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NHTSA may require EDRs in all autos

Aftermarket Business World...March 6, 2013

Aftermarket players are concerned about any precedents set for access to telematic information from autos stemming from the proposal on event data recorders (EDRs) from the Department of Transportation. The DOT's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) seems to be leaning toward publishing a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) requiring EDRs in all autos.

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Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Saab, Porsche, Subaru and Volkswagen do not put EDRs in their models, and they are not required to do so.

The NHTSA published a regulation in 2006 that laid out the crash data EDRs must capture when they are voluntarily installed, as General Motors, Ford, Nissan, Toyota and others have done.  As a result, nearly 92 percent of the cars on the road in the United States have EDRs. The remaining 8 percent are high-priced, well-equipped models with advanced safety features such as collision avoidance, which could be supplying NHTSA with important data it could use to determine whether it ought to mandate some of those features.
An EDR is not a physical piece of equipment, but rather "functionality" inside the air bag control module that is triggered based on the severity of a crash. There has been some confusion in the aftermarket that an EDR holds data that is needed to diagnose mechanical problems in a car. That is not the case, says Rusty Haight, director of the Collision Safety Institute, which helped develop the Bosch Crash Data Retrieval (CDR) Tool and provides technical assistance and education to investigators, emergency responders and OEMs on extricating EDR data after a crash.

Privacy advocates, representing the views of many consumers, want the NHTSA to first decide who "owns" EDR data and then incorporate strict security restrictions on who can use the EDR data, before establishing an FMVSS. They are concerned about not only "personally identifiable" data being collected by EDRs falling into "the wrong hands," but also any future, expanded data that the NHTSA might require.

However, the NHTSA says it has no authority to address the issue of who owns the data from EDRs.
That is what worries Aaron Lowe, vice president, Government Affairs, Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA). Currently, some autos provide data on maintenance requirements via wireless connections directly to the dealer, who can then contact owners. The extent to which the OEMs "own" that data, and can send it to the dealer who sold the car, is unclear. The concern in the aftermarket is that the dealers will have exclusive repair and maintenance information that they can share with owners of cars purchased at their dealership. In fact, theoretically, the dealer might not even have to make the exact information available to the owner of the car. Again, that, too, is up for grabs.

"The marketing opportunities there for the dealerships are huge," Lowe states. "And the motorist could have zero control over where that information is sent."

The "8 percent," the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers and the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association all oppose an FMVSS because it would allow the NHTSA to use the enforcement authority of the Motor Vehicle Safety Act. So the NHTSA could claim civil penalties for a manufacturer's malfeasance with its EDRs, which it cannot do today.

Julian Soell, general manager of Engineering Services at Mercedes Benz U.S.A. LLC, says nothing has changed since 2006 when the NHTSA established the EDR regulation, and not an FMVSS, saying at the time that the benefits of EDRs are "derivative" from better crash-related information, rather than having a direct impact on safety of the individual vehicle equipped with an EDR.

"The record is absent any sound factual policy or legal basis for the significant change to an EDR FMVSS," Soell states.