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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. 

Voice-Activated Systems and Distracted Driving

Two recent studies have called into question the safety of voice-activated technology used by drivers. Distracted driving accidents injured an estimated 421,000 people in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The NHTSA defines distracted driving as "any activity that could divert a person's attention away from the primary task of driving." The definition does not say anything about taking the driver's hands off the wheel. This is an important thing to note due to the rise of hands-free and voice-activated technology.

According to a Chevrolet spokeswoman, consumers now consider access to music and calls a critical part of the driving experience. One of the two studies analyzed the impact of built-in infotainment systems on the level of driver distraction. The study found that the systems could be highly distracting, particularly in cases where voice activation system made errors or was frustrating to use.

New Child Car Seat Information Available to Parents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children be placed in car seats until at least the age of 5. All children less than 57 inches tall should use a car seat or a booster seat. Having your child secured in the right seat, installed in the correct manner, is not always a simple matter. One study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 72 percent of car and booster seats are misused in a way that increases the chances that the child will die in a car accident. The NHTSA recently released a new tool that could help parents address their car seat concerns.

A new website helps consumers choose a car seat or booster seat that meets the NHTSA's best practice recommendations. By entering a child's birth date, weight and height, consumers can retrieve a list of acceptable safety seats from various manufacturers. The seats can be searched by type or by ease of use ratings. The list includes the height and weight ranges for the various child seats listed. 

Victim's Compensation Expert Raises GM Death Toll to 21

The compensation expert chosen by General Motors has increased the number of deaths attributed to defective ignition switches to 21. The number is expected to rise higher. The victim's compensation fund has now received 143 claims involving a traffic fatality and a total of 675 claims involving injuries caused by the defective switches. The fund manager, Kenneth Feinberg, plans to provide weekly updates concerning claims tied to the defect.

The compensation fund will continue to accept claims through the end of 2014. It does not cover the full range of recalled GM vehicles. It is limited to 2.6 million small GM vehicles, including Chevy Cobalts and Saturn Ions, known to have included the defective switches. The fund is not capped and it is not clear how much compensation will be paid out to victims of the faulty vehicles.

Report Critical of NHTSA Response to GM Ignition Switch Issue

The House Energy and Commerce Committee released a report concerning the ignition switch defects plaguing General Motors, as well as the response of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to the faulty vehicles. The report leveled criticism as GM for failing to take action to protect consumers. It further criticized the NHTSA, claiming that the administration should have known of the danger posed by the defective ignition switches as early as 2007. The report suggested that the lack of a timely response was due to the NHTSA overlooking evidence or not having the expertise to understand it.

The Deputy Administrator of the NHTSA claimed that the group was frustrated in its efforts by GM. He accused GM officials of "actively trying to hide the ball." As evidence, he gave testimony about a policy at GM to avoid the word "defect" in communications, with the goal of keeping the information away from NHTSA investigators.

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