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Medical Testing Carries Risks

Medical testing equipment is a significant investment. Hospitals and clinics purchasing this equipment face substantial pressure to justify the expense by keeping the machines busy. This requires a steady stream of patients getting tested for various health conditions. Some clinics have responded to this pressure by advertising the tests directly to the public, without waiting for a physician to recommend the tests based on actual symptoms. The problem with this is that testing is not a no-risk proposition. Besides the worthless expense for many people, there are health risks to undergoing many medical tests. That risk is only acceptable when there are actual medical signs that the underlying problem may exist.

The problem of unnecessary testing, even when a doctor is consulted, is a long-standing one. Many of the tests ordered in hospitals today cannot be justified by medical research. Medical testing is big business and doctors have little incentive to keep medical costs low. Direct advertising from medical testing centers will likely make the problem worse. 

Protected Bike Lanes and Bike Safety

The Chicago Department of Transportation reports that bicyclists represent as much as 38 percent of traffic during the morning rush hour. The city has undertaken several measures designed to help traffic, including bike traffic move quickly and safety. Last week the city unveiled the "green wave," a plan to help bicyclists and motorists move in a more continuous flow on Wells Street between Huron and Wacker Drive. This week, construction is set to begin on protected bicycle lanes on Clybourn Avenue. The protected lane will, when completed, stretch from North Avenue to Division Street on Clybourn and on Division Street from Clybourn to Orleans Street, according to Illinois Department of Transportation plans.

The new bike lanes will offer bikers a lane separated from motor vehicles by a raised concrete median. Such a barrier was what many bicyclists expected when the Emmanuel administration announced its goal of creating 100 miles of barrier-protected bike lanes by the end of 2015. A later announcement made it clear that buffer-protected lanes would be included in the 100 mile figure as well. The concrete barrier is preferred by bicyclists because it offers a clear delineation for motorists and cyclists and provides a strong deterrent for motorists who might mistakenly park in a bike lane. 

Runway Incursions Continue to Be a Problem

The National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration consider runway incursions to be a top safety concern. Runway safety appeared on the NTSB Most Wanted List of advocacy priorities as recently as 2012. Runway incursions, situations involving planes taxiing, taking off or landing, represent a significant threat at airports throughout the country. A recent incident at Midway is expected to draw NTSB investigators to Chicago once again.

O'Hare International Airport has been the site of multiple runway incursion investigations in recent years. The NTSB and FAA have made a number of recommendations to reduce the potential for accidents on and around airport runways. The incident at Midway Airport reportedly involves two planes with similar-sounding flight numbers. Two planes waiting to take off both responded to a flight controller's direction to one of the planes to begin its takeoff roll. Both planes were halted before a collision could occur. 

Collision Avoidance Systems Pushed by NTSB

The National Transportation Safety Board has advocated for the use of collision avoidance technology for some time. In a recent report, the NTSB has once again advanced the idea that these systems should be standard equipment on all vehicles. The report suggests that thousands of deaths and injuries each year could be prevented with the implementation of crash avoidance technology.

The NTSB report highlighted rear-end collisions in demonstrating the potential value of collision avoidance systems. According to the NTSB, rear-end collisions are the cause of approximately 1,700 traffic deaths and 500,000 traffic injuries per year. Collision avoidance systems have the potential to eliminate or mitigate four out of five of these crashes. Despite the potential benefits of the safety technology, only four passenger vehicle models offered it as a standard feature in 2014. 

Addressing the Problem of Aggressive Driving

Aggressive driving and road rage are related, but distinct problems. Aggressive driving is substantially more common and involves violations of traffic laws. Road rage is assault either using or related to a motor vehicle. The distinction is important because aggressive drivers may be able to convince themselves that they are not a problem because their behavior does not rise to the level of road rage. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration makes that clear in its efforts to combat the problem of aggressive driving.

What Is Aggressive Driving?

