What if your sunroof exploded?

Source: What if your sunroof exploded?, clarionledger.com

It’s a cool, sunny day, and you and your family are taking a nice leisurely drive up the Natchez Trace to see the spectacle of the changing leaves. You’ve retracted your car’s sunroof shade to let the sunshine fill the car with its warming rays, when suddenly you hear loud popping sounds, like gunshots, and you and your kids are covered in a shower of glass fragments.

Sound far-fetched? It’s not.

Since 1995, nearly 900 reports of exploding sunroofs have been filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, about three-quarters of those since 2011 and peaking in 2015. No deaths have been reported, but there have been at least 36 reports of injuries, according to an extensive report released Oct. 12 by consumer watchdog Consumer Reports. And, the authors discovered, the number of incidents reported to the NHTSA is likely a small fraction of the actual incidents.

“These incidents have happened in every month of the year in every part of the country, in vehicles from all over the world,” Consumer Reports noted in its report. “They have occurred on interstates, on country roads, and even while parked in driveways.”

Consumer Reports listed Hyundai and Ford as the brands from which sunroof failures were most reported, and covered the spectrum of car brands, but some specific models such as the Scion tC and Hyundai Veloster had the highest rates of reports. The magazine reported that the government is investigating only the Kia Sorento for sunroof issues. It must be stated (as Consumer Reports acknowledged) that the odds of an exploding sunroof are pretty low, but it becomes a big deal when it happens to you.

Vehicle owners report that automakers have in some cases been reluctant to acknowledge the failures of the sunroofs as a design flaw, leaving vehicle owners to pay for the damage themselves in many cases.

As to what causes the sunroofs to shatter, Consumers’ Union scientists quoted in the article say it’s still an open question, but they suspect it has to do with the ever-increasing demands for larger sunroofs, leading automakers to use under-engineered sunroof designs. Many of the newer designs use tempered glass (the same as those in car windows), but also require glass to be more curved, which places stress on the glass that standard tempered glass may be unable to withstand. As heat causes the materials surrounding the glass (and the glass itself) to expand at different rates, it can stress the sunroof to the breaking point.

As for a remedy, Consumer Reports suggests that — if the curving and large areas of newer sunroofs are to blame — the solution could be to use laminated glass to make sunroofs stronger, or a hybrid glass that blends the best characteristics of both.

So, if you’re in the market for a vehicle with a sunroof, Consumer Reports recommends you ask the dealer if the sunroof is made of laminated glass. (It should be stamped in an inconspicuous place on the glass.) Ask about whether the warranty covers sunroof failures, and contact your insurance agent to see if your policy covers such an incident. If you hear unexplained popping sounds, which often precede a sunroof failure, ask your dealer to take a look at it.

And if you experience a sunroof failure, don’t panic; stop as safely as possible and make sure you’re not injured by falling glass. Document the damage by taking photos, and file a report immediately. More details are in Consumer Reports’ report at http://www.consumerreports.org/car-safety/exploding-sunroofs-danger-overhead/.

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Road rage? Blame those stress hormones … and chill

Source: Road rage? Blame those stress hormones … and chill, clarionledger.com

Something happens to us when we get behind the wheel. Even mild-mannered people seem to turn into vengeful agents of doom when we close the drivers-side door and crank our engines. This Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation occurs without warning but can lead to serious — even deadly — consequences in the form of road rage.

According to an American Automobile Association study released in 2016, nearly 80 percent of drivers admitted to aggressive behavior behind the wheel at least once during the previous year. Such behaviors included purposefully tailgating (104 million drivers, or more than half of all drivers); yelling at another driver (95 million); honking to show annoyance or anger (91 million) and making angry gestures (67 million). Others have tried to prevent other drivers from passing or changing lanes or cutting off another vehicle on purpose. And a few have resorted to more extreme measures, including getting out to confront another driver, ramming another vehicle or even brandishing or using a weapon.

While psychologists list a number of reasons why we turn loose our inner Hulk while driving, the most likely is something called “amygdala hijacking”, in which our bodies are taken over by stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol when we feel threatened. We’ve all experienced this during times of extreme stress when our bodies are poised to defend against real or perceived enemies. Unfortunately, for many of us, being cut off in traffic or having another driver drive aggressively around us can trigger us, prompting us to make decisions we may regret later.

