Watch where you’re going! Pedestrian deaths reach 20-year high

the-traffic-light-2157162_960_720Source: Watch where you’re going! Pedestrian deaths reach 20-year high

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Recently, as my son and I were walking across the grocery store parking lot to get some groceries, we were nearly hit by a car whose driver seemed oblivious to our presence as she turned the corner. Luckily, we were paying attention and had time to get out of the way. As we continued into the store, a store employee who was collecting shopping carts and saw the incident shook his head sympathetically and said, “it happens all the time.” It’s actually the second time in a year we’ve been nearly mowed down in the grocery store parking lot.

It’s a dangerous time to be a pedestrian in the United States. The Governors Highway Safety Administration just released its annual study of pedestrian deaths, which examines the problem of people getting killed after being struck by vehicles. The grim statistic: nearly 6,000 pedestrians died in 2016, the highest in 20 years.

That’s a 25 percent increase from 2010, making pedestrians the largest portion of all traffic deaths recorded in the past 25 years. And the 2016 spike marks an 11 percent increase from 2015 (the previous record-holder). The GHSA, a nonprofit made up of state highway safety offices, notes that the numbers could be higher, owing to the under-reporting of incidents. All told, 34 states had increases, and Mississippi ranked 20th in the nation for deaths as a percentage of total population for the first six months of 2016 (that’s actually an improvement from the previous year, but the second-half 2016 statistics haven’t come in yet.)

So, what’s causing all this mayhem? The authors of the study note the rapid increase in the use of smartphones could help explain at least part of the phenomenon because these devices present a “significant source of distraction for both pedestrians and motorists.”

We’ve all seen them, and maybe you’ve been one of them: people whose attention is focused on their smartphone while walking carelessly. Videos abound of people falling headlong into fountains, disappearing into open manholes or tripping on the curb while checking their email, posting to Facebook or looking for that elusive “Pokemon Go” character. Others fail to pay attention to oncoming traffic while crossing the street, leading to their being struck and often killed.

Drivers, too, are distracted. It’s been well-established that phone use while driving can present a serious attention deficit for drivers, becoming more serious the faster they drive. Unsurprisingly, alcohol also plays a role here, as it does in auto crashes in general. Thirty-four percent of pedestrians and 15 percent of drivers involved in fatal crashes were intoxicated at the time of the crash, noted the study.

And although vehicles are getting better about avoiding crashing into things through collision-avoidance technologies, and local cities and states are taking measures to make things safer, the numbers continue to rise. It could be, the study’s authors note, more people are walking for fitness and economic reasons at the same time the numbers of vehicles on the road has risen because of the improving economy.

“This latest data shows that the U.S. isn’t meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways,” Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director, told PBS Newshour. “Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (pedbikeinfo.org) has some helpful tips to make your walk or run safer. Here are a few:

  • Wear brightly colored clothing and reflective tape at night. These can help increase your visibility to motorists.
  • Always walk on the sidewalk if one is available; if not, walk facing traffic so you can see approaching vehicles.
  • Don’t assume drivers will stop. Try to make eye contact with the driver and be prepared to move if he or she doesn’t appear to notice you.
  • Cross streets only at crosswalks, if possible.
  • Don’t wear earbuds or use your phone while walking.

And finally, if you’re a driver in the grocery store parking lot, please … slow down, put down your phone and pay attention. You might save a life.

Sleep apnea’s consequences dangerous

 

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clarionledger.com/AP

 

via Moak: Sleep apnea’s consequences dangerous

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Every night, millions of Americans deal with the effects of obstructive sleep apnea. Much to the frustration of their sleep partners, sufferers of this sleep disorder toss and turn, often snoring loudly and jolting themselves awake. The cycle is repeated often hundreds of times each night and leaves the sufferer exhausted and unrested in the morning.

According to the National Sleep Apnea Foundation, the disorder affects more than 18 million Americans (and possibly many more), and the vast majority of cases are undiagnosed. But sleep apnea is far from a minor annoyance; its effects can be potentially deadly. Left untreated, obstructive sleep apnea has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression and other problems. And one particular effect can have far-reaching consequences — daytime drowsiness from the lack of restful sleep can lead to falling asleep while driving.

