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TESLA ‘AUTOPILOT’ CAR STRIKES POLICE MOTORCYCLE

Posted on Thursday, April 20th, 2017 at 2:02 pm    

Phoenix police recently confirmed a collision between a Tesla Model X operating on autopilot and a Phoenix police office on a police motorcycle. According to a report appearing in USA Today, the officer stopped his motorcycle for a red traffic signal and then noticed that the Tesla stopped behind him began moving forward. This prompted the officer to jump off his motorcycle and move away. The Tesla then struck the fallen motorcycle. No damage was reported to either vehicle and the police officer later estimated that the Tesla was moving at about only 3 miles per hour.

The Tesla driver told the police officer at the scene that the Tesla was in the autopilot mode. A spokesman for the Phoenix Police Department stated that investigators were unable to collaborate that statement and that no further investigation will be conducted because it was a very minor collision and the officer was not harmed.

Sargent Alan Pfohl speaking on behalf of the Phoenix Police Department stated that “It was pretty much a tap.” “It wasn’t even a reportable collision. If it wasn’t involving an officer, we would not have even investigated it.” The USA Today article also notes that Telsa company executives declined to comment on the record.

Source: An article appearing at USA Today entitled Tesla ‘autopilot’ car hits Phoenix police motorcycle by Megan Cassidy of The Arizona Republic posted on March 28, 2017.

COULD SELF-DRIVING CARS PROVIDE MOBILITY FOR THE ELDERLY

Posted on Tuesday, April 18th, 2017 at 1:38 pm    

Many older individuals and automakers are looking to self-driving/autonomous cars as a way to provide mobility for the elderly after they are unable to drive an automobile themselves. According to the Institute for Highway Safety, by the year 2030, the number of individuals over the age of 70 living in the United States is expected to increase to 53.7 million people. In 2014 there were approximately 30.9 million U.S. residents over age 70.

Joseph Coughlin, the Director of MIT’s AgeLab, stated that currently approximately 70% of the people over age 50 live in suburbs where on-demand services such as Uber and Lyft are not available.

Even if services such like Uber and Lyft are available, many individuals may not be able to afford such services for regular use. Furthermore, a recent study estimates that approximately 22% of baby boomers are now or at risk of becoming elder orphans, that is elderly adults with no children available to provide transportation. And thus, Mr. Coughlin noted that autonomous vehicles might be a way to close the coming mobility gap for an aging society.

Many automakers including Audi, GM, Ford, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes Benz, Volvo and BMW are engaged in the development of autonomous vehicles.

The engineers involved in the development of autonomous vehicles are generally aware of the importance of considering the elderly in designing self-driving cars. For example, one of the big fears expressed by the elderly is the fear of ending up in the wrong destination. Oliver Rumph-Steppat, head of BMW’s United States Production Requirements Engineering Division, stated that one way that manufacturer’s may address this fear is to rely on voice recognition systems.

Volvo plans to put approximately 100 highly automated XC90 vehicles in the hands of real world drivers in Sweden later this year as a part of its Volvo Drive Me program. And a spokesman for Volvo noted that one of the goals of this program is to see how older drivers handle the new technology.

Source: An article appearing at nytimes.com on March 23, 2017 entitled Self-Driving Cars Could Be Boon for Aged, After Initial Hurdlers by Mary M. Chapman.

WHICH STATES HAVE THE WORST DRIVERS?

Posted on Thursday, April 13th, 2017 at 1:43 pm    

According to a study done by CarInsuranceComparison.com, the top ten states for the worst drivers are: Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, North Dakota, Delaware, New Mexico, Nevada, Alabama, Arizona and Montana. To reach this conclusion, CarInsuranceComparison.com analyzed data from NHTSA and looked at five categories: fatalities per 100 million miles traveled, failure to obey traffic signals or wear seatbelts, drunken driving, speeding and careless driving.

