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A New Tool for Finding Auto Recall Information

When car makers discover a defect that impacts the safety of a vehicle, they are required to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as vehicle owners, dealers and distributors. What those groups do with that information varies. Accidents continue to cause injuries and deaths even after safety problems are identified and these parties are informed.

Part of the problem is that the motivation to have the repairs done is different depending on the person in charge of the vehicle. Rental car agencies may be reluctant to take a group of cars out of their fleet even though the cost of repairs is paid by the auto maker. Not all car owners are in a position to have repairs done when they receive a recall notice in the mail. Finally, despite the effort that goes into publicizing a recall, there are many cases where a vehicle owner is not aware that a car is in need of important repairs.

The Impact of Texting Bans on Fatal Accidents

Recent research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health analyzed the impact of texting bans and found that they have been effective. Illinois was one of 24 states to ban texting by drivers of any age during the period analyzed in the study, 2000 to 2010. An additional seven states banned texting by young drivers with provisional licenses. Illinois was also among the states that allowed primary enforcement of the texting ban. That means that police officers here can stop and cite a driver solely for the act of texting behind the wheel. States with secondary enforcement statutes only allow drivers to be cited for texting after they have been stopped for some other offense.

The UAB study found that states with a texting ban allowing for primary enforcement saw a reduction in traffic deaths of roughly three percent. Texting bans that targeted young drivers and allowed for primary enforcement saw a reduction in teen driving fatalities of 11 percent. States that banned all handheld cell phone use saw the largest reduction in fatal traffic accidents among drivers ages 22 to 64. The author of the study said that the texting bans saved 19 deaths per year in the states with primary enforcement bans covering drivers of all ages.

Controversy Over Veto of Truck Speed Limit Law

A measure that passed unanimously in the Illinois House and Senate was vetoed by Governor Quinn this week. The law would have raised the speed limit for trucks traveling on interstates in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties from 55 miles per hour to 60. The law was positioned as a return to the same speed differential that existed prior to the State raising interstate speed limits for cars on these roads to 70 from 65. Governor Quinn defended the veto on the grounds that higher speed limits have been linked to an increase in fatal traffic accidents in numerous studies.

Governor Quinn cited the July 21 truck accident on Interstate 55 when discussing truck safety. That accident involved a truck that was allegedly speeding in a work zone. It led to five fatalities. The Governor referred to the bill as providing "convenience of increased speed for truckers." The sponsor of the bill, Senator Jim Oberweis, claims the change "would make the roads safer." The true safety impact would come down to whether the accidents caused by the increased speed limit were offset by a reduction in crashes caused by the reduced speed differential between trucks and cars.

The Growing Problem of Truck Accidents

From 2009 to 2012, car accident fatalities dropped 1.74 percent according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The drop was typical of the past 15 years during which fatal crashes fell substantially. NHTSA data indicates that there were 42,013 motor vehicle deaths in 1997 compared to 33,561 in 2012. That decrease occurred despite a nearly 14 percent increase in the total miles driven during that time period.

Recent statistics regarding truck accident fatalities paint a different picture. From 2009 to 2012, fatal truck crashes grew by more than 18 percent, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. NHTSA data indicates that the increase in fatalities happened despite a drop in the total distance traveled by trucks and a drop in the number of trucks on the road. On a per-mile-driven basis, semi trucks are becoming more dangerous.

Log Book Violations and Drowsy Driving

Last week's tragic truck accident on Interstate 55 near Elwood has renewed concerns about log book practices and overworked drivers. The driver in that case is accused of falsifying his log book entry. His paper log book indicated he began working around 6-6:30 a.m. Investigators have uncovered evidence that he actually started work at around 2:30 a.m. If the allegation is true, it will likely increase the pressure on safety officials to accelerate the move to electronic record keeping.