After a September train crash in Hoboken, New Jersey, in which one person was killed and at least 114 were injured, the Federal Railroad Administration announced it will issue a “strong recommendation” that train operators be tested regularly for sleep apnea. In the Hoboken crash, engineer Thomas Gallagher tested positive for sleep apnea after the crash, but he had passed a physical a couple of months before the crash. Gallagher reported feeling rested when he showed up for work that morning, but has no memory of the crash before waking up on the floor of the engineer’s cab.

Sleep apnea has also been blamed for a number of other train crashes, some fatal. According to the AP’s story, New York’s Metro-North service started testing its engineers for obstructive sleep apnea in 2013, after a deadly crash. Since then, 51 of 438 engineers tested positive for the disorder and treatment for them was ordered.

Sleep apnea, of course, isn’t a new problem; nor are the potential deadly effects. In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that drowsy driving resulted in 72,000 crashes in 2013, resulting in 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths. However, the CDC report notes that those statistics may be very conservative. Studies have repeatedly shown that many of us are driving tired, and (particularly on longer trips) can fall asleep easily.

In March, the Federal Railroad Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board sought public input on the potential impacts of testing railroad workers and commercial motor vehicle drivers for obstructive sleep apnea. And the NTSB issued new guidance requiring that airlines test their pilots for the disorder on a regular basis and require treatment to be allowed back into the cockpit.

The actions came after at least 34 troubling incidents (and possibly many more), such as a 2008 Go! Airlines flight in which two pilots fell asleep on a short-hop flight between Honolulu and Hilo, Hawaii. The pilots flew their plane, 40 passengers and a flight attendant 26 miles past their island destination into open ocean and did not respond to air traffic controllers for more than 18 minutes. After their safe return, the captain was tested and found to have “undiagnosed severe OSA.”

FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg told the Associated Press  that the agency is considering that all railroad operators be screened for obstructive sleep apnea and other sleep and fatigue disorders. While the issue has been of concern for years, Feinberg told the AP it’s time to take action. “At this point it’s unacceptable to wait any longer,” she said. “This is one more thing railroads can do to keep their passengers safe and the communities they’re traveling through safe.”

For more about sleep apnea, its causes and treatments, visit http://www.sleepapnea.org/.

MDOT: Be careful around log trucks

 

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Mississippi Department of Transportation (GoMDOT.com)

 

via MDOT: Be careful around log trucks

If you live in Mississippi, you are familiar with log trucks. These rigs ply Mississippi roads, with their valuable cargo of newly harvested logs. Logging is a vital part of the state’s economy, with a growing impact. Most of those logs travel by truck to mills for processing. Last year, according to the MSU Extension Service, loggers harvested about $1.67 billion worth of trees.

But it can be a dangerous occupation. Those who drive log trucks may be combining two of the most dangerous occupations (as listed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics): Timber cutting and truck driving. While the vast majority of loads get to their destinations without incident, other drivers may not keep a proper distance from the truck, especially when approaching from the rear. The Mississippi Department of Transportation this week issued a reminder for drivers to keep a safe distance between their vehicles and log trucks.

The warning is especially timely, as many of us are still adjusting to the fallback for Daylight Saving Time, combined with the shorter daylight hours of late fall. “To help reduce potential crashes, we want to ensure the traveling public is aware of these log trucks and alert for them, especially during early evening and morning hours,” said Chief Willie Huff, director of the MDOT Office of Enforcement.

Most drivers learn to gauge distances pretty well, using the brain’s remarkable ability to learn and adapt. We use a combination of experience, visual cues and depth perception to figure out just how far away an object is so we can adjust our speed and distance accordingly. Most of the time, it serves us well. But when a vehicle is traveling at highway speed, complicated by low visibility, the task becomes much harder.

To help avoid crashes, state law requires log trucks to follow certain regulations. For example, log truck drivers must have a permit to be on the road two hours before sunrise and two hours after sunset. Log trucks may let their cargo “overhang” 12 feet from the back of the truck, and the longest log must be marked with a red flag during the day and an amber or red flashing light at night. This is so drivers behind the truck can have a fixed point by which to gauge distance.

