Germany's cars to get teched-up as parliament proposes black boxes for vehicles

Germany's parliament has backed a proposal to put black boxes, which gather information from vehicles involved in accidents, in all of the country's new cars.

Black boxes — commonly used in airplanes and ships to help identify the causes of accidents — could soon be making an appearance on the roads of Germany.

The German parliament, the Bundestag, now plans to make such technology mandatory in cars after a study (PDF) commissioned by the European Commission three years ago found the use of electronic data recorders (EDR) can improve road safety.

Germany's cars may soon carry black boxes.

Experience by Berlin police bears this out: since the city's police cars had the boxes installed in 2010, accidents involving the vehicles have dropped by 35 percent.

This convinced the Bundestag to act. "For me the black box in a car is a further step to traffic safety," Gero Storjohann, an MP in Germany's CDU party and a member of its parliamentary committee on road safety, said.

A preliminary motion on the black boxes, put before a Bundestag committee in May, was unanimously accepted by all parties. The German ministry for traffic, the Verkehrsministerium, lent its support to the proposal after details of the motion emerged this week. The German council for road safety — which advises the ministry for traffic — is now in the process of setting up a taskforce to evaluate the black boxes.

Black boxes, also known as event or accident data recorders, gather data from sensors located on the vehicle — for example, information on speed, use of brakes or lights — and store the details in the seconds leading up to and following a crash or accident.

Interest in black boxes for vehicles is widespread in Europe: earlier this year, the European Parliament asked the European Commission to come up with a detailed plan for the introduction of black boxes across the continent before the end of 2012.

However, the boxes have already attracted criticism over fears they may pose a risk to privacy. The German Auto Drivers Association is among the critics of the scheme, labelling it unnecessary and expensive — the group predicts that each black box will cost hundreds of euros. The organisation also believes that the data gathered by the black boxes could be used against drivers by the police and authorities.