The method used by truck drivers and trucking companies to track work hours has been under scrutiny for some time. In March of this year, The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration made a proposal to require the use of Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) by interstate commercial truck and bus companies. The proposal suggested that drivers and the businesses that employ them would face substantially reduced paperwork burdens if they made the switch. Many larger trucking companies already use ELDs.

Bill Proposed to Help Truck Accident Victims Gain Proper Compensation

Following a serious truck accident, victims and their families often must turn to the truck company's insurance provider to obtain proper compensation. The minimum insurance policy a truck company can hold under the law is $750,000. This level was set in 1985, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Due to rising medical costs and inflation, $750,000 may be inadequate to cover the victims of a catastrophic crash.

In April 2014, the FMCSA published a report detailing the problem. The report showed that a truck crash that leads to injuries and a fatality may lead to more than $4.3 million in damages. The FMCSA has created a team to make recommendations about how to address the problem of minimum insurance policies falling far short of full compensation in serious accidents. Congress, too, has taken notice of the problem. A new bill has been introduced that would require commercial carriers to purchase insurance policies capable of compensating victims of serious truck wrecks.

Proposed Bill Addresses Ride-Sharing Insurance in Illinois

Taxi drivers in Chicago are subject to specific requirements regarding background checks, drug testing, vehicle inspections and proper insurance. However, the same regulations, which are in place to minimize uncertainty and protect passengers and pedestrians from injury, don't apply to the emerging ride-sharing companies such as UberX and Lyft. These companies offer private cars for hire throughout the state.

The Chicago City Council passed an ordinance that provides some protections for people who hire ride-sharing drivers, but state lawmakers and the taxi industry agree that more needs to be done. In particular, State Senator Martin Sandoval has called on Governor Pat Quinn to sign a bill that would establish ride-sharing insurance and driver requirements not covered in the city ordinance.

Ignition Interlock Devices and Drunk Driving Deaths

Roughly one-third of all traffic fatalities are caused by drunk drivers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In an attempt to reduce these deadly incidents, new legislation has been proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives. If passed, the law would require all 50 states to order mandatory ignition interlock devices for people convicted of drinking and driving. Currently, states are allowed to set their own laws regarding criminal penalties for drunk driving. The proposed law would require the devices remain in place for at least six months following the conviction.

The federal government does not have the power to change state laws regarding drunk driving penalties, but it has encouraged uniform safety improvements in the past through funding measures. States that refused to require the interlock devices would see reduced federal transportation funding. Similar measures have been used over the years to move the drinking age to 21, to require seat belts and to set maximum speed limits.

New Legislation Proposed Following Ignition Switch Defect Recall

The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee has announced his intention to propose new auto safety legislation later this year or early next year. The announcement joined several other proposals intended to combat the problems demonstrated by the General Motors ignition switch failures and subsequent recall. The proposal would overhaul the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act, passed in 2000. The TREAD act was originally passed as part of the response to nearly 300 fatalities linked to defective Firestone tires on Ford SUVs.

Many of the suggested proposals involve increasing the ability of safety regulators to punish automakers who are slow to recall vehicles with known defects. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently limited by a $35 million cap on fines for automakers who delay safety recalls. Members of both the House and Senate recently called for an increase of the maximum fine to $200 million.

Chicago Officials Working to Improve Pedestrian Safety

Chicago city officials have set a goal to reduce serious pedestrian injuries by 50 percent over the next five years. The goal is eliminate such accidents completely in the five years following that. According to the executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, 7-8 pedestrian injuries occur each day in Chicago. Pedestrian-vehicle collisions cause more than 3,000 injuries and 30 deaths per year in the city. The problem is substantial.

To reach the safety goal, police set up a sting operation on the North Side to catch drivers who fail to come to a stop for pedestrians in crosswalks. Police intend to complete a total of 60 sting operations this year. These will largely focus on intersections near senior housing facilities, high-traffic retail areas and schools. Police will be issuing citations to drivers who fail to obey the law.

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