Recently, the website InsuranceQuotes.com published a study about the phenomenon. They took an interesting approach by looking at more than 65,000 Instagram posts with the hashtag #RoadRage and compiled the posts by time, date and location. When they analyzed the data, they found that the highest number of road rage-related posts occurred on Friday afternoons, and in August.
“Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses of life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” says Jurek Grabowski, former director of research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.”
As to why incidents seem to peak in summer, we can only guess, but (at least here in the South, with our sweltering summers) we know that tempers flare with the rising heat. (Incidents are lowest in April and May). Other possibilities, the study authors suggest, could be that summer is a time for family vacations, with families stressed after traveling together on crowded highways.

And it’s not hard to imagine that, on Fridays, people are ready to get home and relax from their busy work weeks, making them impatient to get home. It appears that the number of incidents rises steadily during the week, with the least activity on Sunday. And, although you’d think that road-rage incidents would swell during the morning commute, then taper off until the afternoon, incidents steadily rise during the day.

 Finally, the study looked at which states had the most road-rage incidents, and — perhaps surprisingly — found that drivers in Hawaii appeared the angriest. Contrary to the popular relaxed image of Hawaiians, their highways are notoriously congested and full of tourists who are unfamiliar with the island and cause frustration for the locals.

Road rage incidents can cause your insurance premium to rise, notes Insurance.com’s Laura Adams. “Auto insurers charge drivers with a history of moving violations or at-fault accidents higher rates than those with clean records,” Adams notes. “So, getting a ticket due to a road rage incident typically causes your auto premium to rise. Also, drivers who live in urban areas with heavy traffic typically pay higher rates because accidents happen more frequently.”

As to how to prevent and deal with road rage, Psychology Today’s Steve Albrecht suggests a few strategies. I’ll summarize a few of his excellent points here:

Drive carefully. This means putting down (or turning off) your phone or not letting your attention be distracted. Driving carefully will make you less likely to trigger another driver into road rage.

Don’t engage. “This means no eye contact, no retaliatory finger-flipping, lane change swerves, mutual tailgating, or slamming on your brakes to ‘teach him a lesson,’” Albrecht advises. “Tint your surrounding rear and passenger windows to give yourself some privacy. Many road ragers seem to go after people they think they can fight and win. Don’t allow them to target you.”

Report them. Call 911 if a driver is behaving dangerously, taking care to get their tag number. If you have a passenger, ask them to video the behavior.

Save your life. If you’re targeted by a “rager,” get off the road as soon as safely possible and go to an occupied police or fire station in the area. Call 911, and don’t get out of your car until help arrives. If the other driver gets out and approaches, don’t open the windows or doors. Be prepared to drive away if necessary if you feel you may be attacked.

Infant deaths linked to sleep positioner products

Source: Infant deaths linked to sleep positioner products, clarionledger.com

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued a warning to parents of infants and very young children to avoid the use of “sleep positioners” — pillowlike devices also referred to as “nests” or “anti-roll” products. The FDA warned parents on Tuesday that sleep positioners can cause potentially lethal suffocation of babies.

Parents and caregivers purchase the positioners to keep infants (usually younger than 6 months old) from moving around during sleep. The devices consist of a thin mat and wedges designed to elevate the baby’s head or keep the baby from rolling, and come in a variety of designs and colors. A search on Amazon.com found several sleep positioners for sale from $20 to $50.

The FDA reported 12 cases in the past 13 years of babies who have died from suffocation with the devices, most after rolling to their sides and stomach. The agency has also received dozens of reports of babies who were placed on their back or side in the positioners, only to be found later in hazardous positions within or next to the product.

The Mississippi SIDS & Infant Safety Alliance works to educate Mississippians about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Sudden Unexplained Infant Death. Alliance president Cathy Files said the best environment for babies is a flat surface, unaccompanied by anything else. “We want families to know that there is nothing that they can buy to put in the crib with their baby that is safe,” Files noted. “Sleep positioners are very dangerous for infants to sleep in because they can roll and get the product against their face and they do not have the neck strength or ability to move away, thus posing a danger of suffocation.”