To help illustrate, MDOT has produced a video to demonstrate the visibility of a log truck at 90 feet, 20 feet and at 10 feet. It would be a good idea to review it, and (especially for less-experienced drivers) to understand that you need to give log trucks (or any truck) a wide berth.

To report safety concerns on Mississippi highways, visit GoMDOT.com. For current travel information, visit MDOTtraffic.com, dial 511 or download the free MS Traffic app from the App Store or Google Play.

Silencing cellphones for safety goal

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via Silencing cellphones for safety goal

At some point in the not-too-distant future, using a cellphone in a vehicle could be as unacceptable as lighting up a cigarette in a no-smoking zone is today. The alarming rise of texting-related deaths and injuries has fueled a national discussion about the dangers of using phones and other devices in vehicles. Device providers and manufacturers are facing increasing pressure from safety advocates and others, who warn the problem is only getting worse.

Government agencies and private companies and organizations have spent millions on campaigns to make people aware of the dangers and change their habits. But it many such messages are going unheeded.

According to the U.S. government website distraction.gov, 3,179 Americans died in 2014 due to a variety of distractions, but cellphone use led the list. Young drivers appear particularly susceptible to distracted driving, constituting four in 10 (38 percent) of drivers in fatal crashes who had been using their phones.

MOAK: Get off the phone and #justdrive

Of course, distraction takes many forms; who hasn’t seen people putting on makeup, shaving, reading newspapers or fiddling with the radio while behind the wheel? But of all the things that can distract us, perhaps none is so dangerous as using a mobile device.

The attention required to take your eyes off the road and focus on your device’s screen can be costly. An often-cited example says that looking at your screen for even four to five seconds at 55 mph can mean your car travels the length of a football field without anyone watching. That’s pretty scary when you consider that a lot can happen in that short time: a neighboring vehicle can swerve into your lane; you can swerve because you’re not paying attention; a pedestrian or animal can cross into your path; the driver of the car in front of you can slam on his brakes.

Even the act of talking on a phone can distract our attention. While you might think that getting drivers to stop texting is priority No. 1, many advocates are aiming for a bigger prize; they want to ban mobile device use in vehicles altogether, whether used by drivers or passengers. Some advocates note the mere presence of a phone in the vehicle is distracting enough to pull a driver’s attention away from the task of driving. Few people can truly ignore a ringing phone or a ping letting you know you’ve gotten a text message.

A Ridgeland-based company called VRM Telematics has brought to market what some might consider a radical solution: a device called Sentinel, a small black box that connects directly to the vehicle’s electrical system. You buy the device for $199, then pay $19.99 a month for the service.

The device hides inconspicuously under the dash but constantly monitoring for the presence of cellular signals in the car. If signals are detected, the Sentinel device will send a warning to the driver to turn off the phone, or switch it to airplane mode. If others in the car use their devices, they’ll set off the Sentinel as well.

The device also tracks the vehicle’s location and speed and can send a text message or email to a parent or guardian if it detects cellphones, if the driver is speeding, if the vehicle strays from a certain predetermined geographic radius or drives past a certain time of day. Parents can check the vehicle’s location at any time. It’s a lot of control but promises to give anxious parents a little reassurance about their teen’s driving behavior.

VRM Telematics offered to let me use a Sentinel device for a couple of weeks during the summer. The device was quickly and easily installed, and as I drove out of the parking lot, it immediately warned me with a loud beep and recorded message to put my phone on airplane mode. Over the next several days, I learned to immediately switch to airplane mode and to watch my speed unless I wanted to hear the grating alarm and voice. However, I began to understand the power of such a device to regulate behavior most of us have come to accept as normal.

I noticed on the Sentinel site that my friend Pepper Carter had earlier been asked to be part of a test group. Carter, the mother of teenage boys, was interested because she wanted to help her sons learn good driving habits from the start. She was so impressed that she went on to record a promotional video about the Sentinel program, telling about her son Spencer’s experiences.

