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Bigger, Bolder Dashboard Displays in Demand

The majority of U.S. states have banned texting while driving. In an effort to attract new buyers, automakers are introducing larger and more advanced dashboard displays, some of which allow drivers to read text messages. Lawmakers and safety experts are concerned about the potential for increased levels of distracted driving based on the latest trends in dashboard technology.

The dashboard displays on new vehicles are larger than previous versions. They are also more closely aligned with functions provided by the latest smart phones. Automakers allege that the new displays will improve safety because the touch screens are larger, and therefore easier to use, and also because they are more easily operated through voice controls. Critics contend that the devices encourage drivers to take their eyes off the road for unsafe periods of time. 

FAA Study Shows Fatigue Problems Among Air Traffic Controllers

Fatigue can have a substantial impact on your ability to complete a task successfully. In the aviation industry, studies on fatigue have often focused on pilots. Fatigue is also a potential safety hazard for others in the aviation industry, including air traffic controllers. A study of controllers completed in 2011 shows that the typical work schedules used in the industry can lead to chronic fatigue.

The study was conducted following a recommendation by the NTSB that the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to change the way controllers were scheduled. The practices in place were not providing enough time to rest between shifts, according to the NTSB. The study involved survey responses collected from more than 3,000 air traffic controllers. It also included data collected from more than 200 controllers regarding sleep and mental alertness. 

When Safety Fits, Part Two

Choosing a Motorcycle Helmet

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, wearing a helmet improves your chances of surviving a motorcycle crash by 29 percent. NHTSA studies have demonstrated that wearing a helmet does not hurt a rider's ability to see or respond to traffic. There is no valid safety reason not to wear a helmet. That said, choosing the right helmet is important in maximizing the value of the safety equipment.

The U.S. Department of Transportation maintains a certification standard for motorcycle helmet models. The first thing to check in choosing a helmet is whether a particular model is DOT certified. There is no shortage of helmets that are not certified. DOT regulations ban the sale of non-certified helmets designated as "motorcycle helmets" but manufacturers get around this by marketing them in different ways. A "novelty helmet" may have a design that appeals to riders, but they may offer little protection in the event of an accident. 

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. 

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