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Emotional Support Animals and Aviation Safety

For many reasons, a certain percentage of travelers choose to bring their pets with them on airline flights. While traveling with a pet can be soothing, a new phenomenon has taken the practice further. Flight attendants are noticing an increase in the number of passengers bringing emotional support animals onto flights. The flight attendants worry that the practice could become a danger, particularly if the plane needed to be evacuated in an emergency.

United Airlines and Delta each charge $125 each way for domesticated cats, dogs, rabbits and birds to ride in the aircraft cabin. Owners must transport their animals in a pet kennel and that kennel must fit under the seat in front of the passenger. The fee does not apply to trained service animals or to emotional support and psychiatric assist animals. The type of animals passengers can designate as emotional support animals is also broader than what is considered a pet. Other than snakes, almost any animal can be an emotional support animal, provided the passenger has the proper documentation. 

When Safety Fits, Part One

Most parents are aware that their children need to be placed in car seats when they are young. Finding and installing the right car seat is not as easy as it sounds. Other decisions, such as when to turn a rear-facing car seat around, when to switch to a booster seat and when to allow your child to ride with just a normal seat belt are also not necessarily straightforward. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration offers advice to parents and guardians looking to make the safest choices for kids. They offer several tips to make the decision-making process easier.

The first tip in choosing a car seat is to make sure the seat works with your vehicle. Some cars and car seats are built with an installation system known as LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children). LATCH makes installation easier in many ways because they do not rely on seat belts to secure the car seat. If your vehicle is not equipped with LATCH, you need to select a seat that can be installed using seat belts only. 

Chicago Among 10 Worst Cities for Drivers

In a ranking of the 100 most populated cities in the U.S., Chicago finished 93 in terms of the best cities to be a driver. The rankings were based on 21 metrics including things like road conditions, safety, costs of vehicle ownership, traffic and more. Chicago's ranking as the 8th worst city in which to be a driver will come as no surprise to the many people who rely on their cars to get around.

According to the study, the average household loses $1,700 per year in wasted time and fuel because of traffic congestion. Chicago households likely exceed this number as traffic congestion is a major problem. Forbes ranks Chicago as the 10th most traffic-congested city in North America. The study placed Chicago 6th worst for road and traffic conditions. The traffic takes its toll as Chicago drivers suffered from the 4th highest average commute time. 

Child Safety on Airplanes Targeted in Canadian Investigation

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada recently concluded an investigation into a 2012 plane crash in which a 6-month-old child was killed. The investigation led the TSB to recommend that specially designed seat belts be made mandatory for children and babies on commercial flights. That recommendation is in line with a number of groups concerned with child welfare, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Association of Flight Attendants and the National Transportation Safety Board in the U.S. All of these groups oppose the infant seat exception that allows children under 2 to sit on their parents laps during flights.

The plane crash in Canada provided a tragic example of why the infant seat exception is unwise. When the twin engine craft suffered a hard landing, there were nine people aboard. Eight of those people survived the crash, with none suffering life-threatening injuries. The 6-month-old was the only passenger not properly restrained. The death was further proof of what research has shown: Adults are not able to safely restrain children by holding them in their arms. Children die in accidents they would have survived if given a seat with a proper safety restraints. 

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. 

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