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Report Calls For Better Pilot Training, Procedures and Management

A study drafted over the course of two years and involving aviation laborers, scholars, industry leaders and the U.S. government has reached a number of conclusions about air safety. The report particularly emphasized the need for better emergency procedures. As the work of flying an airliner has become increasingly automated, pilots and crew need more and better training in how to monitor these systems and react when they fail. The report suggested that major improvements are necessary to ensure the safety of airline personnel and passengers.

The study was released by the Flight Safety Foundation, an independent, international non-profit group whose goal is to provide safety guidance to the aerospace and aviation industries. Among the recommendations in the study were methods to enhance communication and teamwork in the cockpit. The report tied a number of aviation accidents to poor communication and inadequate monitoring of flight control systems. A lapse in monitoring has been blamed for the 2013 crash in San Francisco involving Asiana Airlines. That is one of 84 major aviation accidents in the past 12 years that involved failure to monitor and communicate hazards, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. 

Priorities in NTSB Investigations

The National Transportation Safety Board lists general aviation among its top ten advocacy priorities in 2014. According to the NTSB, general aviation accidents make up the vast majority of aviation-related deaths in the U.S. The NTSB has been charged with conducting investigations into aviation accidents for nearly 50 years and has conducted numerous safety studies to improve aviation safety. Not all aviation incidents are treated equally, however. An analysis conducted by USA Today shows that aviation accidents involving prominent, politically-connected people or celebrities receive substantially more attention from NTSB investigators than other crashes.

A spokesperson for the NTSB acknowledged that certain high-profile incidents are assigned a larger initial team. The stated reason is that the increase in public interest necessitates a faster dissemination of information about the crash. One NTSB manual instructs officials to consider the number of people killed or injured as well as their prominence in deciding how many people to send to investigate. Noteworthy crashes that received heightened attention include the aviation accidents that claimed the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., John Denver and Mel Carnahan, the Governor of Missouri who died in a crash during his campaign for U.S. Senate in 2000. 

House Votes to Overturn Governor's Veto of Truck Speed Limit

When the Illinois House and Senate voted to raise the speed limit for semi trucks from 55 mph to 60 mph, Governor Quinn vetoed the measure. The law applied to interstate highways in Cook, DuPage, Lake, McHenry and Will counties that were not in urban areas. Governor Quinn claimed the measure would lead to more fatalities in exchange for greater convenience for truck drivers. That veto has now been overturned by both the House and Senate and will be the law in Illinois going forward.

The House override vote was 103-12. The House is also considering another override vote that would change the top speed limit for semi trucks from 65 mph to 70 mph on Illinois tollways. The Senate already voted to override that veto this November in a 44-5-1 vote. 

Thanksgiving Car Accidents

The week of Thanksgiving is known to be one of the deadliest of the year in terms of fatal car crashes. There are several factors that contribute to the increase in severe accidents this time of year. For the victims of Thanksgiving car accidents, the reasons matter less than the outcome. Every year, families are torn apart when negligent drivers cause deadly wrecks.

Among the factors that make Thanksgiving a dangerous time on the roads is poor weather. Snow, wind and rain are a frequent part of Thanksgiving week in many American cities. Drowsy driving is another common factor in holiday accidents, as many drivers take to the roads later at night than they normally would. Alcohol is also a significant problem associated with holiday traffic. Fatalities caused by drunk drivers account for more than 40 percent of Thanksgiving traffic deaths, a near 10 percent increase from the average. Finally, Thanksgiving sees a large increase in the total number of people on the roads, particularly on two-lane roads that may be unfamiliar to the driver. 

Changes in Cell Phone Use and Distracted Driving

The increasing popularity of smart phones has had a noticeable impact on driver behavior, according to a new study from State Farm. Annual surveys conducted by the insurance company demonstrate that smart phone-specific behaviors such as surfing the Internet, checking email and accessing social media sites have risen steadily over the past six years. The impact on the total amount of distracted driving is somewhat offset by a reduction in being using cell phones for actual calls while behind the wheel. The survey shows that cell phone use of one type or another has continued to rise among drivers.