She added that, although some products say they are safe, that claim isn’t supported by the evidence. The FDA agrees. “The FDA has never cleared an infant sleep positioner that claims to prevent or reduce the risk of SIDS,” notes the agency’s website. “And, there is no scientifically sound evidence to support medical claims about sleep positioners.” The agency noted, however, that it had tested and previously approved products designed to alleviate “flat head syndrome” and gastroesophageal reflux disease, but later withdrew its approval after the data from manufacturers failed to show the “benefits outweighed the risks.”

 Each year, about 4,000 infants die unexpectedly during sleep time from accidental suffocation, SIDS or unknown causes, according to the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

To reduce the risk of sleep-related infant deaths, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended for years that parents put infants to sleep on their backs, positioned on a “firm, empty surface” such as fitted sheets. Instead of using blankets or extra sheets, clothing should be chosen carefully to ensure it keeps the baby warm, but without overheating.

 Besides the warning against using sleep positioners, Files recommended these practices to ensure a safe sleep environment:
  • Keep cribs and sleeping areas bare. That means you should also never put soft objects or toys in sleeping areas.
  • Always place a baby on his or her back at night and during nap time. An easy way to remember this is to follow the ABCs of safe sleep: “Alone on the Back in a bare Crib.”
  • Share a room with your baby, but not your bed. “Keep baby close to your bed but in a separate safe sleep environment,” Files advised.
  • Consider breastfeeding your baby.According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfed babies have a significantly lower risk of SIDS than those who are not, and breastfeeding has been proven to carry a number of health advantages for both mother and baby.
  • Don’t smoke around your baby. Secondhand smoke has been linked to increased SIDS risk.

For more information about reducing SIDS/SUID risk, call the Mississippi SIDS Alliance at 601-957-7437.

Deer crashes costly and potentially life threatening

Source: Deer crashes costly and potentially life threatening, clarionledger.com

If you drive in Mississippi, it’s likely that you’ve hit a deer, witnessed a deer-vehicle collision or had a near-miss with one of these hoofed highway hazards. A drive down any country lane or highway at night in the fall will reveal whole herds of deer grazing near the roadway, their eyes reflecting in your headlights. If you’re lucky, they will just ignore you and keep on munching; if not, you could find yourself in a potentially life-threatening situation.

Mississippi’s deer population has exploded in recent years, and while that’s great news for hunters or those of us who like deer sausage, it’s not so good if you hit one with your vehicle. The MSU Extension Service estimates there are about 1.75 million whitetail deer in the state, the highest population density in the nation. Therefore, the possibility of hitting a deer is pretty high. Often, deer are hit while they’re trying to cross the road or highway, with little ones trailing closely behind. As a vehicle approaches, they’ll often panic and dart in front of oncoming traffic.

Nationally, the statistics are grim. The Insurance Industry Institute estimates there are about 1.5 million deer-vehicle collisions each year, resulting in about 150 occupant deaths, thousands of injuries and more than a billion dollars in damage. (And it doesn’t usually work out too well for the deer, either.)

“Mississippi averages over 3,000 deer-related crashes per year,” MDOT Executive Director Melinda McGrath said in a news release. “Hitting a deer can be a very costly expense and sometimes it can be a life-threatening accident.”

McGrath notes the increase in vehicle-deer crashes in the fall and winter months is partially a result of higher traffic volumes, higher vehicle speed and shorter daylight hours, coupled with the fact deer move around a lot more during the fall. Insurance claims for deer collisions increase dramatically from October through November each year, note industry experts. According to a 2014 Insurance Industry Institute study, most damage claims (87 percent) submitted to insurance companies are for damage to the front of the vehicle, followed by the driver’s side, passenger side and rear.

 While there is little you can do to avoid a collision, technology may have some answers in the future. For example, Swedish automaker Volvo is testing a Large Animal Detection System that will scan the scene in front of the vehicle and hit the brakes if a deer (or horse, cow, or other large critter) is in the roadway. Similar systems have been available for years in other brands, but they work mainly at night, since they use infrared technology.

