The government's former automotive safety chief on March 6 called on federal regulators to require uniform crash data be collected on so-called black boxes installed in new cars and trucks, according to a Detroit News story by Jeff Plungis. According to Dr. Ricardo Martinez, the initiative could revolutionize the way vehicle crash data is analyzed, leading to a clearer understanding of what causes traffic accidents. That could lead to more effective government efforts to prevent or help passengers survive collisions, Martinez said. Martinez, who headed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) from 1994-99, formally petitioned the agency in October 2001 to require uniform data so that a central database could collect accident statistics. The findings could give researchers a reliable common set of data for auto crashes, similar to information used by health officials to study problems such as heart disease or cancer, Martinez said. The black boxes record how fast and in what direction a vehicle is traveling, measure steering, monitor brake performance and track other data at the time of impact. Martinez said as many as 11 manufacturers already install so-called "black box" data recorders in cars, trucks, sport-utility vehicles and vans. General Motors Corp. began equipping its vehicles to collect limited amounts of crash data in 1994, according to NHTSA. NHTSA will seek public comment on the proposal this spring, according to Martinez.