Black Boxes Get Green Light

But crash data recorders in cars raise privacy concerns

4 min read

Car buyers are faced with a dizzying array of options. But there is one important added feature not included on the window sticker or in any options package: a box of electronics the size of a pack of cigarettes that is a less refined version of the so-called black box carried in aircraft, which becomes the focus of attention after a plane crash. According to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 65 percent of 2004 model year cars sold in the United States, the world's largest passenger car market, have some sort of event data recorder. Yet the average driver has no idea that in the event of a crash, a record of how the car was being driven in the moments just before impact has been created and is stored onboard [see photo, " Whose Fault?"].

Often, people learn of the box's existence only when a lawyer introduces the data it contains in court to back up their version of events. In one well-publicized recent case, a Florida man was convicted in 2003 of two counts of man-slaughter and two counts of vehicular homicide when the event data recorder in his 2002 Pontiac Trans Am showed that he was traveling at 114 miles per hour (184 kilometers per hour) in an area where the posted speed limit was 30 mph (48 km/h) when he collided with another car, killing two teenage girls.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

Keep Reading ↓Show less