Airbag recall

Airbag Recall Expands To Include 34 Million Vehicles In US

The Takata airbag recall was expanded this week to include 34 million vehicles in the US. The announcement was made by Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on May 19th.

Previously, Takata had refused to admit that a defect was present in its airbags but allowed that vehicles in areas with high humidity might experience problems. The initial recall of vehicles with Takata airbags installed, was limited to vehicles in Florida, the Gulf states and Hawaii. Now Takata has admitted that there is a defect with the inflators and specifically with the propellant used to inflate the airbags.

The propellants in the inflators use a chemical that can degrade over time. If moisture is introduced into the chemical, it can lead to “over-aggressive combustion” leading to higher internal pressures that can rupture the body of the inflator. The defective airbags are responsible for six deaths and more than 100 injuries.

The airbag recall covers driver side airbags in at least 17 million vehicles and passenger side airbags in an additional 17 million vehicles.

With the admission that there is a defect in the airbag inflators, the airbag recall will now include more vehicle manufacturers than previously thought. Vehicles now subject to the recall are made by the following manufacturers:

  • Honda
  • BMW
  • Chrysler
  • Ford
  • Mazda

According to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), it will take vehicle manufacturers about a week to determine which of their vehicles are affected by the airbag recall order. Takata will create a plan to find and replace the affected vehicles as soon as possible with priority going to vehicles located in states with high humidity.

For vehicle owners who want more information about the airbag recall, NHTSA has created a “recalls spotlight” page on their SaferCar.gov website. Follow the link to VIN lookup.

The VIN is your vehicle’s identification number. The VIN can be found either on an inspection plate on the driver side door jamb or under the windshield on the driver’s side of the vehicle. The VIN can also be found on your auto insurance policy and your insurance ID card.

Vehicle owners affected by the airbag recall should expect to receive a letter in the mail from the manufacturer of your vehicle. The recall notice from your manufacturer will give details about how to comply with the recall. Owners who receive an airbag recall notice shouldn’t ignore it and should attempt to get their vehicle repaired as quickly as possible.

Read more: Department of Transportation announces steps to address Takata air bag defects

Smartphone Users Go Beyond Texting To Web Surfing, Video Chats While Driving

Smartphone users admit to going beyond texting while driving to a wide variety of smartphone activities according to a new study by AT&T. While cellphone use and texting are still the most common activity that drivers engage in, the AT&T study revealed that 70 percent of drivers engage in other smartphone activities such as taking selfies and even video chatting.

 According to the AT&T news website, smartphone activities people say they do while driving include:

  • Text (61%)
  • Email (33%)
  • Surf the net (28%)
  • Facebook (27%)
  • Snap a selfie/photo (17%)
  • Twitter (14%)
  • Instagram (14%)
  • Shoot a video (12%)
  • Snapchat (11%)
  • Video chat (10%)

Other unsettling findings include:

  • 62% keep their smartphones within easy reach while driving.
  • 30% of people who post to Twitter while driving do it “all the time.”
  • 22% who access social networks while driving cite addiction as a reason.
  • Of those who shoot videos behind the wheel, 27% think they can do it safely while driving.

 While AT&T is one of the major cellphone and smartphone marketers in the US, they recognized the dangers of cellphone use and texting while driving years ago. To educate drivers on the dangers of these activities, they launched the “It Can Wait” program in 2010. Their videos present a powerful message on the dangers of texting while driving and the impact those decisions can have on the cellphone user and their family.

 As a result of this study, AT&T says it will expand the It Can Wait program to go beyond texting and warn drivers about the dangers of engaging in other types of smartphone activities while driving.

Other studies show that drivers are starting to realize the dangers of texting but, in spite of that awareness, they still seem to think that they are more skilled in the practice and the dangers only apply to other, less skilled drivers. Now it seems that the very dangerous issue of driver distraction is moving beyond texting into even more dangerous distracting activities.

 Read more: Smartphone Use While Driving Grows Beyond Texting to Social Media, Web Surfing, Selfies, Video Chatting

Apple Watch

The Apple Watch And Driving

Apple has recently introduced its Apple Watch with a lot of hoopla about all of its capabilities including email and phone. What they aren’t saying much about are the dangers the new Apple Watch can pose for drivers who try to use it.

Distracted driving is a major problem in the US with 3,154 deaths and 424,000 injuries blamed on distracted driving in 2013. If that’s not a big enough problem, it seems that electronics manufacturers are trying to add more and more devices to distract drivers every month.

The Apple Watch is advertised as a device to keep you connected at any time, wherever you may be. That may be true but that connectivity could come at a great cost if you try to use it while driving.

The main distraction in an Apple Watch is its size. The Apple Watch comes in two sizes measuring only 1.4 to 1.6 inches from top to bottom. Making a selection on a screen size that small is going to take a bit of concentration. Scrolling through selections on an Apple Watch is accomplished by use of a small hand wheel on the side and using it will require a user to both look at the watch on one hand while using the other hand to scroll and select options.

Even if users try to use the voice activated Siri, studies have shown that using Siri or other voice activated systems is more distracting than using a hand-held phone.

While the Apple Watch may be a wonderful device in other situations, using it while driving is obviously going to be cumbersome and very distracting. A lot of states have either passed or are considering bans on the use of cell phones while driving. Now they may have to consider bans on the use of the Apple Watch and other similar Android devices. However, laws like that are going to be hard to enforce.

Read more: Smartwatches Reported To Be Less Safe While Driving Than Smartphones

Voice activated texting

Is Voice Activated Texting While Driving Safer?

Automakers and cell phone companies are pushing voice activated texting as a safe alternative to manual texting but is really safer? Not according to researchers at Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute (TTI).

While most studies of this kind involve observing study participants on computerized virtual driving courses, Christine Yager, an associate transportation researcher at TTI conducted a study in actual cars on a closed driving course; the first study of its kind.

Forty-three participants were observed under several different driving scenarios. They first drove the course without the use of cell phones and their reaction times were measured to create a baseline. They were then observed three more times, texting manually and using two different voice activated texting programs (Siri and Vlingo). Test subject reaction times to lights that came on at random times on the course were measured in each of the driving scenarios.

The study showed that, if the driver chose to visually verify the contents of the text, the voice activated texting systems offered no safety advantage over manual texting.

According to the TTI website, other findings from the study showed:

  • Driver response times were significantly delayed no matter which texting method was used. In each case, drivers took about twice as long to react as they did when they weren’t texting. With slower reaction times, drivers are less able to take action in response to sudden roadway hazards, such as a swerving vehicle or a pedestrian in the street.
  • The amount of time that drivers spent looking at the roadway ahead was significantly less when they were texting, no matter which texting method was used.
  • For most tasks, manual texting required slightly less time than the voice-to-text method, but driver performance was roughly the same with both.
  • Drivers felt less safe when they were texting, but felt safer when using a voice-to-text application than when texting manually, even though driving performance suffered equally with both methods.

Chimps Do It, Why Can’t We?

An interesting study of wild chimps in Uganda’s Kibale National Park shows that chimps are extremely cautious when crossing busy roads. The 29 month study observed the chimps’ behavior when crossing busy highways and little traveled roads.

When crossing roads that were rarely traveled, the chimps used little care and crossed in large groups. However, when crossing a busy roadway with cars traveling 45 to 60 mph, the chimps used great care, they looked both ways and, once they were sure the roadway was clear, they crossed quickly in small groups. Fifty-seven percent of the chimps ran across the roadway. As shown in the video above, the older, stronger chimps would wait and make sure younger or weaker chimps crossed safely.

The researchers hope to use the data they gathered to improve roadway safety for the chimps in the park. Road building is on the rise in Africa and African wildlife will be subjected to more and more roadway hazards.

It would almost seem that the same data from the chimp study could be applied to humans but the chimps seem to show much greater care when crossing a highway than humans do. For one thing, chimps will never be seen talking on a cell phone the way sixty percent of pedestrians in the US do when they are crossing roads; nor will you find them with earbuds in their ears listening to an iPod. The chimps will never make eye contact with a driver and expect him to stop in time.

Distracted walking figures are hard to come by but safety experts feel that emergency room figures don’t tell the whole story when it comes to distracted pedestrian injuries. The Consumer Product Safety Commission says that, if distracted walking figures are similar to distracted driving figures, there may have been approximately two million pedestrian injuries related to cell phone use in 2010.

Not all of those two million injuries involved pedestrians on roadways but the roadway problem is severe. In 2013, there were 4,735 pedestrians killed and an estimated 66,000 injured in traffic crashes in the United States. Pedestrian deaths have made up fourteen percent of the total number of highway deaths for each of the past three years.

Between distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians, it seems that the people who gather and total up crash data are the only ones paying attention to what happens on the road. Everyone needs to start paying more attention to the road; the way chimps do.

Read more: Wild chimps look both ways before crossing roads