So, until your car is smart enough to figure out if you’re about to hit a deer and make you safe, the job is up to you and me. MDOT has these tips for avoiding crashes:

  • Don’t swerve. “Swerving can cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle, causing an even more serious accident,” MDOT notes.
  • Remember that deer are herd animals that live in families, so if you see one, watch for others.
  • Pay attention when driving at dawn and dusk. About 20 percent of crashes occur in early morning, while more than half occur between 5 p.m. and midnight, MDOT advises.
  • Wear your seat belts and drive at a safe, sensible speed.
  • If possible, use high beams at night when no traffic is approaching. This will illuminate deer eyes better.

“No matter if a driver is traveling rural roads or busy highways, the threat of hitting a deer while driving is very real,” McGrath noted. “All motorists should take extra precautions during deer season to ensure their safety while traveling.”

 For tips, visit GoMDOT.com/drivesmartms or follow @MississippiDOT on Twitter.

Cyberbullying tops parents’ fears about kids’ health

(Image: worldpulse.com)

via Cyberbullying threat to kids, parents say, clarionledger.com

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Most parents never stop worrying about their kids. From the time when we first find out we’re going to become parents, there’s always something to think about, events to plan for, and many of those things keep us awake at night.

While the list of fears may change as our kids get older, they never go away. Initial worries about our kids’ health in the cradle give way to worries about their journey through adolescence and college, and then to concerns about their careers, families and their own children. Of course, for most parents, most of the things we spend time fretting over never come to pass. But that doesn’t stop us from worrying anyway.

Every year, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital at the University of Michigan conducts a national survey to determine the things that make us parents toss and turn, producing a list of the top 10 fears of parents of kids from birth to age 18. And — predictably — that list of worries changes with the times. This year, the impact of social media and technology is making its effects felt, as two of the Top 10 parent fears (expressed by parents as something they’re “very concerned” about) are related to technology. Topping the list is bullying/cyberbullying, which more than six in 10 parents expressed as their top concern.

Of course, bullying is an age-old problem, but with smartphones and social media, just about every child is eventually going to encounter cyberbullying from one side or the other. This phenomenon has been linked to increasing suicides among teens, as well as heightened levels of anxiety and stress for many kids.

Being a teen is hard enough without having to worry about someone using social media to trash your reputation or spread hateful rumors. Cyberbullying is still being defined, but most experts agree it’s aggressive behavior that targets an individual using social media or other electronic communications. Given the ability of a single person to use social media to spread information quickly to lots of people, coupled with the emotional roller-coaster many teenagers experience as they progress through adolescence and the importance of reputation, it’s little wonder that it’s become a threat.

“Adults across the country recognized bullying, including cyberbullying, as the leading health problem for U.S. children,” noted Dr. Gary Freed, a Mott professor of pediatrics and the poll’s co-director.

Another tech-related fear of parents is internet safety, including the increasing danger for many kids whose online contacts may appear to be harmless acquaintances in online gaming or chat rooms, but are actually child predators or identity thieves. And concerns about “sexting” (the sending of intimate photos and sexually explicit content in text messages) are rising as well.

But technology (at least, directly) is just part of the picture of the things that make us worry. Parents are also agonizing over their kids’ health. Many parents expressed concern their kids are not eating healthy enough or getting enough exercise, and others worry also about the possibility their kids could fall victim to drugs or alcohol abuse. Also on the list were suicide and depression, teen pregnancy and stress in general.

When broken down by race, the survey produced some enlightening results. For example, while African-American parents expressed many of the same concerns as everyone else, their primary worry was their kids would fall victim to racial disparities and school violence.

Many parents worried about automobile accidents, and for parents of kids under 5, the fear of cancer and similar threats, although, Freed noted, “parents may have concerns about very serious conditions despite the small risk for them.”

If you’re among the parents concerned about cyberbullying, I recommend a great website called ConnectSafely.org. This site lists some common-sense responses to help stop cyberbullying, including some tips for parents on how to effectively address it with their children.

