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VIRGINIA SUES TRINITY INDUSTRIES OVER ITS ET-PLUS GUARDRAILS

Posted on Friday, February 27th, 2015 at 4:38 pm    

According to a recent article by The New York Times, Virginia recently instituted a lawsuit against Trinity Industries saying that it sold the State of Virginia thousands of pieces of potentially dangerous, improperly tested and unapproved guardrails.

The Times article states that in 2005 Trinity changed the design of its guardrail rail head in such a way so as to make it potentially dangerous. Furthermore, The Times states this change was made by Trinity without notifying the Federal Highway Administration as required by federal law.

Virginia is one of more than 30 states which have banned these guardrail products. Virginia appears to be the first state to have actually filed suit against Trinity.

Trinity is currently conducting tests under the oversight of the Federal Highway Administration to determine whether the ET-Plus guardrail is safe.

Source: Article appearing in The New York Times on December 12, 2014 entitled Virginia Sues Trinity Industries Over Potentially Risky Guardrail by Aaron M. Kessler and Danielle Ivory.

SNOW AND THE GOOGLE SELF-DRIVING CAR

Posted on Tuesday, February 24th, 2015 at 4:29 pm    

As I was preparing to leave my office the other day for the drive home on snow covered roads, I could not help but think of the Google self-driving cars. I wondered how, or even if, autonomous cars like the Google self-driving car could deal with snow and other adverse weather conditions.

After all, everything that I had read regarding Google’s testing of its self-driving cars involved driving in ideal weather conditions in California and Nevada. So, when I got home, I Googled “How self-driving cars handle snow.” It turned out that adverse weather was not the only major challenge still facing self-driving vehicles.

Among the challenges acknowledged by Chris Urmson, the Director of the Google self-driving car team were the following:

1. ADVERSE WEATHER: Urmson acknowledged that Google has yet to test drive one of its vehicles in the snow or during heavy rains.

2. CONSTRUCTION ZONES: Although, Google’s cars can detect and respond to stop signs that are not on its map and it is always looking out for traffic, pedestrians and other obstacles, Chris Urmson acknowledged that he could still construct a construction zone that would befuddle the car. At this point, Google’s autonomous cars rely upon meticulously collected information obtained by human-driven scanner cars that are used to provide a detailed analysis of the route ahead of time before the self-driving car goes on its trip.

3. PESKY HUMANS: Perhaps one of the most vexing problems with respect to self-driving car technology is detecting humans. Since pedestrians are detected simply as moving, column-shaped blurs of pixels, a Google car would not be able to spot a police officer at the side of the road frantically waving for traffic to stop. Bicyclists pose a similar problem for the Google self-driving car.

While Chris Urmson readily acknowledges these issues, he remains optimistic that engineers will be able to develop the technology for self-driving cars to navigate all of these problems and more. And,that it will be sooner than we might expect.

One of the many comments made in response to these articles was that many people do not drive well in adverse weather anyway. Still, I suspect that dealing with adverse weather will be one of the big challenges facing self-driving automobiles.

Source: Hidden Obstacles for Google’s Self-Driving Cars by Lee Gomes appearing in the MIT Technology Review on August 28, 2014 and 6 Simple Things Google’s Self-Driving Cars Still Can’t Handle by Robert Sorokanich at GIZMODO.com

Safety Groups Fault CarMax Sales of Recalled Cars

Posted on Friday, February 20th, 2015 at 3:02 pm    

According to a recent article by Jerry Hirsh of the Los Angeles Times, CarMax is selling used cars without insuring that repairs mandated by a safety recall have been made on the vehicle. According to the Times’ article, CarMax advertises that every vehicle it sells passes a rigorous 125 point inspection. This inspection apparently fails to look at whether or not a car has been recalled and repaired.

While federal law prohibits auto dealers from selling new cars that are subject to a safety recall, there is no such law with respect to used cars. Such a law was recently considered by the California legislature, but the bill died in committee in June 2014.

CarMax contends that it is impractical for it to manage the safety recall mandated repairs because it will require too much staff time taking the recalled cars to the nearest dealer for repairs. Citing GM’s recent recalls for defective ignition switches, which is taking GM months to complete as an example, CarMax also contends that such a law would require long delays in its effort to sell a used vehicle.

The Times article reported that, Senator Charles Schumer, D-NY, disagrees noting that “Far too many times we have seen the tragic and often fatal consequences when deficient cars are allowed on the road, and it is time for the FTC to do everything it can to put a stop to it”.

Source: Lancaster New Era/Intelligencer Journal, Wednesday, June 25, 2014

 

TAKATA STRUGGLED FOR YEARS WITH ITS AIRBAG_PROPELLANT CHEMICALS

Posted on Tuesday, February 17th, 2015 at 7:58 pm    

In a recent article in The New York Times, The Times concluded that Takata has struggled for many years to ensure the safety of the chemical compound (ammonium nitrate) which it uses to inflate its airbags. This conclusion by The Times was based upon a thorough review of patent applications filed by Takata, going back to 1995.

Questions about the safety of ammonium nitrate as a propellant first came to light in congressional hearings into the Takata airbag safety issues. These hearings are in response to several people being killed when Takata airbags sent metal shards at the driver upon deployment.

