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Madden/Beach Bill to Restrict Access to Black Box Motor Vehicle Data, Protect Driver Privacy Goes to Governor

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TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Fred Madden and Senator Jim Beach to limit access to data from black boxes, devices in certain automobiles that can capture information about the driver’s activity, was approved yesterday by the Assembly.

“Most new vehicles contain black boxes that store driver data. Yet, there are currently no regulations concerning who can access the data and for what purposes. We know the information stored can be critical to determining the events that took place during an auto accident, but we also have to protect the privacy of drivers from its misuse. For the first time, this will regulate the retrieval and use of data on driver activity from these devices,” said Senator Madden (D-Camden/Gloucester).

The bill (S-2433/A-3579) would give the owner of a motor vehicle the sole right to access information stored in its black box, also known as an “electronic control module” (ECM) or an “event data recorder” (EDR). Such devices are capable of recording information about vehicle speed, seatbelt use, airbag deployment and locations traveled. The legislation also includes a provision prohibiting data from being altered or deleted for at least two years after a crash that results in bodily injury or death. Violation of the provision would result in a civil penalty of $5,000 for each offense.

“Black boxes record a great deal of information that can be used to determine the speed, braking, airbag deployment, and other details about the operation of a vehicle that can be useful to piecing together certain events that occur on our roadways,” said Senator Beach (D-Camden). “However, it is also important that we set guidelines that spell out who is permitted to extract and utilize the data so that our residents’ personal information is protected.”

Under the bill, no person except the owner of the motor vehicle that contains the recording device, or the owner’s representative, may retrieve, obtain or use data recorded on, stored in or transmitted from the recording device, unless:

· the owner or the owner’s representative consents;
· the recorded data is retrieved or obtained by a law enforcement officer pursuant to a search warrant;
· the recorded data is used for the purpose of improving motor vehicle safety, provided that the identity of the owner, operator or other occupant of the motor vehicle is not disclosed with respect to the data;
· the recorded data is retrieved by a licensed motor vehicle dealer, repair or servicing facility and used for the sole purpose of diagnosing, servicing or repairing the vehicle, or;
· the recorded data is accessed by an emergency responder and used for the sole purpose of determining the need for or facilitating an emergency medical response in the event of a crash, and assisting the responder in performing his or her duties; or
· the recorded data is retrieved or obtained pursuant to a legally proper discovery request or order in a civil action, or is obtained pursuant to a grand jury subpoena. This however, would exclude video location data obtained through grand jury subpoena.

The bill would also allow a vehicle owner to consent to give a third party access to information contained on the device.

“Black boxes” are common among new vehicles.  In 2012 the National Transportation Safety Agency proposed that all new vehicles manufactured after September 2014 contain “black boxes.” There are currently no regulations concerning who has access to the data in motor vehicle black boxes and for what purposes.

The Senate approved the bill earlier this month by a vote of 39-0. The Assembly approved it yesterday 73-0. It now heads to the governor’s desk.