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Black Boxes: Airlines and Automobiles

August 18, 2014 | Michael Barasch

The tragic mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 focused attention on the limitations and abilities of airline flight recorders. This attention to airline recorders may be useful to the automotive industry.

Automobile black boxes are less sophisticated than airline event data recorders (EDRs). Unlike automobile EDR’s, airline recorders log information throughout the flight. Even without an accident or safety incident, the information is available for analysis. Automobile EDRs record far less information and only in the short time before a collision.

Despite these shortcomings, automobile EDRs on GM Cobalt cars gave valuable evidence about the shut-off of the engine shortly before accidents caused by defective ignition switches.

In a May article in the New York Times, safety experts discuss the use of improved EDRs in automobiles to increase vehicle safety. Some of the key points explored include:

  • Expanded use of EDRs in motor vehicles could allow automakers and federal regulators to spot dangerous safety trends — such as failure of airbag deployment or electrical shut-down.
  • Citing efforts to limit liability and consumer backlash, automakers currently do not freely share safety data within their industry.
  • Similarly, more sophisticated use of automobile EDRs leaves big questions about the privacy rights of motorists who own the cars.

Although Flight MH370 remains a mystery, the cause of the GM defective ignition switch fatalities is not. If you are injured by a defective car or other product in New York, talk to experienced legal counsel.

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