Does your vehicle have a black box? By looking at a car, there's no way to tell. But here’s a hint: when you get inside your vehicle to drive, you are closer to it than you know.
The black box. It is silver, but is called black, and is not so easily found in your car.
Bale Chevrolet technician Jeff Stevens knows.
“It's usually under the seat, under the carpet or under the console,” said Stevens.
The black box, also known as the event data recorder is similar to a flight data recorder in an airplane. In your car, it is connected to the air bag system. Believe it or not 30 million cars on the road have a black box recording speed, use of gas pedals and brakes, and seatbelt use. It even records the last five seconds before a crash.
But most drivers don't know they have it. Reginald Ridgell drives a 2005 GMC Sierra pickup.
"I never heard of it being in the vehicle before,” Ridgell said. “That's the first I ever heard of it."
And sure enough, the 2005 Sierra has a black box. What about a 2002 Pontiac Aztec?
The answer--you bet ya. But we ask the owner if it does, and he said he didn't think so.
So why is everyone in the dark?
Experts we talked with say the black box is not a feature designed for you, it's a feature the automakers designed for them. It gives them the truth about what happened when a vehicle is involved in a crash. That's helpful--warding off lawsuits!
Nowadays, most cars from General Motors and Ford, as well as some Toyotas and Hondas, have black boxes. But recently, black boxes are getting more publicity. That's because police are now using evidence from black boxes in court.
“I don't think anybody knows, like the poor guy in Long Island who said he was going 55, and the black box said he was going 139,” said criminal defense attorney John Wesley Hall, Jr. “He obviously didn't know. Otherwise he wouldn't have lied to police and got caught at it, which makes his whole defense go down the drain."
Increasingly, the information off the black boxes are used to convict their owners of serious crimes, like manslaughter. Some civil libertarians say it's an invasion of privacy. But Hall disagrees.
“To claim a violation of your privacy, you have to have a reasonable expectation of your privacy,” said Hall. “Do you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in how fast your car is going down the highway? The answer is 'no, you don't.' Other people see you, the person you ran into saw you. The cop that might have been trying to get you on radar saw you. You're on a public highway.”
On the other hand, Hall says he is concerned with where all of this technology is going.
“It could give information on how many people were in the car and what was going on in the car, conceivably,” Hall said. “Suppose somebody was having sex in the car, could it tell if there are two people in one seat?"
If you're now wondering whether yours does, check this out. America's major automakers would not provide a detailed list. But here's what they could give us.
According to General Motors, if your GM vehicle has an airbag, chances are you have an event data recorder. According to GM, "virtually all GM vehicles from '98 on have event data recorders." All 2005 models and future GM vehicles have them.
Ford says 70 percent of all Ford-Lincoln-Mercury 2005 vehicles have them. As for previous years, and this year’s vehicles, Ford suggests you call its customer service division.
Daimler-Chrysler says "the first Chrysler Group vehicles to have an EDR are the 2005 Chrysler 300, Dodge Magnum, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. EDR's will be introduced on other Chrysler group vehicles over the next few years, but no specific plans have been announced. "
The bottom line: automakers suggest that you call your automakers' customer service line to find out if your car as a black box.