While Hiroshi Shimizu, Takata’s chief quality officer, testified at congressional hearings that the ammonium nitrate that they are using is safe and stable, The Times article notes that the biggest airbag manufacturers have stated they do not base their propellant on ammonium nitrate. In fact, Autoliv warned in a patent application in January 2003 that ammonium nitrate’s sensitivity to temperature changes could render the compound “unacceptable” for typical air bags. Autoliv also pointed out that keeping ammonium nitrate sufficiently dry was “. . . generally impractical for most manufacturing situations”.

Earlier this year, NHTSA called for a nationwide recall of vehicles equipped with the defective airbags manufactured by Takata. So far, Takata has limited its recall to areas of the country with frequent high humidity levels.

It remains to be seen what steps NHTSA will take next in this high stakes ongoing safety dispute with Takata.

Source: Airbag Compound Has Vexed Takata for Years by Hiroko Tabuchi in The New York Times on December 10, 2014.

KEEPING YOUR KITCHEN BURN-FREE

Posted on Friday, February 13th, 2015 at 3:30 pm    

First Alert, the makers of home safety devices, offers these four tips when it comes to cooking accidents:

1. COOK ON BACK BURNERS: When young children are present, First Alert recommends cooking on the back burners of the stove and keeping all pot handles turned away from the stove’s edge.

2. GET CENTERED: During mealtime, place hot items in the center of the table, at least 10 inches from the table’s edge, and use nonslip placemats instead of tablecloths if children are present.

3. PUT IT DOWN: Never carry hot drinks or hot liquids while holding or carrying a child.

4. PUT IT OUT: Keep fire extinguishers handy and within easy reach of the cooking area in case of fire.

A recent article in LNP notes that when we think of burn prevention, we typically focus on candles, fireplaces and other open flames. However, the American Burn Association reports that the majority of scald injuries occurring in the home are related to hot tap water and cooking accidents. Therefore, the American Burn Association recommends that the home hot water heater thermostat be set no higher than 120 degrees F. The ABA also recommends once you set the temperature, you wait a day and re-test it to make sure that the temperature has indeed dropped to the set temperature.

Source: Article appearing in the LNP on January 22, 2015 entitled How to… Keep your kitchen burn-free by Jennifer Kopf.

HONDA FINED $70 MILLION FOR VIOLATIONS OF SAFETY LAW

Posted on Tuesday, February 10th, 2015 at 2:52 pm    

According to the New York Times, NHTSA levied a record fine of $70 million against Honda for underreporting fatal accidents and injuries to the federal government. This penalty is double the fine levied against General Motors last year for its ignition switch problems.

NHTSA indicated that Honda broke federal law in two ways; first by not reporting hundreds of deaths and injury claims to NHTSA for the past 11 years and, secondly, by not reporting certain warranty claims and other similar claims for the same 11 year period. The maximum fine of $35 million was imposed for each violation.

An internal audit revealed that Honda had not reported 1,729 warranty claims or other notices of injuries or death from mid-2003 through mid-2014 which was significantly more than the approximate 900 reports that Honda did make for the same period.

Among the unreported claims were claims involving problems with airbags made by Takata.

In 2014, NHTSA issued more than $126 million in civil fines against automakers.

Source: Article appearing in The New York Times entitled Honda Fined for Violations of Safety Law by Danielle Ivory on January 8, 2015.

VIRGINIA ANNOUNCES PLANS TO REMOVE SUSPECT GUARDRAILS

Posted on Friday, February 6th, 2015 at 3:07 pm    

The State of Virginia recently announced that it plans to remove guardrails manufactured by Trinity Industries after Trinity failed to meet a deadline to supply documentation for new crash testing.

Virginia is the first state to announce plans to actually remove the suspect guardrails. Although no other state has announced plans to remove these guardrails, there are several other states that have banned any additional purchases of the questionable guardrails.

According to the New York Times article, a spokesperson for the Virginia Transportation Department said that they were working with the Virginia Attorney General’s Office to seek reimbursement for the cost of removal from Trinity.

A spokesman for Trinity Industries stated in response to Virginia’s actions, “We do not believe it would be appropriate for any state to remove a product that has met all tests previously requested by the Federal Highway Administration”. Trinity also stated that it was moving expeditiously to begin the additional testing recently requested by the federal government and the Virginia transportation agency.

Lawsuits around the country have linked the guardrails to five deaths and other injuries in at least fourteen accidents throughout the country.

Source: Virginia to Remove Suspect Guardrails by Aaron M. Kessler and Danielle Ivory appearing in the New York Times on October 27, 2014.

170 VEHICLE PILE-UP ON 1-94 IN MICHIGAN

Posted on Wednesday, February 4th, 2015 at 3:33 pm    

ABC News reported a massive pile-up and fire on January 9, 2015 in Michigan involving 170 vehicles. The crash occurred during snowy road conditions on I-94 near the small town of Galesburg located between Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.

One of the trucks involved in the pile-up contained an estimated 40,000 pounds of fireworks, much of which exploded during the collision. And, police evacuated people living within 3 miles of the collision because another truck was carrying hazardous materials.

According to early news reports, there was at least one fatality as a result of this massive collision. Tragedies like this remind us just how dangerous winter weather driving can be.

For tips on winter weather driving see our blog article titled Winter Driving Safety Tips posted on November 21, 2014.

Tragic automobile accidents are always devastating for the victims and their family. If you are in such a situation, you may be able to lessen your burden by pursuing damage claims against the responsible drivers. Call us at 717-392-6362 to find out how we may help you.

Source: ABC New report entitled 170 Vehicle Pile-Up Triggers Fireworks and Evacuation appearing on the Internet on January 9, 2015.