Colloquially known as black boxes, flight recorders were mandated by top aviation countries in the late 1960s. Despite their name, they're not actually black; these devices are typically bright orange to make them easier to find after a crash. Later this year, a similar device will become mandatory on all new cars sold in the European Union.

Starting from July 2024, all newly registered cars in the European Union must come equipped with an "Event Data Recorder" (EDR) as a standard feature. This requirement applies to passenger cars falling under the M1 class, which can accommodate up to eight passenger seats, in addition to the driver's seat. Moreover, commercial vehicles categorised as N1 class, including pickup trucks and vans not exceeding 3,500 kilograms (7,716 pounds), will also be equipped with the automotive equivalent of a black box.

It's worth noting that no type approvals have been given to automakers seeking to homologate new cars in the European Union since July 2022. The EU comprises 27 countries: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic / Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Sweden.

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What Does The Event Data Recorder (EDR) Do?

Accidents have financial ramifications for the people involved in a crash, and often, it's difficult to determine who is at fault. An EDR can help authorities understand exactly what happened by analyzing the data stored in the EDR. The device records certain parameters for a short period of time – five seconds before the crash and 0.3 seconds after the impact.

According to the documentation provided by the European Commission, an EDR records and stores the following data: speed, braking, the position and tilt of the car on the road, and how the built-in safety systems react. Additionally, an EDR analyses whether the emergency call system is triggered – the eCall became mandatory in the EU in April 2018. The EDR must store the information "with a high level of accuracy and ensured survivability of data." It also stores the info pertaining to the vehicle's make and model, as well as the equipment installed.

Typically embedded into the airbag control unit, the EDR cannot be turned off; it's automatically activated when the airbags and seatbelt tensioners are triggered. Additionally, it starts recording when the vehicle's active bonnet pops out or when there's a change in speed in the lateral or longitudinal direction of more than 8 km/h (5 mph) within 0.15 seconds.

Who Owns The Data Stored By The Car's Black Box?

The information recorded by the EDR belongs to the driver or the vehicle's owner. The device operates on a closed-loop system, and the data is gathered anonymously to ensure it's not subject to manipulation if it falls into the wrong hands. For the same reason, the last four digits of the vehicle identification number (VIN) are not stored. Any other type of info that would uncover the owner's identity is also not recorded.

Who Can Access The Data?

The data is made available only to competent authorities as an aid during the accident reconstruction process. Obtaining the info can be done through the OBD interface, but if the port is destroyed in the crash, the information must be accessible directly from the black box.

Are Car Black Boxes Mandatory In The United States?

A 2012 Obama administration proposal to mandate EDRs in new cars and trucks was withdrawn in 2019 because automakers had already voluntarily installed these devices in most vehicles. In 2022, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed requiring cars that do have black boxes to store 20 seconds of pre-crash data, an increase from the previous requirement of just five seconds.

According to an estimation made by the NHTSA, as much as 99.5 per cent of new cars sold in the United States are equipped with an event data recorder.