Be safe when watching eclipse

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NASA

via Be safe when watching the eclipse, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170812_A005_2The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170812_A007_2

Around midday on Aug. 21, much of the nation will be looking to the skies as a total solar eclipse will be visible across a wide swath of the country. It’s a big deal because solar eclipses rarely cross the U.S. where they can be seen by the masses. Marketers have jumped onto the eclipse bandwagon with total abandon, selling everything from signs and banners to special glasses guaranteed to enhance your viewing experience.

But, sun-gazers, be warned: Some products may not provide enough protection for your eyes when looking directly at the eclipse.

In case you missed that day in science class, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon comes between the sun and earth, causing near-total darkness in a narrow “path of totality” and a dimming elsewhere, depending on your location. Here in central Mississippi, we will see a partial eclipse that day (weather permitting), and if you want to see the maximum effect, the closest viewing spots will be just to our north in middle and eastern Tennessee. But while we won’t witness “totality” here, it will still be spectacular, with the moon chomping nearly 90 percent of the sun for a few minutes. (For an animation of what we can expect to see, visit http://bit.ly/2flwWUW.)

Of course, your mom probably told you never to look directly into the sun, and it’s good advice as doing so can cause severe injury to your eyes. But many people think it’s OK to do so during an eclipse, as the sun is darkened. Actually, many people have suffered permanent eye damage as a result of trying to look at the partially darkened sun during an eclipse or using ordinary sunglasses, telescopes or binoculars.

NASA, medical associations, and others have warned that we need to be extra-careful when choosing how we’re going to look at the eclipse. “The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses” or hand-held solar viewers,” notes NASA in a post on its website. “Homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight.”

Here are a few of NASA’s other tips for safe viewing:

Inspect your viewer. If your eclipse viewing device is more than a couple of years old, or if it’s scratched or damaged, don’t use it.

Avoid devices that concentrate the sun’s rays. Looking at the eclipse through a camera lens, binoculars, telescopes or other optical devices can be dangerous because they concentrate the sun’s rays onto a narrow point, potentially damaging your eyes.

Don’t assume your sunglasses will protect you. While most sunglasses do provide protection from UV rays in ordinary cases, they’re not designed to handle the brightness of looking directly at the sun. Check to see if your sunglasses are marked with the ISO 12312-2 certification. If not, get some that are.

Buy from reputable vendors. The American Astronomical Society has published a list of vendors selling products that provide adequate protection at https://eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters.

Some welding glasses are OK, but not all. NASA suggests, if you have access to a welder’s glass with a No. 14 rating, it should be safe. But not all welding glass meets this standard, so if you’re not sure it’s No. 14 or better, don’t try it. “Do not view through any welding glass if you do not know or cannot discern its shade number,” NASA warns. “Be advised that arc welders typically use glass with a shade much less than the necessary #14. A welding glass that permits you to see the landscape is not safe.”

And if you can’t be outside during the eclipse, don’t worry; another total event will occur in 2024 to our north and west, and if you’re still around in 2045, mark your calendar for Aug. 12 of that year, when the path of totality will pass right over us in central Mississippi.

FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun

Baby-in-the-sun

Nashvilleparent.com

via FDA warns: Keep babies out of the sun, clarionledger.com

PDF: Babies in sun 1Babies in sun 2

In the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to visit Ukraine on numerous occasions to support the work of local churches. Most who visit Ukraine find it’s a vast, beautiful and hospitable country, with its Delta-rich soil and generous people.

During one July outing in which we were helping a local church hold a vacation Bible school, we conducted several activities outside. It was summer and a bit hot (just like an average late-spring day for any Mississippi native, but practically a heat wave for the locals).

I thought it was curious that most of the kids wouldn’t emerge from the shade of the trees to take part in activities in the bright sunshine. When I asked a translator, he told me that it’s because Ukrainian parents don’t believe it’s healthy for their kids get a lot of direct sun, so they train them to avoid sun exposure as much as possible. Internationally, this attitude is becoming more and more common, as many countries deal with high levels of UV radiation and awareness of skin cancer risk is growing.

