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Michael_D_NapolitanoToyota Motor Corp. has agreed to pay as much as $1.4 billion to settle U.S. litigation claims that its vehicles suddenly and unintentionally accelerated.  Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed against Toyota since 2009, when the Japanese automaker started receiving numerous complaints that its cars accelerated on their own, causing crashes, injuries and even deaths.

In the wake of that settlement, the National Highway Safety Administration has pushed for a rule that would require manufacturers to install “black boxes” in all new cars to record accident data.

In early December, 2012, the agency proposed that event data recorders must be installed in all cars manufactured after September 1, 2014.  The cost would only be $20 per vehicle.  The data recorders, much like the “black boxes” on airplanes capture safety related data such as vehicle speed and whether the brakes were activated in the seconds before an accident.

The National Highway Safety Administration has justified the rule by pointing to its investigation of the Toyota claims stating that the event data recorder from a particular vehicle can be of significant value to the agency and the manufacturer.

Like most car makers, Toyota already installs “black boxes” voluntarily in its vehicles.  About 8 percent of new vehicles do not have these recorders.

Requiring event data recorders to be installed in all new vehicles is a laudatory rule; one that will enhance vehicle safety and allow for an accurate and complete rendering of data that can assist in assessing the cause of an accident.  Such information is very helpful to plaintiff’s attorneys when assessing and prosecuting a case.  But it is important that this information is used in a manner that is balanced with a concern for motorist’s privacy.  Motorists should own the data that their vehicle generates and Congress should pass legislation to ensure that motorist’s rights are protected by prohibiting access to such data without permission from the owner or a court order.