“I was very open to the idea because Spencer was an emerging driver,” she said. “The results were great! The reporting that I got allowed us to have great conversations about driving behaviors (good and bad) before they became habits. It helped Spencer to not text and drive, keep his speed down and all in all practice safe driving skills that are now habits.”

Besides marketing the Sentinel device, VRM has also become involved in efforts to get cellphone companies to change a basic feature of their phones: They want manufacturers to change “Airplane” mode to “Airplane/Drive” mode.

The company recently partnered with nonprofit consumer advocacy group We Save Lives to petition cellphone companies to make the change. We Save Lives is led by Candace Lightner, well-known for her previous founding of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Launched on Oct. 13, “Margay’s Petition” honors Margay Schee, a 13-year-old honors student who died in 2008 when a truck slammed into the back of her stopped school bus near Ocala, Florida. The driver reportedly told police he had been distracted by his cellphone.

Regardless of where we come down on the issue of using mobile devices while driving, it’s likely we’ll see more laws and regulations that will take away our right to make those choices. Until that happens, though, we still can choose. Making our cars “phone-free” zones, pulling over if we need to make a call or check messages, and training our kids to do the same can go a long way toward changing behaviors and saving lives.

For more about Sentinel, visit www.drivewithsentinel.com. To sign Margay’s Petition, visit http://wesavelives.org/campaigns/airplane-drive-mode/.

Could technology end hot-car deaths?

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via Could technology end hot-car deaths?, clarionledger.com

PDF: hot-car-deaths

It’s been a particularly bad year for kids left in hot vehicles. Here in Mississippi alone, there have already been two high-profile cases in which parents forgot their little ones in the car, then went about their business — to tragic effect. The website KidsAndCars.org reports that 29 kids have died of heatstroke in the U.S. this year after being left in hot cars by parents or caregivers, and the number continues to climb.

While many parents shake their head in disbelief and doubt it could ever happen to them, the sobering truth is it could happen to anyone, under the right conditions. Few parents can claim to have a perfect record of knowing where their kids are every second, and most parents can tell a horror story about losing their child in a store, at an event, or just forgetting to check on them.

Every time there’s another case, the internet and media clamor with recriminations, suggestions and word of new techniques and technologies to help stop it from happening. But last week, a group of lawmakers announced their intention to force auto manufacturers to build preventive technology into their vehicles.

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, Peter King, R-New York, and Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, introduced the Helping Overcome Trauma for Children Alone in Rear Seats Act (HOT CARS Act of 2016) on Thursday, which, if enacted, would require the U.S. secretary of transportation to issue a rule requiring all new passenger motor vehicles be equipped with a child safety alert system.

“Every year, dozens of children die when left in vehicles — one child every nine days,” Schakowsky noted. “These are horrible, preventable tragedies. The technology exists to prevent these deaths. You get a warning if you forget your keys in the ignition. You should get a warning if you forget your child in the back seat.”

Child-safety advocates were quick to praise the ruling. “I want to be very clear that this is not just a ‘seasonal’ problem,” Jackie Gillan, president of a group called Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a news release. “When summer ends, the problem will not end. These deaths are happening year round. This is a very reasonable and effective way to stop preventable, unnecessary injuries and deaths.”

The bill would require automakers to produce some kind of visual and/auditory alert to a child in a rear seat when the motor is turned off and instructs the secretary of transportation to issue a report to a Senate committee on the “feasibility of retrofitting existing passenger motor vehicles with technology to provide an alert that a child or unattended passenger remains in a rear-seating position after the vehicle motor is deactivated.”

Some automakers have already been working on the problem. Back in June, General Motors announced it would debut a new system on the 2017 GMC Acadia SUV, which will flash a visible and auditory warning on the speedometer if a back door has been opened and closed before the driver’s side door is opened. Similar systems are likely to follow in most vehicles. But no matter the technology, the best way to prevent such tragedies is awareness.

“We encourage individuals in all communities to take action if you see a child alone in a vehicle,” noted Amber Andreasen, director of KidsAndCars.org. “Try to find the driver of the vehicle, call 911 and if the child seems to be in imminent danger, break the window furthest away from the child to rescue them.”

