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The Truth About Your Car’s Hidden Black Box

In the past, only airplanes and jets have black boxes. Not anymore. Almost 92% of newer vehicles are now equipped with the so-called spying device, although GM started to install them in the late 90s. By 2005, a number of marques also had these gadgets installed. But you probably didn’t notice it.

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What exactly do black boxes do?

The first generation recorders only track a few variables, including about whether or not the airbags deployed. Newer and more powerful technologies, however, now allow a black box to monitor 15 variables. At least that were the number of things the NHTSA mandates to be tracked. These include the following:

  • Vehicle speed
  • Engine speed
  • Throttle position
  • Airbag deployment times
  • Brakes use,
  • If seatbelts were worn
  • Steering angles, etc

As of now, only 20 seconds of information around the crash is recorded. But it won’t be long before the time is increased, which got most privacy advocates worried. This is because recording is likely to tap into other information.

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Who can access data on the black box?

Car manufacturers have the special equipment and training to retrieve data from the device, and so do the NHTSA and law enforcement. The last two agencies, however, use third-party shops to pull the data. The same thing is true with insurance companies that need to gather information about a crash as part of their investigation or for use in court cases.

What about hackers? Most of them are more interested in hacking your car’s entire system, rather than steal data from its black box. This is no reason to breathe easy, however, because, in certain states, regulations have already been passed regarding who can access your car’s black box without your permission.

All is not lost, however. You can still keep your data private by placing a lock on the box’s diagnostic port, so that no one can plug anything to it without you knowing about it.

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