If it isn't road rage, what exactly is aggressive driving? Aggressive driving takes various forms. Speeding is likely the most common form of aggressive driving. Far too many drivers behave as though highways are race tracks, fighting to pass other vehicles and not get passed. Improper lane changes are another form of aggressive driving. Drivers who weave between lanes, fail to signal and fail to account for other vehicles and proper spacing in making lane changes are behaving aggressively. Improper passing is another form of aggressive driving. Some drivers pass on the shoulder or emergency lanes in order to get ahead. Finally, tailgating is a common form of aggressive driving. Drivers who follow too closely often do so in order to intimidate other drivers who might be frustrating their ability to speed, weave and generally endanger other drivers.

Is Your Deck, Porch or Balcony Safe?

Throughout Illinois, homeowners are required to get a permit before building a deck, balcony or porch. Municipalities maintain safety standards for what is required in building these structures. For example, in the City of Chicago, a deck, porch or balcony floor must be designed to support a minimum of 100 pounds per square foot. There are requirements for how they can be attached to buildings, how the footings are set and what materials are acceptable for construction. The guidelines are intended to protect homeowners and visitors from the danger of a collapse. Unfortunately, many decks and porches are not built to code and are not maintained properly. The result of substandard construction and maintenance can be a fatal accident.

Illinois winters take a toll on our homes. Heavy snows and massive temperature swings will eventually make even a perfectly designed deck unsafe. It is important to regularly inspect your porch, deck or balcony to identify signs of degradation. Older decks may also have been built when safety standards were less robust. A deck built to code in 2000 could easily represent a safety hazard today, particularly if it has not been carefully maintained. 

Many Railroads Will Miss a Key Safety Deadline

In 2014, the National Transportation Safety Board included Positive Train Control (PTC) implementation on its Most Wanted List of safety initiatives. The NTSB had been calling for the devices for 45 years at that point. Congress had taken action on that suggestion already in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 by requiring all railroads to install the systems by December 31, 2015. With a handful of months remaining before the deadline, it appears unlikely that PTC devices will be in place on time for many railroads, including Metra.

Metra Chairman Martin Oberman recently reported that the railroad expects to have PTC in place by 2019. The contract to oversee the installation of PTC was only awarded last month. The software needed to control the system has not yet been designed. He gave no indication as to why the requirements of the 2008 Act were not acted upon sooner. 

Biking In Chicago

Today is Bike to Work Day and riders all across the country are taking the opportunity to commute with their bicycles. That journey will be considerably easier for some than for others. Biking in a metro area can be challenging even during low traffic periods. During rush hour, it can become a near impossibility in some locations. Chicago has taken steps in recent years to become more bike-friendly. A recent evaluation suggests that the city has been relatively successful, though it is clear that more work is left to be done.

Redfin recently compiled a list of the most bikeable cities. Minneapolis finished first, but the fastest riser was Chicago. Chicago increased its Bike Score Index by nine points since the last ranking was released in 2013 and now ranks as the 6th most bikeable city in the United States. One of the primary reasons for the improved score was the introduction of the bike sharing system Divvy. Future scores are expected to rise based on the plan to increase on-street bikeways by the year 2020. 

Tips for Safe Bicycling in Time for Spring

When the weather turns warm, people are once again able to enjoy the outdoors on their bicycles. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and the Illinois Department of Transportation offer a number of tips designed to help bicyclists stay safe on our roads. If you or your loved ones will be bicycling this year, it is a good time to review the practices that can help you avoid accidents.

The number one tip for bicycle safety is to always wear a helmet when riding. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reports that helmet use reduces head injury risk by 85 percent. While helmets are recommended for all age groups, many states and municipalities have laws requiring helmet use for younger riders. Riders ages 5 to 14 suffer a disproportionate number of injuries in bicycle accidents. 

Investigation into CTA Crash Concluded

The investigation into last year's Chicago Transit Authority train crash at the O'Hare subway station concluded this week. The National Transportation Safety Board listed several factors as contributing to the March 2014 accident that injured 33 people. The failure of the rail operator to report to work properly rested and the failure of the CTA to manage her schedule were listed as the probable cause of the accident, according to the NTSB report.

When the operator of the Blue Line train fell asleep at the controls, the eight-car train overran the bumping post and crashed into an escalator. The operator admitted to the NTSB that she had fallen asleep and indicated that it was not the first time. She was dealing with changing starting times and was working at a time when fatigue is a likely problem. The crash occurred at roughly 3 a.m.

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