In a move that seeks to protect automobile owners’ rights to privacy, the New Jersey Assembly recently gave their final approval to limit access to information recorded by black boxes in vehicles. The bill, A3579, is the first to establish laws of ownership for the information retained by these electronic data recorders, or EDRs, which includes speed, time of use, location and number of passengers in a car.
The lower house of legislature voted unanimously for the bill last December, and the Senate approved the bill’s amended version in early March. Now, with the Assembly’s 73-0 vote, the bill goes to Gov. Chris Christie for approval. One of the bill’s sponsors, Assemblyman Daniel Benson, D-Mercer, said that the legislation will “eliminate the ambiguity about whether this information is the property of the car’s owner, its manufacturer or someone else.”
The bill places limits on who can access information from a black box and how much information can be divulged in different sets of circumstances. Because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires all cars to have an EDR installed, the amount of information collected and stored causes mounting concern over who can see it.
First and foremost, the bill makes it clear that the information recorded is the sole property of the car’s owner. Any third parties requesting access to the information, such as law enforcement officials, insurance carriers, and plaintiffs or defendants in car accident cases and claims disputes, would be governed by the stipulations set forth in A3579:
- Law enforcement officers will only be granted access to black box information once they have obtained a search warrant, a court order, or a grand jury subpoena. The subpoena is not applicable when the officers need access to information regarding the location of a vehicle.
- In civil matters, the opposing party would need to produce a discovery order to utilize black box data.
- Automobile repair shops are permitted to download information from the black box once they have obtained the owner’s express permission.
- Emergency responders to the scene of a car crash are allowed to access information solely to provide medical care and assistance.
Additionally, the bill makes it illegal for a car owner to destroy an EDR in an attempt to cover up or conceal the data it contains for up to two years after an accident that resulted in injury or death. If an owner violates this statute, he or she could face a $5,000 civil penalty.
Right to Privacy
EDRs are a source of tension between those who want to maintain a vehicle owner’s right to privacy and those who want to use the black box for investigations into car accidents and crashes. In some respects, this information can help exonerate a driver who has been accused of reckless or unsafe driving, but it can also be used in violation of a driver’s privacy.
At Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, a New Jersey criminal law firm, our attorneys represent drivers who have had their black box data used against them unlawfully. To discuss your case, contact an HCK attorney for a consultation today.