Tuesday, March 7, 2006
Carmel on the Case: Black Box
We all know "black boxes" on airplanes contain data that helps investigators figure out what went wrong after a crash. Now - similar devices are turning up in the family car - and that may not always be a good thing. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On The Case.
WSVN--On a winter afternoon Michelle Zimmerman drove her SUV down an isolated Massachusetts road.
In the passenger seat, her good friend, Ken Carlson.
Bob Weiner: "They hit a patch of snow and ice on argilla road, and the car started to skid, and turn sideways, and the passenger door struck a large tree."
Zimmerman had minor injuries, but the crash killed Carlson.
Bob Weiner: "It was devastating to have lost her good friend, her companion."
Zimmerman was found guilty of motor vehicle homicide. The reason - this device - what some refer to as a "black box".
It's called an "Event Data Recorder", or "EDR". A module like this captured the last 5 seconds of what Zimmerman's SUV was doing before the crash.
The speed limit was 40, the EDR said the SUV was going 58.
There were very little skid marks, the edr said the brakes were never used.
Bob Weiner: "In my judgment, without the EDR, there would have been no criminal prosecution in this case."
Zimmerman's case is being appealed and so is a Ft. Lauderdale case involving "testimony" from a black box.
In 2003, Edwin Matos was sentenced to thirty years after he ran into a car carrying to teenage girls.
They were killed in the accident.
The Electronic Data Recorder in his car showed he hit them at about 98 miles an hour.
Carmel Cafiero: "If you have an airbag in your car or SUV, you probably have some type of EDR. And just who has access to the information it collects is causing controversy."
Paul Hervieux: "I can see where it has it's good purposes, but i can see people taking advantage of the data."
Caroline Sheehan: "Too much information is not a good thing."
Depending on the circumstances - your car could become the chief witness for the prosecution if you're at fault in an accident.
Investigators can tap into it by plugging into your car's main computer.
Depending on the vehicle, EDR's record engine speed, braking, whether seatbelts are buckled, and more.
Edward O'Hara: "Overall, society benefits from that. It has helped people in circumstances where they weren't at fault."
But others are uneasy.
David Torrisi: "I think there's a fundamental right to privacy and a right to ownership, too. I mean, I don't know if I have a black box, and if I did, I wouldn't be able to access it."
Right now some states - Florida not included - have passed legislation aimed at requring disclosure of these black boxes to new car buyers.
As privacy advocates -- government offcials and the insurance industry debate who should have access to the information being collected - drivers should remember big brother could be watching your wheels.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE