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REGULATORS STRUGGLING TO STAY AHEAD OF SELF DRIVING CARS

Posted on Thursday, September 7th, 2017 at 2:54 pm    

Although self-driving cars are just starting to appear on our nation’s highways, USA Today reports that regulators are struggling to catch up with this new technology.

Proponents of the new technology are increasingly concerned about the development of regulations by states which proponents of self-driving cars believe could lead to conflicting regulations and thus slow the development of self-driving cars in the U.S. Many proponents believe the Federal government needs to step in and create national standards relating to testing, crash liability and design requirements for self-driving cars.

So far, 22 states have either passed legislation related to self-driving cars or adopted regulations through government executive orders. Pennsylvania is among this list of states.

While the proponents of self-driving vehicles argue that Federal standards are necessary for uniformity and to make it possible to build vehicles that can be effectively sold across the country, the states say that it is important that they take steps to ensure that this technology is safe.

Tesla introduced guidelines on self-driving vehicle developments in 2016. Recently, U.S. Transportation Secretary, Elain Chao said that the Trump Administration will unveil revised self-driving guidelines within the next few months to replace the existing guidelines.

USA Today notes that competition between key players in the development of self-driving technology, has also lead to issues with respect to the adoption of regulations. For example, General Motors has actively pursued legislation in several states that would prevent non-automakers from providing rides in self-driving vehicles. This sort of competition can lead to problems in developing uniform regulations among the states.

Source: An article appearing at usatoday.com on June 25, 2017 entitled “Regulators Scramble to Stay Ahead of Self-Driving Cars” by Nathan Bomey and Thomas Zambito.

FORD LEADS THE PACK IN SELF-DRIVING VEHICLE ARENA

Posted on Tuesday, September 5th, 2017 at 5:40 pm    

According to a recent study completed by Navigant Research, Ford Motor Company is in the lead in the development of an autonomous vehicle. Navigant Research is a company which sells its in-depth surveys of energy and transportation markets to suppliers, policy makers and other industry stakeholders.

Navigant Research stated that GM was close behind Ford Motor Company followed by Renault-Nissan and Daimier. It should be noted that Navigant’s survey did not include technology companies such as Apple. However, Waymo, a new name for Google’s long running car project, came in 7th.

Ford has been testing a fleet of Ford Fusions in real world situations including night testing in Arizona and snow testing in Michigan. Raj Nair, Ford’s chief technology officer, stated that Ford still plans to roll out autonomous vehicles in 2021. And Ford autonomous vehicles would be at the FAE level 4 which is one step down from full autonomy. Such vehicles can operate autonomously in fully mapped areas, but need human input in unmapped locations and extreme weather.

According to the USA Today article, the most often mentioned road block to the rapid development of self-driving vehicles is the murky regulatory environment which currently exists. Additional factors that are effecting the rapid development of self-driving vehicles also include concerns about reliability, hacking and questions concerning liability in the inevitable event of an autonomous vehicle crash resulting in human injuries.

Source: an article appearing at usatoday.com on April 3, 2017 entitled “Ford Leads Self-Driving Tech Pack, Outpacing Waymo, Tesla, Uber: Study” by Marco Della Cava.

TAKATA AIR BAG WORRIES CONTINUE

Posted on Thursday, July 27th, 2017 at 2:01 pm    

Japanese air bag manufacturer Takata recently announced that it has added an additional 2.7 million air bags to what is already the nation’s auto mobile industry’s largest recall ever. According to an article appear in New York Times, Takata advised NHTSA that it has discovered that additional air bag inflators using calcium sulfate to help keep its air bag propellant dry can, like its other versions, rupture the propellant canister while deploying the air bag thereby hurdling metal shards into the passenger compartment of the vehicle. According to the article, Ford, Mazda, and Nissan used these inflators in vehicles manufactured for the U.S. market from 2005-2012.

Before this recent announcement, Takata’s recalls had already effected 42 million vehicles in the U.S. and at least 12 deaths in the United States have been connected to the defective Takata inflators.

