Data Collection and Automobile Safety

If I were to ask a random person which they perceived to be more dangerous, driving their car from Atlanta to DC or flying a plane from Atlanta to DC most would say flying is more dangerous.  However, the statistics regarding this issue starkly contrast the ideas of the public (including me): the odds of dying in a car crash during one’s lifetime are 1 in 98, while the odds of dying in a plane crash during ones lifetime are 1 in 7,178 (according to the national safety council’s 2008 odds of dying table).  Granted there are many factors outside of mere statistics that shape our perceptions, and that statistics do not paint an entire picture, the odds are still heavily stacked against driving a car.  The government is therefore ever looking into how to make America’s roads safer.

 

The recent disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight 370 raised questions about just how well monitored airliners are as governments hunted for the crash debris and in particular the “black box”.  All airplanes are equipped with a black box data recording instrument that collects flight data from planes, which can be easily downloaded post flight and subsequently put into an aggregate data pool.  The aggregation of all of this data allows analysts to mine this data for patterns of malfunctions or safety warnings that can be used to locate areas of concern and find solutions.  The government is now looking into the possibility of mandating an automotive adaptation of the “black box” for new vehicles across the US.  There are currently companies with crash recorders and other collection devices equipped on their cars, but they are rarely used except for legal reasons of finding fault and even then the data is not compiled from all vehicles to a central database. The implementation and better use of data collection devices on cars in the US could help spot manufacturer defects, and learn more about driver behavior that could help manufacturers produce safer vehicles.

 

However, implementation of government mandated “black boxes” could lead to an entirely different problem, privacy concerns.  Recently, the government has come under heavy criticism for its widespread unwarranted data collection of US citizens and foreigners alike.  The idea that the government could extend there reach into the transportation patterns of all US citizens poses a serious ethical dilemma.  Furthermore, these boxes could lead to unforeseen consequences in court cases, possibly leading to a large increase in civil law suits as citizens believe they can make a quick buck given the new technology.  Obviously some concerns are in order regarding placement of “black boxes” on every car in America, but do the potential benefits outweigh them?

NYTimes article “ Experts Seek Smarter Black Boxes for Automobiles”)

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