Texas and Louisiana actually tied for first place this year. And, Texas was the only state where drivers placed among the top 15 in each of the five categories examined by CarInsuranceComparison.com.

Transportation officials from Texas noted recently that at least one person had died on Texas highways every day for the past 16 years. To stop this streak now totaling 55,578 deaths, state officials urge Texas motorists to buckle-up, pay attention to the road, and never drink and drive.

Louisiana drivers ranked as the worst at obeying traffic signals and were the 5th worse in the country for fatalities per miles driven and careless driving.

According to Mark Rosekind, the NHTSA administrator, data reveals that people die when they drive drunk, distracted, drowsy, or if they are speeding or unbuckled. Mr. Rosekind also noted that despite decades of safety improvements, traffic-related fatalities are rising again after decades of decline with 7.2 percent more people killed in traffic accidents in 2015 than in 2014. Traffic deaths haven’t seen this sort of increase since 1966 when fatalities rose 8.1 percent over the prior year.

Incidentally, Pennsylvania was ranked as the 19th state for the worst drivers. By comparison, our neighbors New Jersey and Ohio were among the states with the safest drivers, ranking as the 7th and 5th states for safest drivers. The state with the safest drivers was Vermont.

Source: Articles appearing at usatoday.com on November 23, 2016 entitled Hitting the road for the holidays? These states have the worst drivers by Bart Jansen and an article appearing at CarInsuranceComparison.com entitled Worst Drivers by State.

UBER SELF-DRIVING CAR INVOLVED IN COLLISION

Posted on Tuesday, April 11th, 2017 at 1:30 pm    

According to a recent article appearing at USAToday.com an Uber self-driving car was involved in a collision in North Tempe, AZ on Friday, March 24, 2017. According to the report, the Uber self-driving car, collided with another vehicle that failed to yield while making a left-hand turn. A third vehicle was also involved in the collision. However, no serious injuries were reported.

As a consequence, Uber has temporarily grounded its self-driving vehicles while an investigation is conducted by the company.

A spokesman for Uber stated that “We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no backseat passengers in the vehicle.” The vehicle involved in the accident was a self-driving Volvo SUV and was reportedly in the self-driving mode at the time of the collision. Uber has been testing the self-driving Volvo SUVs as part of a $300 million partnership with Volvo.

Sources: Articles appearing at USA.com entitled Ubers Self-driving Car Involved in Arizona Crash by Diego Mendoza-Moyers of The Arizona Republic posted on March 25, 2017 and an article entitled Uber halts self-driving car tests after Arizona crash by Edward C. Baig posted on March 26, 2017.

DANGEROUS USED CARS ARE SOMETIMES SOLD AT AUTO AUCTIONS

Posted on Thursday, April 6th, 2017 at 2:19 pm    

In a recent article appearing in the New York, it was reported that used cars which are subject to safety recalls are sometimes sold at auto auctions without the recall repair having been made or without disclosure that the car is subject to a recall. According to the article, According to the article, this happens because there is no federal requirements that sellers of used cars fix problems related to safety recalls or disclose that the vehicle is subject to a recall when selling the vehicle. The Times notes that efforts to introduce tougher laws for used cars have languished in Congress under lobbying pressure from the used car industry.

The article went on to report a recent example of a 50-year-old Riverside, Calif., woman, Delia Robles, who died in a collision while driving a 2001 Honda Civic equipped with a defected Takata airbag. Delia Robles was killed when she collided with a pickup truck on her way to get a flu shot when the defective Takata airbag exploded, sending shrapnel into the vehicle’s passenger compartment. According to the article, Ms. Robles’ 2001 Honda Civic was sold three times at auto auctions before her son bought it from an acquaintance. Ms. Robles’ car was equipped with a defected Takata airbag. And, according to the Times,her civic was one of about 300,000 cars with defective Takata airbags that federal regulators said posed a particularly high risk of exploding.