According to earlier reports, it has been determined that exposure to moisture and temperature fluctuations can degrade the ammonia nitrate used by Takata as a propellant in its air bag inflators. The result is that the propellant can then ignite with such force as to cause the air bag canister to explode and propel metal shards into the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

According to NHTSA approximately 17 million of the defective air bags have been replace thus far in the United States. This latest development can only be seen as another serious blow to the motoring public.

Source: An article appearing at NYTimes.com on July 11, 2017entitled “Takata Expands Airbag Recall Again, Citing New Airbag Hazard” by Micah Maidenberg.

TAKATA MAY PAY $1B CRIMINAL FINE FOR DEFECTIVE AIRBAGS

Posted on Tuesday, January 10th, 2017 at 2:35 pm    

According to a report appearing in USA Today, airbag manufacturer Takata is apparently close to agreeing to pay up to $1 billion dollars to the United States in settlement of a criminal prosecution stemming out of its defective airbags. According to the article, prosecutors have been weighing whether to charge Takata with wire fraud after determining that the company likely made misleading statements and concealed information about its defective airbags which can explode and spray shrapnel into the vehicle cabin. This defect has been linked to at least eleven deaths and 184 injuries in the United States.

The anticipated settlement of the criminal matter could cap off an unprecedented safety crisis resulting from the Takata defective airbags which has involved 19 auto manufacturers and the recall of approximately 42 million vehicles in the United States alone. This represents the largest automotive safety recall in the United States’ history.

The company has already agreed to pay civil penalties up to $200 million for violating National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Standards. Current discussions with the Department of Justice center upon Takata agreeing to pay the fine as part of a guilty plea to allege criminal misconduct.

Source: An article appearing at usatoday.com on 12/30/16 entitled “Report: Takata weighing $1B criminal settlement” by Nathan Bomey

HOW DANGEROUS IS TEXAS NEW 85 MPH HIGHWAY?

Posted on Monday, January 2nd, 2017 at 3:57 pm    

In 2012, the state of Texas opened a 41 mile stretch of toll road between Austin and San Antonio with a speed limit of 85 mph, making it the highest speed limit in the country. At the time, many wondered whether such a high speed would result in more fatalities.

Carinsurancecomparison.com tried to answer this question in an article appearing on its website. In its article, carinsurancecomparison.com reported that the Consumer’s Union (publishers of Consumer Report) raised this question in a formal study entitled “Does an increase in the speed limit result in a higher incidence of fatal crashes”. They determined that there was a significant increase in fatal crashes in a number of states when they increased speed limits, but that it wasn’t true in every state.

Some researchers have claimed that the overall speed variance, not just speeding in general, is the real problem. However, the respected Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has stated that the likelihood of death and serious injuries is a direct function of speed, not just speed variance. The IIHS cited several studies in support of its conclusion that as speed limits are increased, increases in fatal crashes are consistent in significant numbers.

Carinsurancecomparison.com noted that some people may dispute whether it’s the increase in speed or the variances in speed that is the real issue, everyone agrees that accidents at higher speeds will cause greater damage and thus the chances of surviving an accident decrease as the traveling speed goes up.

With respect to Texas’ 85 mph highway, carinsurancecomparison.com found that it did not yet have sufficient data to make a definitive call.

Source: An article appearing at carinsurancecomparison.com entitled How dangerous is

WATCH OUT FOR DEER – TIPS TO AVOID HITTING A DEER

Posted on Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016 at 2:28 pm    

The fall months are when most vehicle collisions with deer occur. From July 2015 through June 2016, State Farm estimated that there were more than 1.3 million collisions involving deer in the USA. Because hunting season, mating season, and long nights all coincide during the fall months, you are more likely to see deer on the move after the sun sets during the fall than during any other time of the year.

Geico Insurance and the Indiana State Police offer these tips for avoiding hitting a deer or minimizing the damage if you do:

1. USE YOUR HIGH BEAM HEADLIGHTS: A deer’s eyes will reflect in your car’s headlights, helping to make them easier to spot.

