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iStock_000016429140XSmallThere are some tragedies that first responders say change them forever. We are certain that the bus crash that occurred recently in Chattanooga, Tennessee will be one of those. Six children perished when a school bus lost control and hit a tree. This past Thanksgiving weekend has been a time of shock, prayer and mourning for the families in Chattanooga. Elementary school children as young as kindergarten were on the bus. In the midst of the tragedy, the community immediately turned out to support the families of the children, donating blood and finding other ways to give to the bereaved families. The sadness continues as funerals take place for the young victims.

The driver has now been charged with vehicular homicide. The route he took the day of the tragedy has been determined not to be part of the official bus route. He had received his commercial license in April and was relatively new to driving a school bus. Records have been released that indicate that earlier this fall, several students complained about the driving and a parent did as well. The students said he tried to make them fall off their seats and swore at them. The driver also had complained in the past that students were not minding his instructions.

The National Transportation Safety Board has been at the crash site since the day after it occurred and is investigating all aspects of this monumental tragedy. One part of that investigation concerns “human performance” and whether the driver’s second job was causing fatigue. Apparently, he was also working at an Amazon fulfillment center. Other investigative work includes analysis of the mechanical and interior of the bus. The NTSB will analyze whether use of seat belts and the use of seat belts with shoulder belts would have made a difference in saving lives and avoiding injuries in this tragedy. The use of both seat belts and shoulder belts saved lives in a school bus crash in Anaheim, California a few years ago. The NTSB is seeking information from witnesses and will be interviewing parents and others.

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Truck4As drivers, we know that sharing the road with large vehicles like trucks and tractor-trailers can be treacherous. These vehicles raise the risk of serious or fatal injury when they lose control on the road and / or collide with other vehicles. In 2014 for example, the Federal Motor Safety Carrier Association (FMSCA) reported that there were over 400,000 trucking accidents causing about 82,000 injuries and over 3,000 deaths in America. These vehicles are also very different in the way they maneuver and operate. There are several examples of the types of dangers that other vehicles have traveling around these massive heavy vehicles. There are also things that drivers can and should do to manage their travel with trucks on the road. Here are several safety tips to help avoid truck crashes that have been noted by the FMCSA that regulates these vehicles.

First, remember that it takes much longer for trucks to stop. If they are traveling too closely to the vehicle in front of them, they can fail to stop or rear end that vehicle. Every day we see truck drivers barreling down the rear of the vehicle in front of them, that  vehicle could even be the one we are driving. It is a frightening experience to be sure. If you can do so safely, give trucks room and move over to the right.

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iStock_000017099921XSmallAs the holiday season approaches, we want to focus on two important things: your family’s safety and the kindness in our country and how these sometimes merge together when we least expect it. Rather than focusing on our divides, we want to focus on what makes us great as a nation — our community spirit. We work very hard to bring information to our readers about vehicle safety and staying safe on our roads. We have written recently that some of the news is not good — our fatality rates are on the rise in America. When accidents do happen and injury occurs, we find ways to cope. One of those ways is to focus on the good things that happen every day in America and how we help one another.

One recent story has not only warmed our hearts, but is a testament to the kindness of our first responders. In Hall County, Georgia earlier this week, a story emerged about firefighters who calmed the fear of a child by singing to her. The story which first appeared on MyAtlantaMomsClub.com is now going viral. Earlier this month, a mom lost control of her car. After her vehicle struck a tree, her hand was severely injured and she was taken to the hospital by ambulance. Her autistic daughter was frightened and crying. Her daughter is not able to speak. The injured mom asked the firefighters to sing the children’s song Wheels on the Bus to her daughter. They did, for the entire 20 minutes on the way to the hospital. The mom said as long as they were singing and her child was not crying, she knew that her daughter would be ok. Stories like this of kindness and caring are important. They remind us that we need one another and at times of crisis, we often find the kindness we need in unexpected places.