According to the Times article, the gentleman who sold Ms. Robles’ car to her son purchased the car at a wholesale auto auction which is a part of Cox Automotive. The article notes that a spokesman for auction said that the company encourages sellers to disclose recall information, but that there was no realistic way for the company to force dealers to disclose safety defects.

The seller of the Honda Ms. Robles’ son bought for her said he was shocked to learn only after her death about the car’s safety issues, and that when he bought the car, “They just said ‘as is’, I knew nothing about the car.”

A spokesman for Honda stated that it had mailed out 20 notifications regarding the recall and made more than 90 phone calls to the vehicle’s previous owners in an effort to have the defective Takata airbag addressed.

Sources: An article appearing at nytimes.com on 10/26/16 entitled “Used Cars Slip Past Recall Safeguards, Putting Drivers in Danger” by Rachel Abrams and Hiroko Tabuchi

TIME TO SIGN UP FOR A MOTORCYCLE SAFETY COURSE

Posted on Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 at 1:41 pm    

The warm weather makes it feel like Spring is finally here. For many of us, Spring means it’s time to get out the motorcycle an start riding again. Whether you’re a long-time motorcyclist or just a beginner, a motorcycle safety course is a good idea.

Pennsylvania has been offering motorcycle safety courses through the Pennsylvania Motorcyclists Safety Program (PAMSP) to riders of all skill levels since 1985. The goal of the program is to give all riders the skills they need to deal with the everyday hazards they encounter on the road while riding.

And to encourage motorcyclists to take these safety courses, Pennsylvania offers the motorcycle safety courses FREE to all Pennsylvania residents and active duty military with a Class M permit or a motorcycle license. According to the website, the program offers three (3) different levels of safety courses:

1. Basic Rider Course (BRC):
This course is designed for individuals with little or no motorcycle experience. The course includes 5 hours of classroom instruction and 10 hours of riding. Motorcycles and helmets are provided. At the end of the program, students take a skill evaluation test and those meeting the skill standards received a card that allows them to waive the motorcycle skills test required by the State for a motorcycle license.

2. Basic Rider Course 2 (BRC2): A 6-hour course which is designed for riders who already have some experience riding a motorcycle and wish to become more comfortable riding their own motorcycles. Participants will use their own motorcycle, helmet and protective gear. Participants are required to have proof of insurance, and a current registration and current inspection.

3. Advanced Rider Course (ARC):
This course is geared toward licensed riders who already have experience riding but which to enhance their safety skills. The focus is on helping riders achieve an increase in perceptual filtering capabilities to help reduce risk while riding. Attendees use their own motorcycle, helmet and protective gear. As in the BRC2 course, proof of insurance, current registration and inspection are required.

To date, over 450,000 people have taken one of the courses offered by the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Safety Program. All courses are taught by MSF-certified instructors.

Last year, I took the Basic Rider Course and was impressed by how much was covered in such a short period of time and how dedicated the instructors were towards the goal of making safety the number one priority for motorcyclists.

Learn To Ride safety courses are also offered by the local Lancaster Harley Davidson dealer in Willow Street, PA. While there is a fee for the courses offered by the Lancaster Harley Davidson dealer, participants are provided with 500cc Harley Davidson motorcycles for the course.

MORE MOTORCYCLE SAFETY TIPS FROM NHTSA

Posted on Thursday, March 30th, 2017 at 1:30 pm    

Everyone knows how much fun riding a motorcycle is. But, given the dangers associated with riding a motorcycle, it is also important to do so in a safe manner.

NHTSA offers the following suggestions for motorcycle safety:

1. MAKE SURE YOU ARE PROPERLY LICENSED
Because riding a motorcycle requires different skills and knowledge than driving a car, all states require a motorcycle license endorsement before you can legally ride. And to receive this endorsement, you generally will be required to pass a written and a riding skills test.

2. TAKE A MOTORCYCLE RIDER EDUCATION/SAFETY COURSE
Some states actually require that you take a state sponsored rider education course before you can get a motorcycle license. Others will waive the riding skills test if you have taken and passed a state approved course.

