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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.

Investigation into the Speed of Vehicle Recalls

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is tasked with reducing motor vehicle accidents and losses that result. Among the responsibilities taken on by the NHTSA is the duty to investigate motor vehicle defects and determine whether a recall should be ordered for a vehicle with a safety concern. The actions surrounding the ignition switch defects in a number of General Motors vehicles have drawn attention to just how effective the NHTSA has been in that role.

A Senate hearing has been scheduled to discuss the NHTSA handling of the GM ignition problem, as well as how the agency has implemented and enforced safety laws. The hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday and will include testimony from the NHTSA acting administrator, as well as other safety officials and a representative from an auto manufacturer trade group.

New Technology for Combating Distracted Driving

General Motors is investing in new technology designed to track the eyes and face of the people driving their vehicles. The information gathered is used to determine whether a driver is succumbing to fatigue or distraction. If a driver turns his or her attention away from the road for too long, such devices could trigger a warning tone or other form of correction.

GM's contract is with Seeing Machines, a company that has already worked with trucking and mining companies to analyze operator attention. Eye tracking and face tracking technology is one method of reducing the car accidents caused by distracted drivers. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,328 traffic fatalities in 2012 were the result of distraction. An additional 421,000 people suffered injuries in this type of accident.

A New Tool for Finding Auto Recall Information

When car makers discover a defect that impacts the safety of a vehicle, they are required to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as vehicle owners, dealers and distributors. What those groups do with that information varies. Accidents continue to cause injuries and deaths even after safety problems are identified and these parties are informed.

Part of the problem is that the motivation to have the repairs done is different depending on the person in charge of the vehicle. Rental car agencies may be reluctant to take a group of cars out of their fleet even though the cost of repairs is paid by the auto maker. Not all car owners are in a position to have repairs done when they receive a recall notice in the mail. Finally, despite the effort that goes into publicizing a recall, there are many cases where a vehicle owner is not aware that a car is in need of important repairs.

The Impact of Texting Bans on Fatal Accidents

Recent research from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health analyzed the impact of texting bans and found that they have been effective. Illinois was one of 24 states to ban texting by drivers of any age during the period analyzed in the study, 2000 to 2010. An additional seven states banned texting by young drivers with provisional licenses. Illinois was also among the states that allowed primary enforcement of the texting ban. That means that police officers here can stop and cite a driver solely for the act of texting behind the wheel. States with secondary enforcement statutes only allow drivers to be cited for texting after they have been stopped for some other offense.

The UAB study found that states with a texting ban allowing for primary enforcement saw a reduction in traffic deaths of roughly three percent. Texting bans that targeted young drivers and allowed for primary enforcement saw a reduction in teen driving fatalities of 11 percent. States that banned all handheld cell phone use saw the largest reduction in fatal traffic accidents among drivers ages 22 to 64. The author of the study said that the texting bans saved 19 deaths per year in the states with primary enforcement bans covering drivers of all ages.

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