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The 'black box' under your bonnet

NICOLA BOYES / Stuff | September 24 2006

Hurtling down the highway in your brand spanking new Holden or Ford, your car is recording every Marcus Gronholm-like manoeuvre you make.

Event data recorders - the four wheeled equivalent of aircraft "black boxes" - have landed on New Zealand roads and police say they are a new tool in crash investigation.

Big Brother is watching everything - from how fast you are going, to the angle of your steering wheel and how you apply your brakes - potentially affecting insurance claims and criminal charges following accidents.

The new 2007 VE Holden Commodore, released earlier this month, has the most up-to-date data recorder, recording speed, brake application and air bag performance two seconds before a crash and through the impact. Earlier model recorders are also in the engines of Holden models from 2004.

Since 2001, popular Ford models - the Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo, Explorer and Falcon - have had recorders, which, although different to those of Holden, detail the vehicles' speed on impact, the angle of the steering wheel and air bag performance.

National Road Policing Manager Inspector John Kelly said police used information from the recorders from "time to time" but had not made a point of publicising it.

"There are some privacy issues around the use of the information. Do we have access to the device? Do we have access to the information?"

AdvertisementAdvertisementHe was not aware of any situations where access to the information had become contentious or involved legal intervention.

He said car computer systems were becoming more advanced. Data could be found in many components of a car's system following a crash.

"The average six cylinder car has more computer power now than the first space shuttle."

Insurance Council chief executive Chris Ryan said he was not aware of any New Zealand insurers using the technology but it was an option.

"I think insurers would have to have a look at it," Ryan said, conceding it was a sensitive area.

"Some people would see it as having Big Brother watching them, or being spied on."

Holden communications manager Brodie McClellan said Holden's policy was to allow access to the information only with the consent of the owner or lessee of the vehicle if it was requested by police.

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