“You can’t buy a vehicle today that doesn’t remind you to turn your headlights off, close the door, check your oil, all these things,” Andreasen added. “There’s dozens of reminders in vehicles. Why not one for a child?”

KidsAndCars has a list of safety tips for download at http://www.kidsandcars.org/files/2015/06/Heat-Stroke-Safety-Tips.pdf. Here are a few:

  • Never leave children alone in or around vehicles; not even for a minute.
  • “Look Before You Lock” — Get in the habit of always opening the back door to check the back seat before leaving your vehicle.
  • Create reminders to check your back seat. For example, putting your cellphone, purse or briefcase in the back seat will help you to remember.
  • Make sure your child’s daycare or preschool has strict policies about notifying you if your child has not arrived as scheduled, and keep your contact information up to date.
  • Keep vehicles locked at all times, even in driveways or garages (and ask your neighbors to do the same). Many kids get trapped in cars by opening doors of a parked vehicle.

How to keep roads from turning deadly

 

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leftbankproject.com

via How to keep roads from turning deadly, clarionledger.com

As school has started back, Mississippi streets and roads are once again filled with parents eager to get their kids dropped off at school so they can go on to work or their daily activities. According to some statistics, about a quarter of morning traffic every school day is from people driving their kids to school. And that’s on top of a typical day’s traffic, with drivers plying the roads, their attention often distracted by a thousand things — not the least of which are the ever-present electronic devices that grab our attention.

If you’re a pedestrian (or cyclist) trying to navigate these challenging roads, it can be dangerous — even deadly. The Mississippi Department of Transportation sent out a news release this week, urging Magnolia State drivers to be extra careful around pedestrians, and urging pedestrians and cyclists to increase their awareness as well. An MDOT news release cited some sobering statistics: According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a pedestrian dies every two hours nationwide, with people being injured every seven minutes in traffic crashes. In 2015, 63 pedestrians died after being struck by vehicles in Mississippi.

As part of its mission, MDOT pays attention to such statistics, and tries to help increase our awareness so we can make streets and intersections safer. One way they do this is through two programs called the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program and the Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Program. “The Bicycle and Pedestrian Program provides many resources for those looking to walk or bike within the state from tour guides to information about laws,” notes the MDOT release. “SRTS promotes and enables children in kindergarten through 8th grade to choose safely walking or bicycling as their means of transportation to and from schools.”

You have probably seen the result of some of the great work being done by these programs. According to SRTS’ national website (www.saferoutesinfo.org/), Mississippi communities benefited from more than $12.2 million in federal SRTS funds from 2005 to 2012, doing things like funding the building of sidewalks, bike lanes and providing training and resources for law enforcement.

But no matter how many sidewalks and bike lanes we build, if drivers, pedestrians and cyclists don’t pay attention to each other, those efforts won’t help save lives. Here are a few tips from MDOT about things we need to keep in mind:

When walking:

  • Follow the rules of the road. Obey all signs and signals, and walk on sidewalks if provided.
  • Watch traffic carefully, remembering that danger can come from two (or more) directions. Keep an eye out for vehicles pulling up or exiting driveways. Don’t let your attention be distracted by devices.
  • Cross streets at crosswalks or intersections whenever possible. If a crosswalk or intersection is not available, locate a well-lit area where you have the best view of traffic, and wait for a gap in traffic that allows you enough time to safely cross.
  • Be visible at all times. Wear bright clothing during the day, and wear reflective materials or carry a flashlight at night.
  • Never assume a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers as they approach you to make sure you are seen.

For drivers:

  • Use extra caution when driving in hard-to-see conditions like nighttime and bad weather. Dawn and dusk are when it’s often hardest to see.
  • Remember the “3-foot” law (formally known as the John Paul Frerer Bicycle Safety Act); vehicle drivers are required by law to yield at least three feet to cyclists.
  • Slow down, and be prepared to stop when turning or otherwise entering a crosswalk.
  • Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and stop back far enough from the crosswalk to give other vehicles an opportunity to see the crossing pedestrians so they also will stop.
  • Never pass vehicles stopped at a crosswalk. (And, of course, NEVER pass a stopped school bus.)
  • Follow the speed limit, especially around people on the street; school zones and neighborhoods with children require extra attention and slower speeds.