State Farm first took a national survey of cell phone behavior in 2009. Since that time, the percentage of drivers who surf the Internet while driving has risen 13 percent. The percentage who read email has risen 10 percent. Finally, the percentage who use their phones for social media while driving has risen 11 percent. The percentages have risen despite the proliferation of laws banning texting and hand-held cell phone use in a number of states. 

Legislators Call for Changes at the NHTSA

President Obama is expected to name a new permanent chief for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the next two weeks. Three U.S. senators have called for the President to use the opportunity to make substantial changes to the NHTSA and its practices. They want the NHTSA to reform its safety mission and make changes to the way it approaches safety defects.

Among the requested changes is a call for the NHTSA to force automakers to release more information to the public concerning accidents that may be caused by defects. In addition, the senators have asked that the NHTSA improve its safety databases. Finally, they called on the NHTSA to step up efforts to enforce compliance with measures take to provide early warnings about potential defects. 

NHTSA Defends Recall Actions

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has come under fire for its actions concerning the recalls of GM vehicles with defective ignition switches and the vehicles containing Takata air bags. Critics have suggested that the NHTSA has moved too slowly or taken limited action in addressing serious auto defects. NHTSA leaders recently responded with a defense of the work done by the agency in furthering traffic safety.

In defending its record, the NHTSA points out that it has forced nearly 100 million recalls of defective vehicles and defective auto parts in the past decade. The administration also pointed out that it has leveled more than $55 million in fines in 2014 alone. Deputy administrator David Friedman reaffirmed the group's commitment to advancing safety and reducing traffic fatalities. 

Fatal Bicycle Accident Demographics

Motor vehicle deaths rose one percent from 2010 to 2012, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. During that same time period, bicyclist fatalities rose 16 percent. The troubling trend is largely the result of accidents affecting a specific demographic - adult males in urban areas. Adults in general were once a small percentage of those killed in bicycle accidents. In 1975, people over the age of 20 made up on 21 percent of bicyclist fatalities. By 2012, that figure had risen to 84 percent. Adult males made up nearly three-quarters of the total of bike fatalities.

Several other trends were identified by the GHSA. Nearly 70 percent of bicycle deaths occurred in urban areas. Crashes between bikes and cars in Illinois, California, Florida, New York, Michigan and Texas alone made up 54 percent of the total bicycle fatalities across the nation. Many of those deaths were suffered by the growing number of people who commute by bicycle. 

Too Tired To Drive

The National Transportation Safety Board is holding a highway safety forum this week on the topic of drowsy driving. The public forum will cover various topics, including the prevalence of drowsy driving, potential countermeasures to combat the problem and risk factors tied to the issue. The NTSB has given the forum the title Awake, Alert, Alive. While fatigue has been addressed in the world of commercial driving, its impact on noncommercial driving is less well understood.

According to a poll conducted by the AAA, 83 percent of Americans consider tired drivers a threat to their personal safety. How many drowsy drivers are on the road is difficult to calculate. Another AAA poll indicated that 41 percent of drivers admitted to falling asleep or nodding off behind the wheel at some point. The NTSB estimates that 100,000 accidents and more than 5,000 traffic fatalities happen every year because of drowsy driving. 

Are Cesarean Births Driven By Medical Needs?

The World Health Organization suggests that the optimal rate for Cesarean section births is somewhere between 5 and 10 percent. At the turn of the century, the rate of C-section births began to rise sharply. By 2009, almost one-third of the babies born in this country came by Cesarean section. The number has declined slightly since then. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 32.8 percent of deliveries came by Cesarean in 2012. A recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota suggests that Cesarean rates are the result of hospital culture, rather than the medical needs of the mother or infant.

A Cesarean section is a major surgical procedure. Mothers who undergo this procedure face increased risk of organ damage, blood loss, infection and other complications. The infant mortality rate in cases of C-section is double the rate suffered in vaginal births. There are risk factors that greatly influence whether a woman is likely to have a Cesarean, including whether the woman is suffering from hypertension or diabetes. When the study controlled for those factors, however, it still found that hospitals varied widely in Cesarean rates. 

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