2. LOOK FOR ROAD SIGNS WARNING OF DEER: These signs are placed in areas of high deer traffic. If you see one deer near the road, there is a good chance that there more nearby.

3. AVOID DISTRACTIONS – Focus your attention on driving.

4. STAY NEAR THE CENTER OF THE ROAD – IF YOU ARE ON A 4 LANE OR WIDER ROAD WITH LITTLE TRAFFIC. This gives you extra space and thus more time to react.

5. HONK IF YOU SEE A DEER IN THE ROAD. A long blast of the horn can scare the deer out of your way and could be your last chance to avoid a collision.

6. DON’T SWERVE TO AVOID A DEER. If you swerve you will be more likely to hit a guardrail or a tree, increasing your risk of injuries.

7. STAY IN YOUR LANE – and brake firmly if you have to hit a deer. Just before striking the deer, take your foot off the brake as this will cause the nose of your vehicle to come back up, thereby reducing the chances of the deer smashing into your windshield.

8. IF YOU HIT A DEER: If your vehicle is not disabled, get to a safe place before reporting the accident such as a driveway, parking lot, or the next exit on the Interstate. If your vehicle is disabled, put on your hazard light and call the police.

The top five states for the best chance of hitting a deer are West Virginia, Montana, Pennsylvania, Iowa and South Dakota.

Source: An article appearing at usatoday.com on November 22, 2016 entitled What to do if you’re about to hit a deer with your car by Allison Carter.

TAKATA AIRBAG PROPELLANT EXPLODES ENROUTE TO FACTORY

Posted on Thursday, November 3rd, 2016 at 1:51 pm    

The New York Times reported that a woman in her home was killed and four other people were injured when a truck transporting Takata parts and explosives crashed and detonated on a Texas road. The crash occurred in front of the home of 69 year old Lucila Robles and the blast completely destroyed her home.

At the time of the crash, the truck was carrying the airbag propellant and airbag inflators. Inflators are the small devices within the airbag which cause the airbag to inflate in a collision.

According to an internal document leaked by a former Takata employee, Takata transports its airbag propellant, ammonia nitrate, more than 2,000 miles across the United States from a manufacturing plant in Washington to a distribution center in Texas.

The incident is being investigated by the U. S. Department of Transportation along with local officials in Texas.

This is not the first explosion involving the ammonia nitrate propellant used by Takata. In March of 2006, its Monclova plant was severely damaged after a series of blasts blamed on the ammonia nitrate propellant. Fortunately, there were no injuries in that incident.

Source: An article entitled Airbag Propellant Bound for Takata Factory Detonates en Route by Hiroko Tabuchi appearing at nytimes.com on August 30, 2016.

TRAFFIC DEATHS INCREASE IN THE FIRST HALF OF 2016

Posted on Tuesday, September 20th, 2016 at 1:16 pm    

According to the National Safety Council, traffic deaths have risen by an estimated 9% for the first six months of 2016 when compared to the same period for 2015. The Council estimates that over 19,000 people were killed on our roads during the first half of 2016. An additional 2.2 million people were seriously injured during the first half of 2016.

At this rate, the National Safety Council estimates that more than 40,000 people could be killed year on our highways in a single for the first time in years.

The rise in fatalities is a trend which began in late 2014 following years of declining numbers. The states with the biggest jump in fatalities since this trend started in 2014 include: Vermont, up 82%; Oregon, up 70%; New Hampshire, up 61%; Idaho, up 46%; and Florida with a 43% increase.

The National Safety Council believes that some of the increase in fatalities can be attributed to an improving economy and cheap gas. However, the mileage that people have driven for the first half of 2016 is only up by 3.3% when compared to the same period in 2015.

