Your Next Car Will Keep Track of Your Driving

Posted: Sep 25, 2008 10:31 a.m.

The Nissan GT-R is a pulse-racing technological miracle.  The engine of each GT-R is hand-built in a hermetically sealed laboratory at a carefully-controlled temperature, to ensure that the components don't microscopically expand or contract, creating tiny leaks in the seals that could cost the beast minute amounts of power.  It's nearly impossible to get a consistent horsepower rating for the car, since each one is so unique...but the thing has been out-gunning million-dollar supercars on the world's most demanding test tracks throughout 2008, earning it a place on the podium alongside legendary rides from Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini and Bugatti.  Yet the GT-R's sticker price comes in below all of them, at less than $80,000.

And Scott Weires doesn't want one anymore.  He doesn't want the thing to keep records of his driving.

The Florida attorney has cancelled his order for a 2009 Nissan GT-R because of a little-publicized feature that the 2009 GT-R includes...and that almost every car will include by 2012. 

AutoWeek reports, "So-called black boxes, or electronic data recorders (EDRs), are now standard equipment in a majority of passenger cars and light-duty trucks sold in the United States. Wired into airbag sensors, yaw and stability sensors, antilock brake and traction controllers, electronic throttle controls and engine monitors, EDRs soon will collect a bewildering amount of data." 

The devices aren't required on new cars, but federal regulations that go into effect Sept. 1, 2012 will mandate that, if a manufacturer chooses to equip a car with a "black box," that box must collect certain data.  The Department of Transportation estimates that 64 percent of manufacturers already install the devices, and AutoWeek adds, "An informal survey indicates that most automakers -- with some notable exceptions -- are embracing the devices."

The device Nissan has installed in the GT-R runs constantly, not just when a crash seems imminent.  It "stores more than a few days' but less than a week's worth of data on the vehicle's operation," according to Autoweek, and "cannot be deactivated."

Car Domain adds, "Nissan says the box "isn't intended to spy on unsuspecting GT-R drivers" which seems like an admission that it could be used to spy on unsuspecting GT-R drivers."

Autoblog reports that the device can be useful to service technicians "in determining exactly what is, or has been, going on with a car.  There are a few worries, though, that warranty claims could be denied if the automaker, Nissan in this case, deems that the car was being raced or abused in some way or by police or lawyers to determine culpability."

Weiss, a lawyer himself, backed off of his purchase for just that reason.  "These warranty issues are a little unsettling," he told AutoWeek. "That was a huge part of my decision."

Jim Baxter of the National Motorists Association tells AutoWeek that the law currently "does nothing to constrain law-enforcement accident investigators, private eyes and other interested parties -- such as manufacturers and insurance companies -- from getting a court order to download the information."  While the 2012 regulations will require the devices to record at least certain information, there are no legal limits on what they can record.

So if Weires doesn't want big brother watching him drive, what can he buy?  AutoWeek notes, "German makers tend to avoid EDRs, partly because strict German privacy laws limit the use of such recording devices and partly because the companies tend to view EDRs as having questionable value for customers."  Also, "Cost-conscious Korean companies such as Kia and Hyundai haven't installed EDRs, instead using sensors to deploy airbags but skipping the added cost and complexity of EDRs."  Most American and Japanese manufacturers, however, use the devices...and are installing increasingly sophisticated versions.

Want to take on a GT-R and avoid big brother in the process?  Research the best exotic sports cars with U.S. News' car rankings and reviews.