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'Black box' in new EU cars to become mandatory from Sunday – Executive Summary

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From Sunday, light vehicles registered for the first time in the European Union will have to have a device similar to the black box found on airplanes, which will allow events to be recorded before, during and after a road accident.

These black boxes, or event recording devices (EDRs, in English), are now mandatory for all vehicles certified on the territory of the European Union, in an attempt by the European Commission to reduce car accidents.

“This device records the moments immediately before and after an accident,” explained Roberto Gaspar, secretary general of the National Association of Automobile Dealers and Repair Companies (ANECRA).

The duration of the pre- and post-incident records varies depending on the data elements, and can range from five seconds before the incident to five seconds after it occurs.

Among the data collected are the vehicle's speed, the vehicle's location and inclination on the road or the status of security systems and their activation rate – including the “ecall” system to the emergency number.

The activation of brakes or seat belt pretensioners, as well as other active safety and accident prevention systems, will also be recorded by these devices.

“This data must have a high level of accuracy and its preservation must be guaranteed,” the European Commission said in a Community text, adding that these EDRs must be irrevocable and must operate in a closed loop.

ACP Autos director Elsa Serra pointed out that despite the similarity to the black box found in airplanes, the EDR function is “a bit different, because it doesn’t record anything inside” the cabin.

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“It is a device that is installed in the car and has this goal that the European Union has set for a long time, which is to reduce car accidents,” added the head of this section of the Portuguese Automobile Club (ACP).

As for the deterrent effect of accidents, both Elsa Serra and Roberto Gaspar admitted that it may not be the most effective mechanism, especially since, as the former explained, these devices are only activated in the event of an accident and “nobody wants to have” an accident, whether more or less negligent.

“I don't know if it would have any deterrent effect, that someone would know that the car has a black box and, as a result, drive differently than he would normally,” said the secretary general of ANECRA.

However, they agree that it can be an added value for manufacturers to analyze and develop better security systems.

“The purpose of this device is not to control the speed at which the driver is driving, it is not an imitator here, but rather an aid in determining responsibilities, even in the event of an accident, but there is, above all, what is greater is knowing the data that preceded the accident, or the data that preceded the accident, so that it can be marked

Luis Cruz is the technical director at Critical Techworks, a joint venture within the BMW Group, and called the presentation “another development.”

“The vehicles already had a kind of black box. Not because of regulation, but because this disclosure helps manufacturers understand if they have any systemic problem with their vehicles,” Lusa noted.

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“I think manufacturers are looking at this positively, especially when the legal framework is not yet abusive. I think the biggest concern for everyone, whether it’s the manufacturer or whoever, is the framing of this data for insurance purposes and other things that are starting to become more controversial, but are not currently on the table.

Within the BMW Group, which also includes the Mini and Rolls-Royce brands, the device will record events that constitute a collision, “whether it’s a touch on the pavement, abnormal braking, or steering too quickly” and will then perform a collision recording of the previous 25 seconds and the next five seconds.

He explained that the device will store three events at a time, and rewrite the oldest events, and “the only events that cannot be completely erased are those considered dangerous,” which occur when active protection devices, such as airbags or seat belt tensioners, are activated.

Luis Cruz added that access to the data must be done using special equipment that does not allow remote access.

Access to data has been a major concern with this new standard, but the CTO of Critical Techworks pointed out that this data could be requested by entities in each country or in the eurozone “for the purposes of studying behavioural patterns” in order to create “better legislation or even understand” whether road design is the most efficient.

European directives specify that the data must be anonymous and protected from manipulation and misuse, making it possible to identify the type, variant and version of the vehicle, but not, for example, the vehicle identification number (VIN) or any other information that might identify the vehicle owner or possessor.

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“Only in the event of an accident will the authorities be able to access the box and will be able to access the box to obtain this information,” explained Roberto Gaspar.

According to Luis Cruz, data may also be requested through legal means in the event of a dispute or voluntarily by the driver through express authorization.

The CTO stressed that “the legislation, at the moment, still only refers to the legal aspect, and therefore it is not expected that insurance companies will have almost free access to this matter.”

With regard to maintenance and certification, the legislation does not yet provide any guidance on inspections.

“What is checked in vehicle inspections is determined by law, and until there is any change, it will not be proven,” said Elsa Serra.

In 2023, 10.5 million vehicles were registered in the European Union, an increase of 13.9% compared to 2022. This year, between January and May, 4.6 million vehicles were registered, plus 4.6% year-on-year.

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