Maybe they have a point. We know exposure to some direct sunlight is beneficial to a point and helps the body produce essential vitamins, as well as having a number of other proven health benefits. But being out in the sun for extended periods also carries its own risks in the form of sun-damaged skin, skin cancer, and eye problems. While the use of sunscreens and protective clothing has been shown to reduce the skin’s vulnerability to harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation, many health experts say it’s best to limit our exposure. And that goes double for smaller children.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued some new guidelines for sun exposure in younger kids, recommending that infants under 6 months old avoid sun exposure entirely. “The best approach is to keep infants under 6 months out of the sun,” noted FDA pediatrician Hari Cheryl Sachs, “and to particularly avoid exposure to the sun in the hours between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when ultraviolet rays are most intense.”

That may come as a shock to some parents, many of whom grew up in the sun. Sachs explained that, although sunscreens are fine for older kids and adults, babies’ skin (since it covers less surface area and is less mature) is likely to absorb the numerous chemicals contained in most sunscreen products, with unknown possible side effects.

In addition, she adds, babies can overheat faster than older kids and adults and can become dehydrated more easily.

“The best protection is to keep your baby in the shade, if possible,” she adds. “If there’s no natural shade, create your own with an umbrella or the canopy of the stroller.”

As for dressing your baby for a day in the sun, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends lightweight long pants, long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats that shade the neck. Avoid baseball caps, which (while cute) don’t adequately protect the neck and ears.

Here are some of the FDA’s other tips:

  • Keep your baby in the shade as much as possible.
  • Consult your pediatrician before using any sunscreen on your baby.
  • Make sure your child wears clothing that covers and protects sensitive skin. Use common sense; if you hold the fabric against your hand and it’s so sheer you can see through it, it probably doesn’t offer enough protection.
  • Make sure your baby wears a hat that provides sufficient shade at all times.
  • Watch your baby carefully to make sure he or she doesn’t show warning signs of sunburn or dehydration. These include fussiness, redness, and excessive crying.
  • If your baby is becoming sunburned, get out of the sun right away and apply cold compresses to the affected areas.
  • Give your child formula or breast milk if you’re out in the sun for more than a few minutes. Don’t forget to use a cooler to store the liquids.

To read the FDA’s article in its entirety, visit http://bit.ly/2vu4FBS

States passing laws to save kids, pets trapped in cars

130723-Hot-Car

motortorque.com

via States pass laws to save kids, pets trapped in hot cars, clarionledger.com

PDF: Kids and Pets in Cars

Every year, with the hot weather comes tragic stories of how someone left a child in a hot vehicle, leading to death or serious injuries. Especially here in the Sun Belt, where we’re used to long, hot summers, cars can be a death trap if a child is left inside.

In the past three decades, nationally more than 800 children have died after being left in hot vehicles, and the organization Kidsandcars.org has documented 23 cases so far this year.

In one of the latest cases, a Tennessee couple was charged with murder after their 2-year-old son died. The couple allegedly left the child in a vehicle overnight and into the next day in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Cases abound, as an internet search will attest.

While the outside temperature can be tolerable, inside a vehicle it’s a different story. An enclosed vehicle acts as a greenhouse, with the sun’s rays warming the interior as their energy is trapped inside. The website heatkills.org reports that, even on a mild 70-degree day, temperatures inside a car can easily reach 104 degrees in 30 minutes. And at 90 degrees (we’ve seen those temperatures in the last week in central Mississippi), temperatures inside the car can soar to 109 degrees in 10 minutes, and after a half-hour to 124 degrees. Some studies have reported temperatures as high as 172 degrees when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Even at the lower end of that scale, heat-related deaths can easily occur. And although many people continue to believe that cracking the window for your pet helps, most experts disagree. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a study in 2005 that opening a window a few inches does little to alleviate the temperature rise.

The spate of child deaths has rightly led to increased calls for action, as well as additional laws and demands for new technologies to keep these tragedies from occurring. According to kidsandcars.org, about half of the states have laws specifically making it a crime to leave a child or pet in a hot vehicle (Mississippi, regrettably, does not.) Hopefully, as states around the nation take legislative action, these laws will also include language to protect pets.

Frequently, an endangered pet is discovered by passersby. Bystanders who see a potentially deadly situation have a decision to make. While many courageous people have risked lawsuits and even personal harm by breaking into an unattended vehicle to rescue a trapped pet, others might fear the repercussions of taking action.

