JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Most of us are aware of the black boxes in airplanes that give important information to crash investigators. These event data recorders record what happened in the moments just before and during a crash.
A lot of people are surprised to hear that there are black boxes in most cars that do the exact same thing, and the U.S. Department of Transportation is proposing rules that would require them in every single new vehicle.
People like Howard Knight were surprised to learn the boxes were under the dashboard in their cars. Knight says he got a lot of extra items when he bought his Jeep last year, but he did knot know a black box was one of them.
"It's a double-edge sword," Knight said. "You know things are being recorded and we don't know anything about it. And it could be subpoenaed and used against us. We have no idea if the information is being used for good or bad."
In the event of a crash, the typical event data recorder will retain the last five seconds of vehicle speed and brake activation, as well as the force of a crash, if seat belts were in use and if the air bands deployed. At the moment this information is only available to law enforcement accident investigators.
In some cases, information from these devices has been used to charge the driver with a crime.
According to the DOT, these black boxes have been in some cars since the late 90s and are in 96 percent of new cars.
Officer Melissa Bujeda, of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, says this a useful tool for investigators, but they can't use it all the time.
"We can't just walk up to someone's vehicle and hook up to it and pull the information," Bujeda said. "If the vehicle has been seized for investigative purposes we will use the information."
Attorney Steve Pajcic says information from the black boxes are often used in court. He says people need to know that information is available and need to know who is accessing it.
"It is almost a given in a case now-a-days that it will be part of the evidence, that is used in a case," Pajcic said. "And it's an important part of the evidence. What is important is, to make sure that evidence is preserved in its integrity."
The best way to find out if your car has a black box is to look in the index of your owner's manual for event data recorder. If it's listed there, it is more than likely in your car.
The DOT is asking Congress to pass legislation that would require event data recorders in all new cars, starting in September 2014.
Channel 4 safety expert Ken Jefferson says in his police career, the devices were important tools in traffic accidents where someone died. But he understands why some people have reservations about their use.
"I think the box is a good thing, just like a black box in the airplane. However, there are those who feel it is an evasion of privacy," Jefferson said. "Again, they feel they can't just come and go freely and do what they want to do."
Dealers and manufactures told Channel 4 that if you want to access the information in the recorder, you could do that at a dealership -- for a fee.
Attorneys tell us there is concern that the data could be manipulated, and they suggest you or an attorney be on hand when it is made available.
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