WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board (search) on Tuesday recommended for the first time that the federal government require passenger vehicles to be equipped with black boxes (search) that record speed, seat belt use, braking and other factors.
The safety board's recommendation arose from its investigation into the July 16, 2003 farmers market crash in Santa Monica, Calif. Safety investigators were unable to interview the elderly driver who stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake, plowing into the open-air market, killing 10 and injuring 63.
The board concluded that investigators could have gained a better scientific understanding of the driver's behavior had his 1992 Buick LeSabre been outfitted with an event data recorder.
"We believe very strongly that vehicles should have a black box," said NTSB chairman Ellen Engleman Conners.
In June, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (search) said automakers are adding black boxes fast enough on their own. About 15 percent of vehicles now on the road have the data recorders, and NHTSA says between 65 percent and 90 percent of 2004 vehicles have some sort of recording ability.
NHTSA at the same time proposed that recorders collect a standard set of data to help crash investigators. By Sept. 2008, the agency wants recorders to collect up to 42 data elements, including the time it takes for air bags to deploy.
The safety board on Tuesday said that doesn't go far enough.
Based on its investigation of the Santa Monica crash, the NTSB concluded that "standards governing voluntary, rather than mandatory, installation of event data recorders in light-duty vehicles will not result in obtaining the maximum highway safety benefits from this technology."
Engleman Conners said the safety board doesn't have the ability to investigate each of the 43,000 traffic accident deaths that happen every year. Black boxes would give investigators the ability to collect facts, science and data on every fatal accident, she said.
"The basic question I have is 'Why not?'" Engleman Conners said.