Madden/Moriarty Bill to Restrict Access to Black Box Motor Vehicle Data, Protect Driver Privacy Clears Senate

Senator Fred H. Madden, D-Gloucester and Camden, speaks during a Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee hearing.

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senator Fred Madden and Assemblyman Paul Moriarty to limit access to data from black boxes, devices in certain automobiles that can capture information about the driver’s activity, was approved today by the Senate.

“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.

“The preservation of electronic data from any of these sources is becoming vital to the defense of litigation in accidents,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “These recordings may be the most reliable and objective source of information about the events that occurred just prior to a crash. This legislation is necessary to preserve the integrity of the recordings and protect what may be used as evidence in court.”

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 today by a vote of 39-0. It must go back to the Assembly for a final vote before heading to the governor’s desk.

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