Car-train crashes cost lives

Railroad Crossingvia Moak: Car-train crashes cost lives, clarionledger.com

If you’ve ever run over a soda can with your car wheels, things look pretty bad for the soda can afterwards. If you’ve ever wondered how your vehicle might fare in a collision with a 30-car freight train, you can apply pretty much the same force ratio — except that your car is now the soda can. According to some statistics, you’re 20 times more likely to die in a train-vehicle crash than you would be if your car, truck or SUV hit another vehicle of similar size.

Despite those sobering facts, many Mississippians gamble their lives every day as they try to beat oncoming trains at rail crossings, or fail to watch for trains. Makeshift memorials can be seen at many crossings; a grim reminder of the dangers of crossing the rails. Last week, the Mississippi Department of Transportation sent out a news release about railroad crossing safety as part ofInternational Level Crossing Awareness Day, which brings transportation agencies together to address the problem and reduce fatalities.

MDOT oversees safety and traffic control on all public at-grade crossings, defined as those that are level with the road. “Looking at railroad crossings in tandem with diagnostic reviews, MDOT’s rails engineer can determine the kinds of warning devices that should be in place at railroad crossings,” the release noted.

One MDOT focus is adding lights and gates to crossings, which have been proven to reduce the danger. The Federal Railroad Administration notes that car-train crashes have plummeted since the early 1970s, but are still unacceptably high.

MDOT reports that one particularly troublesome crossing in Pascagoula was upgraded in 2013. That crossing (where Mississippi 611, U.S. 90 and multiple rail lines met) has long been listed as being among the nation’s worst for train-vehicle collisions, with anFRA study showing it as 10th-worst in the nation over the past decade with 12 reported incidents and seven injuries. By constructing an overpass at the site (funded by a multi-agency partnership), the danger of a collision was eliminated.

Other projects involve crossings in small towns or rural areas. MDOT cited one example in the northeast Mississippi town of Verona, in which a grade crossing near a school was upgraded with signals and gates. But upgrading can be cumbersome and expensive.

“With federal funding, MDOT is only able to add warning devices to about 10 to 15 railroad crossings each year,” said Melinda McGrath, MDOT executive director. “Last year, there were five fatalities on rail lines in Mississippi, down from nine in 2014. While fatalities on rail lines have decreased over the years, the need for safety at railroad crossing remains extremely important.”

Installing and maintaining lights and gates only address part of the problem; the other piece is in the hands of drivers. Here are a few of MDOT’s tips, which every driver should review:

  • Never race a train to the crossing. Despite what you may have seen in movies and on TV, the car rarely wins. Is it worth your life to make that gamble?
  • The train you see is closer and faster-moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks, then check carefully — in both directions.
  • Remember that trains require a lot of room to stop. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. Even slow-moving trains can’t stop immediately.
  • Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly.
  • Don’t get trapped on the tracks. Proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is three feet wider than the tracks on both sides.
  • If your vehicle ever stalls on a track with a train coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction from which the train is coming. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris. Call your local law enforcement agency for assistance.
  • When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. It isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.
  • Finally, don’t assume that because a train wasn’t there at the same time yesterday, it won’t be there today. Schedules vary.

For more information, visit GoMDOT.com. For a map of railroad crossings in Mississippi, visit http://ow.ly/tqSu3017Mfy.

Airbag recall expands, accelerates

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via Moak: Airbag recall expands, accelerates

It’s been nearly a year now since we learned of the gigantic recall of Takata air bag inflators, at that time the largest recall in U.S. history. Now, it appears that record’s about to be shattered…by a massive expansion of the same recall.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced Wednesday that the recall is being “expanded and accelerated” due to worries of possible injuries and deaths from the defective airbag inflators. So far, Takata airbags have been blamed for 10 deaths and more than 100 injuries in the U.S. Studies of the devices recently alarmed regulators so much they more than doubled the number of airbags being recalled. In the original action a year ago, the DOT ordered the recall of 28.8 million airbag inflators. Now, an additional 35 million to 40 million inflators are being added to the list. The recall is to be performed in five phases through 2019.

