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Moriarty & Benson Bill to Restrict Access to Motor Vehicle Recording Device Data, Protect Driver Privacy Clears Assembly

Bipartisan legislation Assemblymen Paul Moriarty and Daniel Benson sponsored to limit access to data from devices in certain automobiles that can capture information about the driver’s activity received Assembly approval on Thursday.

The bill (A-3579), which passed unanimously, would give the owner of a motor vehicle the sole right to access information stored in its black box, also known as an “electronic control module” (ECM) or an “event data recorder” (EDR). Such devices are capable of recording information about vehicle speed, seatbelt use, airbag deployment and locations traveled.

The legislation also includes a provision prohibiting data from being altered or deleted for at least two years after a crash that results in bodily injury or death. Violation of the provision would result in a civil penalty of $5,000 for each offense.

“The preservation of electronic data from any of these sources is becoming vital to the defense of litigation in accidents,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “These recordings may be the most reliable and objective source of information about the events that occurred just prior to a crash. This legislation is necessary to preserve the integrity of the recordings and protect what may be used as evidence in court.”

Under the bill, no person except the owner of the motor vehicle that contains the recording device, or the owner’s representative, may retrieve, obtain or use data recorded on, stored in or transmitted from the recording device, unless:

· the owner or the owner’s representative consents in writing;
· the recorded data is retrieved or obtained by a law enforcement officer pursuant to a search warrant;
· the recorded data is used for the purpose of improving motor vehicle safety, provided that the identity of the owner, operator or other occupant of the motor vehicle is not disclosed with respect to the data;
· the recorded data is retrieved by a licensed motor vehicle dealer, repair or servicing facility and used for the sole purpose of diagnosing, servicing or repairing the vehicle;
· the recorded data is accessed by an emergency responder and used for the sole purpose of determining the need for or facilitating an emergency medical response in the event of a crash, and assisting the responder in performing his or her duties; or
· the recorded data is retrieved or obtained pursuant to a legally proper discovery request or order in a civil action.

“Crash data retrieved from a vehicle’s black box can play a critical role in determining what exactly happened at the time of an accident, but it’s always essential that sensitive information doesn’t get into the wrong hands,” said Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “This legislation eliminates the ambiguity about whether this information is the property of the car’s owner, its manufacturer or someone else. Even more importantly, this bill promotes drivers’ safety while guarding their privacy.”

Although nearly all automobiles manufactured within the last few years have an event recording device installed, most drivers remain unaware of their existence and, consequently, of the possibility that they may be monitored in their vehicles, Benson said.

The bill now awaits Senate consideration.