Dear Car Coach: I saw you on one of the news networks talking about black boxes. Sorry, I missed part of it. What is this really all about?? N.L., Lewiston.
Dear N.L.: I'm sure all of you are aware of the flight data recorders on commercial aircraft known as the black boxes. They record every part of a flight and are used to determine the cause of a crash. Well, now we're getting them in our cars.
Actually, most of you who drive newer cars are already being monitored. Event data recorders are present in approximately 91 percent of new vehicles, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Why? So that insurance companies, law enforcement and government agencies like NHTSA can determine the cause of a crash. While this will actually help keep insurance rates down and provide crucial data to help determine who may be at fault in an accident, what's the cost to the motoring public? The boxes are about $40, but there is more than the cost of the box involved.
My worry is that since the black boxes in our cars can measure speed, they will be used against us for speeding infractions. Could you imagine a cop sees you speeding, can't prove it, but then just plugs in to your car's black box to issue a ticket?
Furthermore, what happens when we go to court to dispute an accident or speeding ticket? How can we cross-examine a black box? This is akin to red light cameras. You can't question technology.
Think about this do black boxes violate your Fourth Amendment Rights? The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Lastly, who's paying for this technology to be installed in our cars? We are. We all know the manufacturers pass on the cost of government-mandated equipment to the consumer. If you aren't worried, no problem. If you are unhappy with the black box, contact your local, state and national representative.
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Dear Car Coach: I purchased a 2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. The problem is it has an ESP button for the four-wheel drive. On my other Jeep, a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, all I had to do was put the lever in PT for my four-wheel drive. When I inquired as to how to use this ESP button when it snows or the snow is deep, the dealer told me "Don't do anything." It's basically automatic, that the Jeep senses the condition of the road. Can you elaborate on this ESP button and what I'm supposed to do, if anything, during my winter driving?
Dear B.B.: Whenever you have a question about your vehicle, you should check out the owner's manual. If your Jeep doesn't have one, check out this website www.jeep.com/en/owners/manuals/ and download it.
The ESP button stands for Electronic Stability Program; in other cars it's referred to as electronic stability control (ESC) or dynamic stability control (DSC), a computerized technology that improves the safety of a vehicle's stability by detecting and reducing loss of traction or skidding. When ESP, ESC or DSC detects loss of steering control, it automatically applies the brakes to help "steer" the vehicle where the driver intends to go. Braking is automatically applied to wheels individually, to help the driver control the vehicle. Some systems also reduce engine power until control is regained.
These systems do not improve a vehicle's cornering performance; instead, they help to minimize the loss of control.
According to Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one-third of fatal accidents could have been prevented by the technology.
If the indicator light for the ESP Traction Control System flashes during acceleration, apply as little throttle as possible. While driving, ease up on the accelerator. Adapt your speed and driving to the prevailing road conditions, and do not switch off the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) or Traction Control System (TCS) (as per the Jeep owner's manual).
So in this case, the dealer is correct, just drive safely and let the car do its job.