Either way, NHTSA recommends that you complete a motorcycle rider education course to help insure that you ride safe. For more information regarding motorcycle safety courses, see our prior blog articles related to learn to ride courses or get more information by calling the Motorcycle Safety Foundation at 800-446-9227.

3. PRACTICE OPERATING YOUR MOTORCYCLE
Since every motorcycle is different, it is important that you take time to become familiar with the feel of a new or unfamiliar motorcycle by riding it in a controlled area before heading out on the highway. And, be sure that you know how to handle your motorcycle in a variety of riding conditions including such things as adverse weather and encountering road hazards.

4. MAKE SURE YOUR MOTORCYCLE IS SAFE
You should be sure to check your motorcycle before you ride to make sure it is in good, safe working order. That means checking the tire pressure and tread depth, hand and foot brakes, headlights, signal indictors and fluid levels. Check under the motorcycle for signs of oil, gas or fluid leaks.

5. PASSENGER SAFETY
If you are carrying a passenger on your motorcycle, be sure to instruct the passenger to get on board only after the engine is started, sit as far forward as possible and to keep both feet on the footrest at all times – even when you are stopped. Also, remind the passenger to keep their legs and feet away from the muffler to avoid getting burned. Finally, your passenger should hold on firmly to your waist, hips or belt; minimize movement; and lean at the same time and in the same direction as you do.

6. WEAR THE PROPER PROTECTION
The proper protection begins with a safe helmet approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). In addition to protecting you in the event of a crash, some helmets also have face shields that offer protection from the wind, rain, bugs, dust and stones that you might encounter. If your helmet does not have a face shield, be sure to wear goggles to protect your eyes. (For more information regarding selecting a safe helmet see our article entitled: Is That Motorcycle Helmet Safe posted June 9, 2016.)

Also you need to wear the appropriate clothing to protect yourself. Ideally you should wear leather or heavy denim. Boots or shoes should be high enough to cover your ankles and wearing gloves will provide better grip and protect your hands in the event of a crash. Remember that wearing brightly colored clothing with reflective material helps make you more visible to other motorists.

Additional suggestions regarding safe riding can be found at our other blog articles on this subject.

Source: U.S. Department of Transportation – National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website.

BIG CHALLENGES STILL REMAIN FOR SELF-DRIVING CARS

Posted on Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 at 8:50 pm    

Recent traffic statistics certainly seem to suggest the need for self-driving cars. Last year, traffic deaths were up with 35,200 more people dying in 2015 than in 2014. This represents a 7.7% increase. And, approximately 95% of those deaths were the result of human error. McKinsey & Co., a global consulting firm, estimates that fully automated vehicles could have prevented about 90% of those deaths.

While these statistics certainly seem to support the development of self-driving cars, significant challenges still remain.

Here are a few of the challenges that still face the industry:

1. CURRENT SELF-DRIVING TECHNOLOGY IS NOT YET READY FOR PRIME TIME. Big risks exist in the development of the Automated Driver Assist Systems that are already present in many new vehicles, but which still require human intervention. How to keep a driver alert enough to take over when necessary is one of the most vexing problems facing the industry now.

2. IT REMAINS UNCLEAR HOW MANY DRIVERS WILL ACTUALLY EMBRACE SELF-DRIVING TECHNOLOGY. Although NHTSA and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation want to support self-driving cars, they recognize that there just isn’t that much information about how self-driving cars will be integrated into traffic flow currently dominated by human drivers. Significant research and data will be needed to address this ongoing issue.

3. EDUCATING THE CONSUMER ABOUT SELF-DRIVING CARS. If the owner of a self-driving car doesn’t understand when and how she must re-engage or take control or if he or she believes that the vehicle is “fully autonomous” when it is only partially autonomous, bad things will result.

