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Your car tells tales on you

2006-07-06 07:24

John Oxley

Yet at the end of it, it seems the manufacturer has been vindicated - see story here.

I must say I'm not surprised.

I remember reading some time ago that car manufacturers have been able to "read" what happens during an accident from a sort of "black box" installed in modern cars, and that some manufacturers have been using these for at least a decade.

Known as event data recorders, the "black boxes" were originally installed as part of the airbag system to enable engineers to find glitches and sort them out - resulting in at least one major recall as early as eight years ago.

Since then these event data recorders have evolved, and now they store lots more information, including engine speed, vehicle speed, airbag deployment, seat belt use (where there are sensors, as found in many cars these days) as well as the state of the brakes before and after a crash.

Easy access

And it's easy to access them. Most modern cars have what's called an OBD (Onboard Diagnostics) port fitted, and this facilitates inspection, allows download of data, and in some cases even allows adjustments to be made to the engine computer.

In fact it's been law to have OBDs in cars in the US since 1996.

This means they can be used by car designers to improve safety, by investigators to find the cause of accidents, and by insurance companies to investigate fraudulent claims.

Several top-end cars already use them in a more positive fashion.

Linked to satellite navigation systems and car phones, they send messages to emergency services, which are automatically notified of the time and place of an accident severe enough to require the airbags to deploy.

I saw the results of exactly this when I was in Germany in May this year.

A Mercedes CLS was involved in a crash with an Audi A4. Both deployed their airbags. We arrived on the scene before the dust had even settled.

One person at the scene phoned the emergency services, but before he could even give the location a helicopter arrived - literally within minutes of the crash, dispatched as a result of the signal sent out by the Mercedes.

Of course there is a downside, and the civil rights people are already onto it.

Putting this sort of information into the hands of law enforcement agencies could wipe out any chance a motorist might have of successfully defending himself after an accident.


It could even be used to record speeding and reckless driving.

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) lawyers say that most motorists do not even know their vehicles have the recorders and that disclosure of information from the recorder is an invasion of privacy.

ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt says: "The loss of personal civil liberties always begins with the best intentions of our government," referring to "in-car surveillance systems."

It's gone one stage further.

Devices are freely available which allow you to log exactly how your car is being driven when you're not in it - be it by your child, your wife/husband, or an employee.

One, called CarChip, is already available in SA, and it plugs into the OBD port and allows you to download information.

There are 23 parameters that can be monitored, in addition to records of each trip, such as speed, acceleration and so on.

It stores 300 hours of travel and comes with easy-to-use software.

Wheels24 has a CarChip for test, and we'll let you know the results.

In the meantime, remember - your car CAN tell tales on you!


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