A picture of Senator Amy Klobuchar
Amy K.
Democrat MN

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  • Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

    by Senator Amy Klobuchar

    Posted on 2014-01-14

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    KLOBUCHAR. Madam President, I am introducing this bill today with Senator Hoeven, who has been a true leader on this issue. When he was Governor, he worked to pass a similar law in North Dakota.

    As Senator Hoeven just described, the Driver Privacy Act will strengthen safety and protect consumer privacy. I think the bipartisan support Senator Hoeven has gathered for this bill--seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and people all over the country from Hawaii to Georgia to Oregon to Alaska, not to mention the two of us from the middle of the country--demonstrates the strong support and the concerns people have about emerging technology. We want this technology, but I figure our laws have to be as sophisticated as the technology we have out there. Right now our laws are lagging and this information is not protected. There is no roadmap on how it should be protected, and that is why we are introducing this bill.

    I have long supported improving safety on the roadways. Too many people die on our highways, and we need to do something about it. In 2010, there were more than 30,000 fatal crashes and more than 1.5 million crashes that resulted in injuries. This is unacceptable. Rural road safety is a critical issue for my State, as well as for Senator Hoeven's State. Only 23 percent of the country's population lives in rural areas, and yet 57 percent of all traffic fatalities occur in rural America.

    As a Member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, I have worked to advance efforts to improve safety for all drivers, especially on rural roads, and we have made some progress. The transportation bill, MAP-21, ensured strong funding for safety improvements at rail-highway grade crossings, and the allocation of Federal funding was improved to put resources into roadways that need attention the most.

    My amendment in MAP-21, with Senator Sessions, required the Federal Highway Administration to work with State and local transportation officials to collect the best practices from around the country that are also cost-effective ways to increase safety on high-risk rural roads. The report was just released, and I am now looking for opportunities for how we can best address some of the challenges addressed in the study, but it is clear we have more work to do.

    Vehicle technologies that assist drivers and prevent crashes have grown tremendously in recent years. From new sensors that identify unsafe conditions, to driverless cars, these emerging technologies could dramatically increase safety for drivers and passengers.

    Event data recorders, which are the subject of our discussion today, hold similar promise in improving safety on our roadways. An EDR, as Senator Hoeven described, is a device that records data on a loop it receives from vehicle sensors and safety systems. The data is constantly being replaced and it only records 5 seconds of technical safety information when a crash occurs, although I am sure that could change when the technology changes.

    EDRs can be the only resource available to determine the cause of a crash by providing information about what a driver was doing in the seconds leading up to a crash, such as how fast the vehicle was going, whether the brake was activated in the seconds before the crash, if airbags were deployed, and whether the driver and passengers were wearing seatbelts.

    As a former prosecutor, I know how useful this data can be. It can be very useful for investigators to put the pieces back together to more easily determine the cause of a crash for safety reasons and also determine who caused the crash.

    The proven benefits to driving safety that EDRs provide are not new. In the summer of 2012, the Senate included in [[Page S329]] its version of the Transportation bill, MAP-21, a requirement that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, initiate a rulemaking to require passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks to include EDRs.

    At the same time, there were many legitimate questions regarding what impact expanding EDRs to all passenger vehicles would have on consumer privacy. Who owns the data? Who can access the data? It became clear that an effective EDR provision would need to strengthen driver and vehicle safety while protecting consumer privacy, and the EDR provision was removed from the final transportation bill.

    Over the past 2 years, NHTSA has continued to work with law enforcement safety groups and the automobile manufacturers to ensure the safety benefits of EDRs, which could reach the most consumers. The auto manufacturers had already begun expanding the inclusion of EDR technology in more new vehicles each year. EDRs became so commonplace that 96 percent of 2013 cars and trucks had the EDR built in, and NHTSA and the industry it regulates, the automakers, were able to agree that all new cars and trucks should have an EDR in place in September 2014. I am not sure everyone who goes out and buys a car is aware of this, but by 2014 every single car and truck will have this capability.

    However, NHTSA does not have the authority to address the consumer privacy concerns related to EDRs that have remained outstanding for 2 entire years. We have seen an enormous increase in new cars and trucks containing the EDRs, and that is where Senator Hoeven comes in.

    Congress does have the authority to clarify ownership of EDR data, and that is why we are introducing the Driver Privacy Act, along with 12 other Senators. Our bill makes crystal clear that the owner of the vehicle is the rightful owner of the data collected by that vehicle's EDR, and it may not be retrieved unless a court authorizes retrieval of the data, the vehicle owner or lessee consents to the data retrieval, the information is retrieved to determine the need for emergency medical response following a crash, or the information is retrieved for traffic safety research, in which case personally identifiable information is not disclosed. So that is where you have it.

    We have worked hard with safety groups and law enforcement to make sure this would work for them. You would need a court authorization or you would need a consent or you would need a determination that it is needed to determine the cause of a crash or it is needed for research, and in that case, no identifiable data.

    This was really important for me, as a former prosecutor, that we made this work for law enforcement and our safety groups, but, most importantly, our goal was to make it work for the individual consumers, the citizens of the United States of America. We realize while all of this was done for good intentions, no one had taken the broom behind and made sure the American people were protected.

    Having just left a judiciary hearing this afternoon about NSA and data collection and privacy and civil liberties, it was very timely that I came over here. While this may not quite have the huge ramifications of that hearing, I do think to myself that maybe if people thought ahead a little bit, we wouldn't have been sitting in that hearing. That is what we are trying to do with this bill. We are trying to think ahead so we can keep up with the technology so it doesn't beat us out and it doesn't beat our constitutional rights out.

    I have seen firsthand the devastating effects automobile crashes can have on families as they are forced to say goodbye to a loved one much too early. Oftentimes families just want answers. They want to know what happened and why. EDRs can help provide those answers. Our bill accounts for those needs of law enforcement and these families. You don't have to take my word for it. The International Association of Chiefs of Police has concluded that the Data Privacy Act will not cause any additional burden to law enforcement agencies in accessing the data they need.

    Advancements in technology oftentimes force us to take a look at related laws to ensure they remain in sync. Senator Hoeven and I are introducing the Driver Privacy Act to do just that. Our bill strikes that balance between strengthening consumer privacy protections while recognizing that EDR data will be required to aid law enforcement, advance vehicle safety objectives, or to determine the need for emergency medical response following a crash.

    I thank Senator Hoeven for his leadership. He is a true bipartisan leader. We have worked together on many bills. When we work together, I always say the Red River may technically divide our States, but it actually brings us together, whether it is about flood protection measures or important bills such as this. I appreciate the opportunity to work with him on this bill.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from North Dakota.

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