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6d15d15970fbc3199681f82df666c287The federal government is preparing. Georgia Tech is preparing. When will Georgia and Atlanta see driverless cars on our roads and highways? The headlines are consistent: driverless cars seem to be inevitable. In our last post, we updated our readers on the guidelines published in September 2016 by the federal government on research areas and safety issues with driverless vehicles. Right here in Georgia, our renown Georgia Tech, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering is hard at work looking at what appears to inevitable — cars and trucks driving themselves. In other words, get ready Georgians, we may one day be sharing the road with robots … also known as autonomous cars and trucks.

The researchers at Georgia Tech are looking at the way our future roads will look. Despite the claims that driverless vehicles will make our roads safer, researchers are looking at many potentially problematic aspects of their widespread use. For example, the researchers are looking into whether autonomous vehicles could actually cause more traffic nightmares by disrupting traffic flow that could lead to surface-street bottlenecks. While research currently underway and while we believe a world with driverless vehicles as the norm is a while off, the first driverless truck delivered beer in Colorado this week. Yes, that’s right, a driverless truck delivering beer. Continue reading →

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6d15d15970fbc3199681f82df666c287The great driverless driving experiment is in full force now and is moving from experimental to reality. Driverless cars, or what the industry calls, autonomous cars, are headed to American roadways. There is no stopping this now. The prediction, as reported in TechCrunch, is that cars without drivers will be the norm by around 2020. This will no doubt begin to have a major impact on the way we commute and travel. Without drivers, not only will the consumer’s driving experience change, but the transportation industry will also be transformed. As dire predictions continue about loss of jobs due to technological advances, driverless vehicles will mean a loss of jobs. It will also bring other challenges.

Recently, the Department of Transportation and the National Economic Council issued a preliminary plan for regulating safety of these vehicles. The federal plans are meant to begin to set standards for regulating the technology of driverless cars. In addition to the need for companies developing this technology to share information with the DOT, the federal agency is putting safety as a priority.

Safety is top of mind for all of us … advocates of autonomous vehicles argue that the roads will be safer because human error is the cause of most vehicle crashes. It stands to reason that eliminating human error will make driving safer. But how much safer and the what ifs are a concern because we have seen major unprecedented recalls in the car manufacturing and related industries in the recent past. From failing airbags to ignition switches, the list is long and painful for those whose loved ones have lost their lives or been injured by technology that was supposed to keep them safer.

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Alarming Data on Fatal Crash Rise

The entire country is suffering from various traffic fatality statistics that are going in the wrong direction.  Georgia is not completely immune from this trend, although some of our state statistics are slightly better than the nation’s. Georgia’s traffic fatality statistics show an overall downward trend of fatalities between 2007 through 2013. However, after five decades of decreases in traffic fatalities nationally, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a report about a new trend upward.  Although vehicles are safer now, with features that are intended to protect vehicle occupants, and although we have sustained educational programs that are intended to make us all better drivers … the news in not good.

In the calendar year 2015, over 35,000 souls were lost on America’s roads and highways. This is an increase in fatalities of about seven percent from the prior year. Due to the severity of the increase, which has not occurred at this level since the 1960’s, NHTSA has gone on record with other major agencies and the White House in a “call to action” to beat back the potential for more tragedy. With the news of the wrong turn in fatalities, NHTSA is aligning with various interested entities and researchers to arm them with analytics reporting. The data gathered by the federal agency will help state and local governments and others to evaluate the statistics on motor vehicle fatalities going forward and to perhaps alter the trend.  Technologies are also being provided to interested agencies and researchers aimed at reducing these fatalities.

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1330873_27868463The fatal injuries sustained by an actor, along with literally hundreds of dangerous events, have propelled the filing of class action lawsuits against Jeep carmaker, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA). As the seventh largest car maker in the world, FCA has a major safety issue — a basic safety component of just about every car made, seems to be failing in the Jeep. The problem is with the gear shifter which can be left in gear when the user thinks it is in park. As a result of injuries and the high-profile fatality caused by this problem, and after a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation, some vehicles are now subject to a major recall. The recall involves over 800,000 motor vehicles.

