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Medical Mistakes Take Heavy Toll

Heart disease and cancer are easily the top two causes of death in the United States, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. The third leading cause of death, contributing more than one-quarter of a million fatalities a year, is medical errors. The study calculated that 9.5 percent of deaths in this country, or 251,454, were the result of mistakes made by doctors, nurses and other health care workers. The prominent position of medical mistakes may come as a surprise to many, as the health care industry works hard to downplay their prevalence.

The research included a number of different mistakes in its analysis. Medical errors included everything from surgical errors to patients getting lost in the shuffle while being transferred between departments. The frequency of these mistakes shows that little progress has been made since patient safety first drew national attention after a famous study conducted by the Institute of Medicine in 1999. That 1999 study concluded that medical errors were causing 98,000 deaths a year, a number far higher than previously estimated. 

Traumatic Brain Injuries on Playgrounds

Concussion awareness is a hot-button issue in the field of athletics. Youth sports are a common source of concern for parents. The danger of concussions is an issue frequently raised in connection with football, soccer and other contact sports. A recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrates that parents should also be aware of the potential for brain injuries on the playground. According to researchers, the number of serious head injuries suffered on playgrounds has risen sharply in recent years.

In 2001, 18,000 children ages 14 and under were treated in hospital emergency rooms for playground-related head injuries. By 2013, the number had risen to more than 29,000. Many of the injuries occurred on school playground and recreational sports facilities. The numbers clearly show that youth sports are not the only culprit in exposing kids to traumatic brain injuries

NHTSA Using Twitter to Combat Distracted Driving

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. As part of their efforts to combat distracted driving, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has employed the use of the hashtag #justdrive in personally responding to Twitter users. The NHTSA campaign finds tweets mentioning or admitting to texting and driving and responds to them with an individualized message discouraging the practice. The social media campaign has drawn attention as an unusual choice for a government agency. The campaign is scheduled to run through the end of the month.

The statistics on distracted driving highlight the importance of curtailing this dangerous behavior. A 2011 survey conducted by the Ad Council found that 77 percent of young adult drivers are confident they can safety text while driving. That confidence is ill-founded. The NHTSA reports that more than 20 percent of crashes that lead to injury involve distracted driving. Another NHTSA study identified distracted driving as the most common cause of death among teenagers. The Twitter campaign is intended to target an audience that mistakenly believes it can combine driving and cell phone use safely. 

New Truck Safety Rules Delayed Again

In 2006, the American Trucking Association and Roadsafe America petitioned the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to establish a rule regarding the use of speed-limiters on heavy trucks. In May of last year, the FMCSA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agreed on a joint rule and submitted it to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The OMB delayed the issue by extending the review period for the rule. Last week, the rule was delayed again. The OMB also delayed the release of a regulation that would have created a database to track all truck drivers who failed or refused to take drug or alcohol tests.

The use of speed limiters is highly controversial among truck industry insiders. Surveys of individual owner/operators suggest that speed limiters are unpopular. Several larger trucking companies are in favor of the measure. The smaller owners believe that speed limiters are not intended to improve safety, but rather are intended to eliminate competitors to the larger companies. 

Truck Driver Cited for Multiple DUIs Is Shut Down

On March 21 of this year, a commercial truck driver was stopped by Illinois State Police. The driver was eventually cited for driving under the influence of alcohol, possession of an intoxicating beverage while on duty or driving, and for failing to retain driver logbooks for the previous seven days. He was also cited for improper lane usage and for illegally transporting alcohol. The driver's blood alcohol content was measured at .308. The legal limit for a person with a Commercial Drivers' License is .04. Due to the driver's previous record, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an effective shutdown order for the driver.

For the driver, who operates his vehicle out of California, this was just the latest in a string of incidents involving drunk driving. His CDL was suspended in 2007 based on multiple DUI violations while he was driving his truck. He was convicted twice in 2012 for refusing to take a breath alcohol test. Each time, the citation came while he was operating his commercial truck. Each conviction led to a suspension of his CDL for a period of time. 

Unreported Auto Defects Are a Threat to Driver Safety

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration requires automakers to pass along claims of car defects from consumers. By gathering this information, the NHTSA can spot trends and determine when a mandatory recall should be initiated. While the laws requiring defect reporting are more than a decade old, the system still falls short of expectations.

An audit conducted by the Office of the Inspector General last year found that the NHTSA did not have sufficient skill and resources in place to collect this vehicle safety data and ensure that it was both accurate and complete. In addition, there is substantial evidence that automakers are not following the regulations in reporting auto defect claims. There are unexplainable gaps in the level of reporting done by various automakers. There are also clear cut cases where automakers failed to report serious defect complaints. 

Medical Malpractice Bill Under Fire

The Help Efficient, Accessible, Low-cost, Timely Healthcare (HEALTH) Act of 2016 has come under fire from the American Bar Association. According to the ABA, states have had the authority to determine medical liability law for over 200 years. The HEALTH ACT seeks to eliminate the rights of states to determine medical liability law in numerous ways which would make it harder for patients harmed by medical malpractice to pursue a lawsuit and obtain fair compensation.

The American Bar Association recently sent a letter to the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee declaring its opposition to the bill and outlining concerns about the Act.

Pedestrian Accident Fatalities Rose in 2015

Recent reports indicate that 2015 was a bad year for traffic safety. Fatal car and truck accidents increased in the first nine months of the year, according to preliminary data. Now, a report issued by the Governors Highway safety Association suggests that pedestrian deaths rose by an estimated 10 percent in 2015. The report indicated a number of potential culprits, including an increase in distracted drivers and distracted pedestrians, warmer temperatures around the country, and a sharp drop in gas prices. More drivers on the road meant more danger for pedestrians and cyclists.

Pedestrian safety is an area of growing concern. The uptick in traffic fatalities in 2015 represented a departure from recent trends. Deadly car accidents have been gradually dropping over the past decade. Pedestrian deaths, however, have been growing steadily since 2005. The estimated increase from 2014 to 2015 would represent the largest year-over-year increase since 1975. 

Report Calls for Research Into Truck Driver Fatigue and Safety

A committee at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recently prepared a report concerning fatigue in the trucking industry. The report called for greater research and analysis by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The conclusion was that there is insufficient information gathered concerning truck driver fatigue and its impact on highway safety and long-term health for truckers. The report also concluded that the lack of information is harming the FMCSA's ability to set rules concerning hours of service, medical certification and other regulations designed to combat drowsy driving.

Reducing fatigue-related accidents is the first priority listed on the National Transportation Safety Board's 2016 Most Wanted List. The Department of Transportation has acknowledged that drowsy driving is a serious issue. The report is asking that more research be conducted to form a comprehensive understanding of the problem and how it applies to commercial motor vehicle drivers. 

Proposed License Requirements for Truck Drivers

A new proposal from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration could change the training necessary to get a Commercial Driver's License. The proposal was released today and will be open for public commentary for the next 60 days. The FMCSA could then submit the rule to the Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget for approval, or it could extend the comment period to gather further feedback. Once the OMB and DOT approve the final rule it will be published in the Federal Register. The measure would go into effect three years after the publication date.

The proposal contains a few key elements designed to ensure a minimum level of competency among new CDL truck drivers. The rule would establish a core curriculum, including a minimum of 30 hours of training behind the wheel, which a driver would need to complete to obtain a CDL. This minimum would apply to all drivers seeking a Class A CDL, as well as drivers who must take a CDL skills test to get their CDL. 

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