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Germany Wants To Put 'Black Boxes' In Semi-Autonomous Cars: Report

Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

Recent high-profile crashes involving Tesla’s autopilot feature prompted investigators to ask questions like “Was the driver paying attention?” and “Did the vehicle prompt the driver for input?” But now, Germany wants to make it easier to get answers to these questions by requiring a “black box,” Reuters reports.

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Reuters spoke with the German Transport Ministry and learned about a proposal asking all automakers to install a “black box” that would record when autopilot is active, when the driver is being asked to provide inputs, and when the system requests driver input.

The ultimate aim of the proposal is to provide a means by which investigators can more easily determine fault in accidents involving semi-autonomous vehicles. This data is important, because car accidents involving autopilot aren’t always the vehicle’s fault, especially in a world where people would rather play Pokémon Go than pay attention to the road.

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Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP
Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP

This idea isn’t really all that crazy, as four years ago, we wrote about Event Data Recorders, or EDRs, which are basically “black boxes” meant to help investigators understand the cause of automobile accidents.

In fact, in December of 2012, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed making these “black boxes” mandatory in passenger cars, and even though that never happened, IIHS says quite a few cars on the road today have the systems installed anyway.

So really, it looks like Germany’s proposal—set to be drafted and sent to other German ministries sometime this summer— is a lot like NHTSA’s from 2012, except that Germany is asking for a few new data channels specific to semi-autonomous cars.

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Sounds reasonable to me.

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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DISCUSSION

Oh dear, the privacy advocates are going to have a field day with this one.