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Your car's hidden 'black box' and how to keep it private

Your car's hidden 'black box' and how to keep it private
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

Most commercial airplanes have an indestructible flight recorder, also called a "black box" - even though the casing is actually bright orange. The black box records information from the flight computers and another box records cockpit audio and other sources around the plane. In the event of a crash, investigators can recover the black boxes to help find out exactly what happened.

Cars can have black boxes, too. In fact, it's a good bet your current car has one already, and if it doesn't your next new car certainly will. That's why you should know exactly what that black box is recording, who can get that information and how you can stay in control.

A bit of history

Black boxes in cars aren't a new thing. The practice started in 1994 with cars from Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet and Pontiac. The black boxes were meant to help manufacturers learn how their cars performed in crashes.

Since the early 2000s, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been collecting black box information to get a better picture of the circumstances surrounding car accidents. In 2013, 96% of new cars sold in the United States came with a black box, and as of September 1, 2014, every new vehicle must have one installed.

Black box data have been used in a few high-profile investigations. In 2011, Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray totaled a government car, although he walked away. He claimed he was driving the speed limit and wearing a seat belt. Investigators used his black box data to show he was driving 100 mph without a seatbelt at the time of the crash.

Wondering if your car has a black box? This site lists the year, make and model of nearly every car that includes a black box. You can also check your car's manual. If you're buying a car from a dealership, they have to tell you if the car has a black box.

Next page: What do black boxes record?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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