“Today’s action is a significant step in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s aggressive oversight of Takata on behalf of drivers and passengers across America,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The acceleration of this recall is based on scientific evidence and will protect all Americans from air bag inflators that may become unsafe.”

This week, DOT ordered the Japan-based Takata to recall all the company’s ammonium nitrate-based propellant driver and passenger frontal air bag inflators without a chemical drying agent (also known as a desiccant).

DOT lauded the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) research collected for the original recall action, noting the agency’s quick action helped get answers more quickly. Those studies found that high temperatures and humidity can affect the reliability of the airbag inflators, causing them to rupture during a crash, sending shrapnel through the vehicle and its occupants.

“The science clearly shows that these inflators become unsafe over time, faster when exposed to humidity and variations of temperature,” noted NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind. “This recall schedule ensures the inflators will be recalled and replaced before they become dangerous, giving vehicle owners sufficient time to have them replaced before they pose a danger to vehicle occupants. NHTSA will continue to evaluate all available research and will act quickly to protect safety.”

As Consumer Reports pointed out earlier this week, it’s important to keep this all in perspective and not panic; the risk remains very small and airbags have been credited with saving at least 37,000 lives during the 25 years between 1987 and 2012.

Because of our heat and humidity, Mississippi and other sunbelt states and territories are scheduled to be first in line for the recall, but as with the original recall, it’s going to take some time to get all the work done. To find out if your vehicle has been part of this or any recall, you can visit http://www.safercar.gov/checkforrecalls. Enter your car’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) to look up your particular vehicle. If you don’t have the VIN handy, you can still use the site to look up your vehicle’s recalls by model, make and year.

For more about the recall in general, visit http://icsw.nhtsa.gov/safercar/rs/takata/.

Get off the phone, and #justdrive

Capturevia Bill Moak: Get off the phone, and #justdrive, clarionledger.com

Perusing my Twitter feed recently, I came across a video about the dangers of distracted driving. Three teens are in a car, with two girls in the front seat laughing and having a good time as they drive down a road. A tassel hangs from the rearview mirror. The young driver appears to be watching the road — until she picks up her phone for a few seconds. The camera cuts to the view from the side, showing the car blowing past a stop sign. A large truck suddenly looms in the window.

The next, nightmarish seconds alternate between slow and fast motion, punctuated with flying glass and bodies, the sickening screech of ripping metal, popping of airbags and screams as the car flips several times. A message appears on the screen: “If you’re texting, you’re not driving.”

“If every teen driver saw this,” I thought to myself, “they might think twice about picking up that phone.” As the parents of one teen driver and another who’ll soon be behind the wheel, the message hits home for my wife and me. But despite years of efforts by various government and safety groups, the rates of distracted driving still appear to be rising; people just aren’t getting the message.

RELATED: Anti Texting and Driving Device for Teens

In 2014, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration news release, 3,179 people died and an additional 431,000 were injured in collisions involving distracted drivers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Distracted driving has been blamed for a spike in auto crashes and injuries in the past few years, reversing decades of declines in auto deaths resulting from improved safety features and safer habits.

So, one government agency has taken off the proverbial gloves, and is using social media to call out people who admit they look at their phones while driving. The NHTSA is using its Twitter account to publicly “shame” admitted texting drivers. It’s part of the agency’s efforts to fight distracted driving during April, designated as Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

“Behind every distracted driving death is a story of loss,” noted U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “In the blink of an eye, lives can be transformed forever. Scrolling through song lists on a cell phone, or texting while driving is not just irresponsible, it can have tragic consequences. We’re calling on drivers to put down their devices and help keep the roadways safe for all Americans.”

TONY JEFF: Technology and distracted driving

In response to the agency’s efforts on social media, a number of users have fired back, admitting — and even in some cases, defending — their own distracted driving.

