Ed Wallace

It was the late 1990s when stories started circulating about Black Boxes, which recorded certain basic events critical to accident reconstruction, being put into automobiles. Like the NSA, automakers misled the public on how many such devices new cars were carrying, at first claiming it was just small test of those devices; ultimately we found out that their usage was already widespread. But the implications were clear: Should you be involved in a major accident, your vehicle’s Black Box might tell a completely different story than the one being peddled in a lawsuit.

Those Black Boxes saved Toyota’s skin during the unintended acceleration fiasco a few years ago. And in the current case of GM’s ignition problems, most reports blame a defect in those cars involved in accidents: The ignition was found in the Off position. Conversely, the devices also revealed high speed, right up until the moment of impact, indicating that the engine was still running.

Why would automakers install such devices in their vehicles? Self defense, for one reason. It is widely known that, in many lawsuits against automakers, the victims often make up outrageous stories to validate their claims. But now, for the first time in the auto industry’s history, car companies could produce proof that many accidents were the drivers’ fault, not any failure of their product.

That said, from day one car buyers should have been informed if their vehicle had such a device installed — and that their own automobile could be used against them in a court of law. If nothing else, knowing that your car was spying on you might have well improved the driving habits of more than a few individuals.