Recently, several states have passed laws to protect people who must break into a vehicle to save a pet trapped inside. For example, in Colorado and other states, would-be rescuers must take a number of other steps before they start breaking windows, including making “every reasonable effort” to locate the vehicle’s owner and call law enforcement. They must also be able to demonstrate the pet is clearly in danger of suffocation or extreme heat or cold. Many state laws specifically limit the term “animal” or “pet” to cats and dogs and specifically prohibit the law from referring to livestock.

Most state laws, according to a study earlier this year by Michigan State University, require that the rescuer be a first-responder (such as a police officer, EMT or firefighter), or a representative of a humane society. Ordinary citizens in most states are not offered any protection or immunity. Of course, many pet lovers will take action anyway, disregarding the potential risk of a nasty confrontation or being charged with destruction of property.

But until we have better laws protecting kids — and pets — left in vehicles, perhaps the best response is to leave your pets at home if possible. And if you see an animal in obvious distress in a vehicle, the Humane Society of the United States suggests you try to locate the owner, and if that fails, call the non-emergency number for the police to report the situation.

Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes

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360.here.com

via Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes, clarionledger.com

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A few months ago, I wrote in this column about how pedestrian deaths are becoming increasingly common on our roadways, with some of the alarming increases blamed on our being distracted by the ever-present devices we have with us constantly. While reading through on the findings of a study of the phenomenon, one statement, in particular, caught my eye: The number of pedestrian deaths might be higher still, if not for the installation of automated collision-avoidance systems now on many vehicles.

Our cars and trucks are steadily becoming self-thinking robots. Today’s cars can automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle in front of you suddenly slows or stops; sound an alarm if you’re nodding off at the wheel; alert you if you’re about to hit a vehicle in your blind spot; keep you from backing into an object, animal or person behind you; enable your vehicle to parallel-park itself and many others.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 35,092 people who died in vehicle crashes on American roads in 2015, the vast majority (94 percent) were at least partially caused by human error or poor decisions.

All these technologies are paving the way toward a future in which the vehicles will be doing much — if not all — of the driving. Depending on your point of view, that could be comforting or alarming. It’s an established fact that humans are just not very good at making decisions all the time, and we can suffer from fatigue, distraction, poor judgment and lack of impulse control. On the other hand, we know computerized systems are subject to security flaws, equipment failure, and poor programming.

But in labs and research facilities around the world, engineers are working towards a more automated future, and are watching as these features are tested on a massive scale on today’s roads. The results, Consumer Reports noted recently, can be found in saved lives and happier drivers. Consumer Reports asked its subscribers to report on their experiences with some of these technologies and found most of them reported they were not only satisfied with these systems but also, in some cases, credited those systems with avoiding crashes.

More than 57,000 vehicle owners responded to the magazine’s request to provide information, reporting that their vehicles included such features as automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and lane-departure warning. Consumer Reports noted that drivers were most appreciative of blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic warnings (although these systems have been panned in the past; the American Automobile Association in 2015 cited high error rates for RCTA systems).

In particular, for vehicle owners who said these features had saved them from accidents, blind-spot warnings were cited for preventing 35 percent of potential crashes. Even experienced drivers can fail to see a car that’s in their own vehicle’s blind spot and sideswipe neighboring vehicles when changing lanes. A blind-spot warning system sounds an alarm when it senses you’re about to change lanes into another vehicle.

While many of these features simply give you a visual, auditory or even tactile warning that a collision is imminent, others actually take control of the vehicle if the system senses a dangerous situation. For example, lane-keeping systems use cameras to detect lane markings and will steer your vehicle back to its lane if you’re drifting out of the lane. AEB will automatically apply the brakes if it senses you’re about to rear-end the vehicle in front of you.

Of course, with all of these technologies comes the potential for errors, which can annoy drivers and cause them to lose faith in the technology. For example, owners of vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning reported the highest number of false alerts. About 45 percent of these drivers reported getting at least one false alert.

Still, Consumer Reports (and many consumer advocates and regulatory bodies) think these technologies are a great idea (even with the occasional error) and recommend more of these technologies become standard equipment in the future. “Consumer Reports believes that FCW and AEB should be standard equipment, even with occasional false alerts,” noted the survey authors. “The latest study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supports this: Rear-end crashes are cut by 27 percent when a vehicle has FCW and by 50 percent when it’s also equipped with AEB.”

