo-fascist/Commie/Democratic Texas state legislator (circle one), the use of our powers in no way threatens peaceful, law-abiding sober White middle-class Americans who solely engage in missionary position sex within the confines of a blissful wedded union.

  17. “You shouldn’t entrust powers to any leader that you wouldn’t feel safe giving to the worst leaders. Things change.”

    Good heavens, Kevin, are you telling me I can’t trust that lovely Senator “Mommie” Feinstein with the powers she wants? I know she’d never do anything but good for us. I thought I only needed to be afraid of Bushcroft.

  18. I dunno – I don’t see this as entirely a bad thing. I wouldn’t mind having these as long as a) drivers are notified of the presence of the device and what information it records, b) it doesn’t automatically report anything to anyone else, c) the police need a warrant to get the recorded data. In some ways these might actually aid the cause of personal responsibility. There’s been a consistent trickle of people insisting that their cars suddenly accelerated for no reason (oddly enough, this mysterious mechanical defect has affected cars of all makes and models); auto experts believe that the great majority of these are caused by idiot drivers screwing up, but wouldn’t it be nice to actually be able to prove it one way or the other?

  19. why be a leader when you can be a follower? be yourself.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.