WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed broader use of event data recorders to capture safety-related information before and during a car accident. The proposed rule would require automakers to install event data recorders (EDRs) — devices that collect specific safety-related data — in all light passenger vehicles beginning Sept. 1, 2014.

"By understanding how drivers respond in a crash and whether key safety systems operate properly, the NHTSA and automakers can make our vehicles and our roadways even safer," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "This proposal will give us the critical insight and information we need to save more lives."

The new safety regulation would require EDRs as mandatory equipment in passenger vehicles that weigh less than 8,500 lbs. The proposal includes the same standardized data collection requirements established by the NHTSA in 2006 for EDRs that are voluntarily installed by automakers (49 CFR Part 563) and mandates that automakers provide a commercially available tool for copying the data. In keeping with the NHTSA's current policies on EDR data, the EDR data would be treated by NHTSA as the property of the vehicle owner and would not be used or accessed by the agency without owner consent.

NHTSA estimates that approximately 96 percent of model-year 2013 passenger cars and light-duty vehicles are already equipped with EDR capability. These devices are located in the vehicle and require special hardware and software to copy the information. A crash or air bag deployment typically triggers the EDR, which collects data in the seconds before and during a crash. The data collected by EDRs can be used to improve highway safety by ensuring the NHTSA, other crash investigators and automotive manufacturers understand the dynamics involved in a crash and the performance of safety systems.

Information recorded would include: vehicle speed, whether the brake was activated in the moments before a crash, crash forces at the moment of impact, information about the state of the engine throttle, air bag deployment timing and air bag readiness prior to the crash, and whether the vehicle occupant's seat belt was buckled. EDRs do not collect any personal identifying information or record conversations and do not run continuously.

"EDRs provide critical safety information that might not otherwise be available to the NHTSA to evaluate what happened during a crash — and what future steps could be taken to save lives and prevent injuries," said the NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "A broader EDR requirement would ensure the agency has the safety-related information it needs to determine what factors may contribute to crashes across all vehicle manufacturers."

Members of the public are encouraged to provide comment on the NHTSA's EDR proposal and will have 60 days to do so once the proposal is published in the Federal Register. The proposal and information on how to submit comments are available here.