photo of crash involving white Tesla

Before long, every move you make behind the wheel may be recorded and sent over the Internet.

That’s the lesson of an incident over the weekend in which the owner of a Tesla Model X SUV crashed into a building and claimed it had suddenly accelerated on its own. But Tesla vehicles are constantly connected to their manufacturer via the Internet, and the company had this to say in a statement to The Verge:

“Data shows that the vehicle was traveling at 6 mph when the accelerator pedal was abruptly increased to 100 percent … Consistent with the driver’s actions, the vehicle applied torque and accelerated as instructed.”

This kind of data-backed corrective is set to get more common. Most automakers don’t log data from their vehicles in the same way Tesla does, but the industry appears to be headed that way. By 2020, the majority of cars sold in the U.S. will have event data recorders—sometimes described as black boxes—that log data to be examined in the event of an accident.

One big motivation for car companies is to get into the insurance business. Some insurance companies already offer discounts if you install a device in your car with sensors that monitor your driving habits, and GM has partnerships with several that tap into its OnStar system. But insurance companies could have much to gain by getting more detailed data as Tesla does, so they can see not only the car’s motion but every action of the driver. 

Tesla’s data collection is one reason it’s made such quick progress building autonomous vehicles.

As with any kind of data collection, the logging of our every wheel twitch and gas pedal push won’t be universally welcomed. There will be many drivers, like the one in the recent Tesla incident, who feel they have been unfairly condemned by their driving logs. Those logs could also be used by carmakers or insurance companies in ways people find unsavory, for example to manipulate prices or promotions. Carmakers will also find themselves frequently being asked to help law enforcement with investigations.

But this data—and knowing that it’s being collected—should also make the roads safer. Multiple studies have shown that when police departments, taxi firms, or other companies add even crude black boxes to their vehicles, crash rates plummet.

There it is: the good, the bad and the ugly of living in a data-driven world. To be very clear, this is no different from the concept of telematics being used to measure how safely a pilot does or doesn’t operate their drone.
As I have written previously, there will be no doubt as to altitude, battery levels, GPS coordinates and any number of other factors an underwriter might want to define for exclusions or the FAA could use to determine violations.
No doubt this type of data will become a favorite of attornies over the coming decade who will not only be able to determine what happened, but will be able to use the data to create ever more accurate 3D reconstructions of the event in question.



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