Final Inspection

Help Wanted: Ghost Busters


On Friday, General Motors became the first auto maker to publicly support legislation that would require installation of event data recorders in all vehicles.

Other car manufacturers should be jumping on that bandwagon with both feet.

Mandating the so-called black boxes that record key vehicle operating parameters moments before a collision may be the only way to prove whether driver error or some mysterious electronics malfunction is causing the seemingly uncontrollable runaways that continue to be reported by American car owners every year.

“It is essential that decisions on important safety issues be supported by the best available data, and we are convinced that EDRs can help that process,” Michael J. Robinson, GM vice president-environment, energy and safety policy, says in a statement backing a bill introduced by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX).

Privacy advocates may cringe at the notion of an onboard black box secretly recording their speed, braking and steering activity and whether they’re wearing a seatbelt. And there certainly are individual rights that need to be protected in any legislation turned into law.

But the privacy ship largely has sailed. GM says it has had EDRs onboard in all light-duty vehicles since the ʼ95 model year. Other auto makers employ them widely as well. And if you have OnStar, there already is a frightening amount of information likely being compiled on you and your car every day.

The Toyota crisis makes it clear – for both safety’s sake and the welfare of the auto industry – it’s time to determine what’s really going on with the growing amount of onboard vehicle electronics and what systems might be needed to ensure everything functions properly together.

Requiring software that allows the brake to override the accelerator when both are being pressed seems like a reasonable first move, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified yesterday before the Senate Commerce Committee his agency is looking into doing that.

NHTSA already will regulate what type of data should be monitored by EDRs beginning with ʼ13 models, it just needs to take the next steps of mandating their use and establishing procedures for gathering and analyzing the data.

Trial lawyers looking to cash in on the vagaries of sudden-acceleration causes may not like it.

But a black-box snapshot of what happened just prior to a collision may be the surest way to protect consumers and auto makers, and once and for all take the ghost out of the machine.

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.


David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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