“Texting and driving actually is pretty efficient,” claimed one tweet by a user named @Narnold98. In response. The NHTSA’s Twitter account (@NHTSAgov) replied, “If by ‘efficient’ you mean ‘super dangerous and dumb’, then yeah, it’s pretty efficient, @Narnold98. Please stay off the phone & #justdrive.”

Many Twitter and Snapchat users were downright hostile at what they saw as meddling in their personal affairs. “I text and drive so what?” noted @nurnurein. “So you’re putting yourself and others in danger, @nurnurein, and that’s something we can’t accept,” replied @NHTSAgov. Please put down the phone and #justdrive.”

Predictably, the move has brought criticism from some quarters, with some even accusing the NHTSA of “cyberbullying.“ Others, though, have called it “gutsy,” with Fortune declaring it “pretty definitively the best government use of social media of all time.”

And before we just assume that all texting drivers are teens or young adults, Twitter user @5thRoman outed his own grandmother. “Caught Grandma texting and driving!” to which the NHTSA replied, “Well … with age doesn’t always come wisdom, @5thRoman. Tell Grandma to stay off her phone and #justdrive.”

The website distraction.gov, which has numerous resources related to the topic, has a great three-point pledge you can take with your family. You can download it atdistraction.gov.

ATM Skimmers on the rise

via Moak: Crooks target ATMs, clarionledger.com

PDF: Skimming

mainatmsafetytips

Bankofutica.com

Recently, media across the nation covered a story that should strike fear into the heart of anybody who uses an ATM card to withdraw cash from automated teller machines. Thieves have learned to use “skimming” technology to great effect, enabling a six-fold increase in the amount of ATM fraud in just one year.

Moak: Millennials are card smart

The phenomenon had been reported by FICO Card Alert Service, part of the organization behind those ubiquitous credit scores. According to the organization, the one-year increase was the biggest since it started keeping tabs on ATM fraud. FICO Card Alert Service monitors hundreds of thousands of ATMs across the nation.

“Criminals are taking a quick-hit approach to ATM theft and card fraud,” said T.J. Horan, vice president of fraud solutions at FICO, in a blog post. “They are moving faster to make it harder for banks to react and shut down the compromises. They are targeting non-bank ATMs, which are more vulnerable — in 2015, non-bank ATMs accounted for 60 percent of all compromises, up from 39 percent in 2014.”

ATM skimming isn’t exactly new; it’s been around for at least a couple of decades. The technology has gotten better and harder for most of us to detect, but it usually involves placing an illegal card-reading device on an ATM. Consumers unwittingly swipe their cards through the reader, capturing the card’s electronic information. Then, tiny cameras hidden nearby record consumers’ fingers as they enter their personal identification numbers. Equipped with those two pieces of information, crooks can then create fake cards, which can then be used to drain your bank account.

According to FICO, the most vulnerable ATMs were located in places like bars and convenience stores (these machines saw a 10-fold increase in theft from 2014 to 2015.) Often, consumers don’t pay a lot of attention to the ATM itself, and assume the machine is secure. And if it’s in a loud place with dim lighting — like a casino, bar or busy restaurant — it might be harder to determine the presence of skimming equipment. In some places, the lack of video surveillance may encourage crooks to target that location.

And while many consumers have been — or will soon be getting — new cards with “smart chips” that are usually more secure, most cards still use the old magnetic-strip technology that’s easier to compromise. If you have been a victim, you generally can get your money back, but you need to report it as soon as possible so your funds can be restored quickly.

Moak: Banks better at thwarting fraud

To avoid being victimized by skimming fraud, FICO Card Alert Services suggests the following:

  • If an ATM looks odd, or your card doesn’t enter the machine smoothly, consider going somewhere else for your cash. A location inside a bank branch is less likely to have been compromised, although some have been.
  • Contact your card issuer if you have completed a transaction and suspect that your card or PIN may have been compromised.
  • Check your card transactions frequently, using online banking and your monthly statement, and quickly challenge anything you didn’t authorize.
  • Ask your card provider if it offers account alert technology that will deliver SMS text communications or emails to you in the event fraudulent activity is suspected on your payment card.
  • Update your address and cellphone information for every card you have so you can be reached if there is ever a critical situation that requires your immediate attention.