You need to watch out on the road these days to avoid an accident, but did you ever stop to consider who is watching you?
The minute you get behind the wheel it’s possible that your every move is being tracked. Cameras are everywhere, highways, intersections, parking garages, toll booths — and it seems with every twist and turn, somebody has an eye on your car.
Today’s technology also makes it possible for law enforcement to capture your license plate and run it through a motor vehicle database while you’re driving down the road at 50 mph, and you would never know it.
"Most people see a stationary police car on the side of the road and they think they’re running radar," says Officer Lloyd Johansen with the Port Richey Police Department.
Officer Johansen can run dozens of license plates a minute using software developed by an Oldsmar company called PlateSmart.
"A plate is public information," says Randall Raszik, a system engineer with PlateSmart. "It’s on the back of your car for the whole world to see and honestly, you risk your privacy more when you post on social media than when you’re driving down the road."
But there’s likely something inside your car that could also be tracking you and you’d have no idea. It’s called the event data recorder, similar to the black box in a plane. All new cars have them.
"I encounter people every day who are surprised to learn that their vehicles might be able to record what they are doing just before a crash," says crash engineer Jeff Armstrong, founder of Armstrong Forensic Engineers.
The computer module records critical information seconds before a crash, which investigators could later use against you in court. Initially designed to deploy airbags in a crash, it’s now used to track things like speed, throttle position, braking, steering angle, and even if you’re wearing a seatbelt.
"We’ve seen that trend over the last 20 years since it became available, a lot more detailed information," Armstrong says.
He sees danger in the data if it’s interrupted by somebody without proper training. The technology is changing so rapidly some privacy advocates worry that one day a black box could be used as a sort of “driving diary” with information that is stored and used against you, even when there’s not a crash. It seems outside or inside your car these days, somebody or something has an eye on you.