Event Data Recorders (EDRs) have been in cars since at least 1997. They are similar to the“black box” found on airplanes. The EDR in a vehicle is usually part of the vehicle restraint system and records information generally related to accidents. Some EDRs continuously record data and others are activated by crash-like events.

Manufacturers are not required to install EDR’s in the cars they manufacturer. But they do anyway. Ford, GM, Chrysler/Daimler and Toyota include them on most  models. 

In 2006, NHTSA set minimum standards for manufacturers who install EDRs.  The manufacturers must comply with those standards for EDR’s installed on or after September 1, 2012. The NHTSA standards will require that the following data be recorded:  speed, engine throttle position, brake use, measured changes in forward velocity (Delta-V), driver safety belt use, airbag warning lamp status and airbag deployment times.

Currently, some manufacturers shroud the quantity and quality of EDR data in secrecy. For example, no one, other than Toyota, knows exactly what data Toyota’s EDRs record, what data is retrieved, and how it is processed and analyzed to produce a report.  Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies sheds some light on the murky subject of EDRs in his report found here.  All this will change in 2012, when NHTSA will require manufacturers to make their EDR data publicly available.