4. STATE VERSUS FEDERAL RULES. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that when a vehicle is operated by the software, NHTSA intends to be the entity regulating the safety of that vehicle. However, when a human being is operating the vehicle, individual state laws would apply regarding the appropriate licensing. Whose rules and regulations will govern in a conflict? Given the recent announcement by NHTSA, it appears that NHTSA’s regulations would preempt the conflicting state law.

These are only a few of the challenges facing the developers of self-driving cars. Many others exist such as adverse weather conditions, and the interaction between human drivers and autonomous vehicles. Hopefully, regulators and the manufacturers will not sacrifice safety in the rush to mass produce self-driving cars.

Source: An AP article appearing in the Detroit Free Press on September 21, 2016 entitled 8 big challenges remain for self-driving car makers by Greg Gardner.

SOLVING THE DISTRACTED DRIVING PROBLEM

Posted on Thursday, March 23rd, 2017 at 1:57 pm    

NHTSA has come up with a possible solution for the ever growing problem of distracted drivers. NHTSA would like the manufacturers of wireless devices to add a driver mode to modify or block certain apps and features to keep the driver’s attention on the road.

The New York Times reported that in an effort to deal with this disturbing trend of more and more drivers being distracted by cellphone and other electronic devices, the federal government is issuing voluntary guidelines for portable electronic devices that are used while driving. The guidelines require cellphone manufacturers to develop technology to identify when the devices are being used by a driver while driving. The idea is that the limits on use would be placed on drivers and not on other vehicle occupants.

While guidelines cannot force electronics companies to comply, other similar guidelines issued by NHTSA have been voluntarily adopted by car manufacturers and others.

According to NHTSA, these guidelines are in response to a sharp increase in the number of highway deaths in 2015 and the first 6 months of 2016. Highway deaths increased by 10.4% in the first six months of 2016 and by 7.1% in 2015. This recent increase reversed the downward trend in the number of highway deaths over the past decade or so. At the current rate, more than 100 people die every day in traffic accidents. Mark Rosekind, the Administrator of NHTSA, and other safety experts think that distracted driving is a significant factor in this jump in traffic deaths in recent years.

According to the Times article, NHTSA envisions a driver mode on cellphones similar to the current airplane mode which would detect when the devices are being used by a driver and block any use that could be distracting to the driver.

Source: An article appearing at nytimes.com on November 23, 2016 entitled Auto Safety Regulators Seek a Driver Mode to Block Apps by Neal E. Boudette.

TIPS FOR SAFE DRIVING IN WET WEATHER

Posted on Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 at 1:20 pm    

The Federal Highway Administration says that wet roads and rain in particular are the main cause of weather-related crashes. Here are a few tips from a recent article in the Lititz Record Express to help you drive safely in the rain:

– MAINTAIN WINDSHIELD WIPERS. Be sure that your windshield wipers are in good condition by regular inspections.

– TURN ON LIGHTS WITH WIPERS. Reduced visibility is a major factor in wet weather accidents. Therefore, when you turn on your windshield wipers, be sure to turn on your headlights too.

– REDUCE SPEED. According to the AAA, hydroplaning can be a serious problem with as little as one-half inch of water on the roadway. Reducing your speed and avoiding hard braking will help make sure that your tires maintain good contact with the road.

– SKIP THE CRUISE CONTROL. Avoid cruise control so that you can maintain control over your vehicle at all times.

– MAINTAIN TIRES. Proper tire pressure and tread levels are important to your tire’s traction. Therefore, regularly check your tires for tread wear and proper air pressure.

– BE ALERT TO CHANGING ROAD CONDITIONS. Typically, the first few hours of a rain storm can produce the most dangerous road surfaces. This is because accumulated oil and engine fluids float in the rain water and will lie on the roadway before eventually flowing off the surface.

Source: An article appearing in the Lititz Record Express on Thursday, October 13, 2016 entitled Stay Safe When Driving in Wet Weather.