What’s the Driver Privacy Act and How Will It Affect You or Your Business?

Mark Pheland, auto critic for the Detroit Free Press

By Mark Phelan

President Obama signed the Driver Privacy Act (DPA) of 2015 in December. The DPA was enacted to set guidelines when it comes to the collection of data from a car’s event data recorder (EDR). The purpose of this legislation is to ensure only the vehicle’s owner or lessee can freely access this potentially sensitive information.

What does an EDR collect? Among other stats, an EDR records data seconds before and after a collision including detailed information on speed, seat position, seatbelts, accelerator and braking. Much like an airplane’s “black box,” a car’s EDR data can unlock valuable information that can possibly help determine who is at fault after a collision.

The DPA also set up five exceptions to these new smart car EDR privacy rules, including:

  • a written, electronic or recorded audio consent by the vehicle’s owner or lessee
  • a court authority (subject to the standards of admissible evidence)
  • a federal investigation
  • medical care in response to a car accident
  • traffic safety research (but only if the owner or lessee’s personal information is not disclosed)

In addition, the DPA sets guidelines for businesses whose employees drive company cars (either owned or leased) installed with EDR technology. In such cases, the company has the right to access EDR data without the employee’s consent.

What if an employee operates his or her own vehicle on company business? In these cases, the DPA states the business can only obtain EDR data via court order, subpoena or the employee’s written, electronic or audio consent.

About Mark Phelan

Mark Phelan is an auto critic and columnist for the Detroit Free Press. He began covering the auto industry in 1986, and wrote for a variety of newspapers, magazines and online outlets before joining the Free Press in 2002. He has reported on the auto industry from all over the world, including while living in Europe and working in Asia, Australia, South America and Africa. Phelan has contributed to numerous publications, including the New York Times, Road & Track, and the Car Connection. He is a regular guest on television and radio programs, discussing trends shaping the auto industry. The winner of numerous awards, he is a former president of the Automotive Press Association and a juror for the North American Car and Truck of the Year awards.