Currently there are over ten law suits that have been filed against FCA. The plaintiffs include seriously injured vehicle owners whose cars rolled when they thought their vehicles were in park. Some owners have been injured trying to stop the vehicles from continuing to roll. The lawsuits are seeking a replacement to the dangerous gear shift and a correction that would cause the vehicle to be in park if the brake is released and driver door is open. The vehicles targeted in the class actions include the 2012-14 Dodge Charger, 2012-14 Chrysler 300 or 2014-15 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The gear shift issue gained high-profile status when the well-known StarTrek actor Anton Yelchin was killed when his Jeep rolled and pinned him against a security fence and brick pillar at his home. His parents have filed a lawsuit in California for their son’s death; his accident is under investigation by authorities.

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iStock_000016030629XSmallAt this time of year, Gwinnett and metro Atlanta parents can rest assured that their kids are back in school and their days will be filled with learning, school work, sports and other activities. After a summer of fun and play, parents can relax a bit knowing that they don’t need to plan daily activities to keep kids engaged and positive. This can be challenging during the summer months. As our children return to school we have new concerns. These include kids’ safety getting to and from school. Whether this involves our kids’  safety walking to bus stops or riding their bikes to school, we always want them to be safe.

The National Center for Safe Routes to School provides resources for parents and schools to help get kids to school safely. This year, some kids will be walking to school for the first time. Or taking a bus for the first time. As our kids settle into the school year, parents need to pay close attention to their safety getting to and from school because we know that drivers are paying less attention to their driving. And that is dangerous for our children, particularly in school zones.

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candlesGwinnett County was the scene of a tragic car accident on 1-85 earlier this week. Dee Dowis, a Georgia native, respected NCAA player and Heisman Trophy finalist, lost his life when, in the early morning hours Monday, his vehicle was hit by another car. For some reason, he had pulled his vehicle into the center median and was driving in reverse, perhaps trying to move off the median. His car was then hit by a driver traveling in the opposite direction and lost his life at the scene of the accident. That driver was taken to the hospital, but apparently survived the impact to his vehicle. At this time there are no reports as to why Dowis’ vehicle had entered the median strip. And it is unlikely that the other driver will be charged by authorities for the accident as he was apparently driving in his lane of traffic when this tragedy occurred.

Dowis’ former coach had glowing words for a man who was sixth in the Heisman Trophy vote in his final year in college. The AJC reported that in recent years, this college star had been working as a pharmaceutical representative and was said by many to be beloved as a person and respected as a player. ESPN reported on his stellar career. As a quarterback he set a record for rushing yards that wasn’t touched for over a decade. As a gifted player, he also set many records in his senior year for passing, completions and rushing. Several coaches around the country not only praised his accomplishments on the playing field, they also praised his accomplishments in life. Calling him humble and kind, his loss is felt by his community and beyond.

What is the lesson of this very sad Georgia car accident? The National Safety Council (NSC) states that a preventable collision is one in which a driver does not take all steps possible to avoid it. The NSC provides defensive driving courses for drivers around the country. In this accident, the driver whose vehicle struck Mr. Dowis’ car may well have been driving within his own lane or he might have been stunned by suddenly seeing a vehicle in the median. If he was driving at an accelerated rate or over the speed limit, he may not have been able to avoid hitting the car in the median. We might never know whether this collision was preventable by the other driver slowing down or moving over to the right.

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airbagWe have posted in the recent past about the wide-spread knowledge on the part of Volkswagen leadership regarding its rigged diesel car emissions. VW is paying a huge price for this fraud on the global consumer. We have also posted about General Motors’ knowledge of safety issues with its faulty ignition switches resulting in serious and fatal injuries around the country and in Georgia. American car buyers and car owners are rightfully concerned about the safety of the cars they buy. This confidence is undermined when the headlines continue to be full of admissions of both wrongdoing and hiding key information and when safety is front and center to these admissions.

Now it is Takata Corporation’s turn. The airbag maker has been under scrutiny for a long while now for the injuries and deaths occurring after airbags explode with shrapnel inside them. The safety failures have resulted in the biggest recall of airbags, ever. We are learning now that Takata too has hidden information from the public. This has been determined after an audit sought by Takata and Honda. Turns out that the audit reveals that Takata engineers knew that their airbags were at times failing tests for their proper performance, but failed to do anything about it.

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