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GM backs mandatory vehicle 'black boxes'

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GM backs mandatory vehicle 'black boxes'

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- General Motors Co. supports legislation to require so-called "black boxes" in vehicles, to collect crash data, and it is willing to support additional "reasonable" auto safety legislation.

In a roundtable interview with reporters today, GM's new vice president for government relations, Robert E. Ferguson, said the company backs legislation in the works from Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, to mandate event data recorders.

"I think EDRs ought to be in every car," Ferguson said. "Devices ought to be readily available so that law enforcement can find out what happen to vehicles involved in crashes."


The recorders collect data for the last five seconds of a crash, including whether the drive is wearing a seatbelt, speed and whether the brakes were applied.

Not all automakers support a black box mandate.

GM began widely installing the predecessor version of today's event data recorders in vehicles in the 1990 model year, and they became standard equipment in light duty vehicles in the 1995 model year.

A device that allows for limited public retrieval of the data in GM event data recorders has been available since 1999. GM also supports wider availability of the crash data stored in EDRs.

Green said that the devices are "essential to ensure consumers are being properly protected in their vehicles."

He said the recorders will help explain why crashes occur.

"There can be a discrepancy in what a driver claims happened and what NHTSA concludes happened. This would mandate equipment that would remove any human emotion or bias to provide much more precise data," he said.

Ferguson said "the prospects that we end up with some additional safety legislation or regulation are very high." Several members of Congress are working on legislation that could be unveiled by month's end.

GM also thinks that mandatory brake-shift override systems that would allow the brakes to stop a car with an open throttle is "reasonable."

He said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has "substantial" authority to make sure cars are safe, but said automakers must show good faith.

If "a manufacturer takes a hide-the-ball, not transparent (approach), it's hard to design a system that gets around that," Ferguson said.

Ferguson said he wasn't referring to any particular automaker. He didn't take any shots at Toyota Motor Corp., which has recalled 8.5 million vehicles over sudden acceleration issues.

"For the sake of the American driving public, I hope Toyota solves its safety issues quickly," he said.

Ferguson said he has had more than 50 visits with members of Congress and said GM's new CEO, Edward Whitacre Jr., is planning a visit to Capitol Hill in April.

Ferguson said GM still didn't know when it would be free from the pay restrictions imposed on it by the government as a company that received "extraordinary" assistance under the $700 billion Wall Street rescue fund.

He also said GM hopes to soon receive a low-cost government loan under the $25 billion retooling program as the government's determination of GM's financial viability "is nearing conclusion."

"They are important to us and an important part of our business plan," Ferguson said.

He said he didn't have a great impression of GM before he joined the company. He joined GM in January from AT&T -- Whitacre's old company.

"I thought GM was really struggling," he said. "I thought that Ford was on the rebound. I thought the Europeans made really good cars and that the Japanese were highly efficient, aggressive carmakers."

He said he had a "very positive impression" of Toyota as well.

Ferguson said he was now very impressed with many GM vehicles -- including the Camaro, Equinox, Buick Lacrosse and the Cadillac SRX.

"Perception is lagging the quality of General Motors vehicles ... I think the quality of the vehicles is terrific and it's given me a sense of optimism about where we are going," Ferguson said.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100319/AUTO01/3190433/1148/auto01/GM-backs-mandatory-vehicle--black-boxes-#ixzz0iezYVntM

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