So this raises the question of why more people are dying in spite of significant advances in the safety design of vehicles and roadways, increase use of seatbelts, and a decline in the number of alcohol-related deaths. The answer, according to the National Safely Council is higher speed limits and more and more distracted driving.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that an additional 33,000 people have died since the federally imposed maximum speed of 55 was repealed in 1995. While statistics are much harder to come by with respect to the extent that distracted driving has played a role in this trend, experts seem convinced that distractive driving has played a significant role in the dramatic increases in the number of highway fatalities in the past two years.

Source: An article appearing at www.pbs.org on August 29, 2016 entitled Traffic deaths up nearly 20% since 2014, government says by Joe Lowy of the Associated Press and an article appearing at the www.chicagotribune.com entitled Texting, speeding and cheap gas are killing more of us by Frederick Kunkle of the Washington Post.

PENNSYLVANIA ADOPTS IGNITION INTERLOCK DEVICES FOR FIRST TIME DUI OFFENDERS

Posted on Wednesday, July 20th, 2016 at 2:18 pm    

Pennsylvania Governor Wolf recently signed into law a bill that will require most first time DUI offenders to have an ignition interlock device installed in their vehicles. The bill which passed by a 244 to 1 margin by the Pennsylvania Legislature was signed into law by Governor Wolf on May 27, 2016.

An ignition interlock device is a device which is attached to the vehicle’s steering wheel and requires the driver to blow into a mouthpiece to check blood alcohol concentration before the engine can be started.

Under the new law, first time offenders who have a blood alcohol level above .10 at the time of their arrest will need to have the devices installed. Current Pennsylvania law required such ignition interlock devices only after a second DUI conviction.

The lone dissenter in voting against the new legislation was Republican Chis Dush, a Republican from Jefferson County. Representative Dush stated that he opposed the bill because by making the installation of the devices mandatory for many first time offenders, “It gets rid of a lot of discretion on the part of officers and especially judges. . .” Dush also stated that the cost of the interlock devices was a concern to him as it could be particularly hard on the low income offenders struggling to keep their families afloat. According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the devices cost $70 to $150 to install and $60 to $80 per month for monitoring and calibration. The new law will take effect in 15 months.

Source: An article appearing in LNP on May 19, 2016 entitled Interlock bill meets only 1 dissenter and an article appearing at post-gazette.com on May 25, 2016 entitled Gov. Wolf Signs DUI Interlock Bill by Karen Langley

NHTSA TO ADOPT TOUGHER CRASH TEST RATING STANDARDS FOR AUTOMOBILES

Posted on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016 at 2:47 pm    

NHTSA recently announced that it intends to revise its current five star safety rating system for new automobiles. Under the current system, automobiles are rated simply based on crash worthiness.

The current system was sharply criticized by lawmakers after a New York Times investigative story reported that nearly 92% of all 2011 through 2015 models received a four or five star rating. And, in the case of Chevrolet, many of its vehicles receiving five star ratings in early 2014 were later recalled for various safety defects.

Under the new system, which NHTSA plans to implement for the 2019 model year, the overall score will be based upon three sub ratings which include testing to assess pedestrian safety, crash worthiness, and crash avoidance capabilities. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox noted that the new plan will use new advanced test dummies with improved sensors to better predict injuries and include a new offset crash testing. An off-set crash is a type of angled crash which continues to result in deaths and serious injuries in spite of the use of airbags and seatbelts.

According to the article appearing the USA Today, an 8% uptick in the number of deaths in the first half of 2015 has fueled concern that progress on vehicle safety may have stalled. Accordingly, regulators have decided to modify the federal crash test standards to encourage automakers to adopt recent advancements in crash avoidance systems including such things as forward collision warning, auto emergency braking, and lane departure warning systems. While these systems have been shown to be effective in avoiding and preventing crashes and thus injuries and deaths, currently they are generally offered as options on new vehicles or only available on more expensive luxury models.

Source: An article appearing at usatoday.com on December 8, 2015 entitled NHTSA toughens crash test rating standards by Nathan Bomey and a New York Times article appearing in the LNP on Sunday, December 13, 2015 entitled Tackling Safety Head-on