Video event data recorders are used to record information concerning vehicular crashes or breakdowns. They are installed in passenger cars, light commercial vehicles and heavy commercial vehicles and are akin to a jetliner’s black box. They were first available in the early 70’s but became more widespread two decades after that. From the year 2011, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made it mandatory for automakers to make buyers aware of the technology by printing the VEDR functionality in the owner’s manual. Video event data recorders can –
- Provide information about an automobile’s speed and acceleration
- Check whether the vehicle air bags are deployed correctly or not
- Check whether the occupants are wearing a seatbelt
- Provide information on the duration of a trip, exact position, route taken and the time of day
Law enforcement agencies have used this critical data to reconstruct accidents, especially those involving high profile government officials. This is particularly important as accidents are one of the biggest causes of fatalities in most countries. According to the World Health Organization, 3400 people die on the road every day, and young adults between the ages of 15 and 44 years account for 59% of road deaths. Despite these grim statistics and the development of technology that can determine the cause of accidents and maybe even prevent them from happening in the future, car makers have been glacial in their adoption of video event data recorders.
Currently, video event data recorders are used by automobile manufacturers, law enforcement agencies, researchers, and lawyers. Insurance companies use the data to determine a person’s risk. While this might help save the person’s life, customers have to compromise on their privacy as the video event data recorder monitors every aspect of the vehicle. They can reveal confidential personal information such as location, behaviour or individual preferences that the person may not wish to share with insurance companies. Insurance companies have begun offering their customers two options – a conventional contract based on the standard parameters or another type based on video event data recorder information. Unfortunately, this is an all-or-nothing prospect that is like offering the customer a Hobson’s choice. If a customer chooses the video event data recorder based contract, the level of risk is calculated on the basis of the data collected and the premium is also determinant on the recorded information.
The issue of privacy versus safety and security is an age old debate that affects the video event data recorder market as well. Several American states have enacted legislations that require manufacturers to inform customers about the presence of video event data recorder systems. The laws also prohibits the download of recorded data without the owner’s express permission or a court order to do so. This is extremely important as insurance companies or an unauthorised third party that gains access to this treasure trove of data could potentially sell it to interested parties for a hefty sum. Some states also forbid rental car companies to use global positioning devices or electronic recorders to charge fees or penalties concerning the renter’s use of the vehicle in question as this violates their right to privacy.
As video event data recorders become more widely used, insurance agencies will almost certainly try to use them to calculate insurance premiums of their clients. The clash between individual privacy versus security should only intensify in the days to come. However, a middle ground can be achieved if customers are made aware of video event data recorders and legislations governing the appropriate use of recorded data.