To read Consumer Reports’ full article, which includes more results about each of the technologies covered, visit http://bit.ly/2twfCBc. For more on each type of feature and videos to explain them, visit the NHTSA’s site at http://bit.ly/2oCBSVM.

811 averts underground utility disasters

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Atmosenergy.com

via 811 averts underground utility disasters, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170701_A005_0The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20170701_A008_0

As I write this, I’ve been watching a crew working near my front yard, preparing for a fiber-optic cable being laid in our neighborhood. All around are colorful little flags, and the sidewalk, streets and even the grass are crisscrossed with spray-painted lines in various colors.

A large truck is parked in front of my house, and the crew has been using a high-pressure water stream to rapidly dig a hole near the street. As the workers blast the dirt and gravel, it’s all sucked into a large tank mounted on the truck and results in a deep hole with clean sides in just a few minutes. Soon, another crew will be pushing pipes through the ground to carry the new cables, and once the work is done, passersby won’t be able to tell all this activity has taken place.

It may seem tranquil on the surface, but below ground it’s a different story. Starting just inches below ground level is a maze of water and sewer lines, electrical lines, cable and fiber, telephone cables and other types of buried infrastructure used to provide services to our homes and businesses. Placing utilities underground has many advantages. Besides avoiding the eyesore of having pipes and wires running through the landscape, burying them can also keep them safe from damage, and keep us safe from them and their sometimes-dangerous cargo.

In most cases, this arrangement works pretty well. But occasionally, someone hits a buried pipe, wire or cable, with potentially deadly consequences. The Common Ground Alliance, an organization representing the underground-utility industry and which advocates for safe digging practices, reported in 2015 that 421 people had died and 1,906 people had been injured in the preceding two decades from striking underground utilities. The incidents had a financial cost as well, resulting in $1.7 billion in property damage.

The alliance produces an annual report called DIRT, short for Damage Information Reporting Tool. The report compiles data on damage to underground utilities throughout the U.S. and Canada. The most recent report (covering 2015) was released in October, and noted an encouraging trend: Requests to locate underground utilities were up significantly during 2015, while estimated damages from hitting them were down.

That good news is likely the result of increased public awareness. Here in Mississippi, a nonprofit organization called Mississippi 811 has the job of ensuring that damage doesn’t happen. They’re the folks you (hopefully) call before you put a shovel in the ground. 811 President Sam Johnson told me that, in the past year, 648 reports of underground utility damages have been reported in the state. That number is nearly 20 percent lower than the previous one-year period. In the same period, requests to locate buried utilities has increased significantly. “Hopefully, the increase in locate requests is an indicator that the public is paying attention,” Johnson said.

Johnson and his staff have been working hard to get the message out. 811 runs awareness ads on statewide radio and cable networks, as well as billboards, and sends out instructors to conduct awareness activities and train digging crews. Those efforts are augmented by utility companies that conduct their own efforts through ads, billboards and other awareness programs.

Many people wouldn’t think twice about digging a hole in their yard to plant a tree or put in a flower bed, but even digging a few inches with a shovel can sever a power line, cable or gas line. A free 811 call can not only keep you from getting yelled at by the neighbors when you cut their cable TV, it could keep you from being electrocuted by cutting into a power line or blowing up your neighborhood after rupturing a gas line. It can also save you money because you may have to pay for the damage, and you could be subject to fines under the new state law as well. (If you are a contractor and don’t make the call, your insurance company will probably not cover you for the damages.)

When you call, a crew will be dispatched to mark underground utilities running through your property. Crews will use paint and/or flags to mark where utilities are buried. Each type of utility has its own color: red for electrical lines, yellow for potentially dangerous or toxic materials such as natural gas, petroleum or steam; orange for telecommunications lines; blue for water lines; green for sewer lines; purple for slurry pipelines; pink for temporary survey markings; and white for areas with proposed excavations.

There is also a lot more at stake now if you don’t call. A new law signed last year by Gov. Phil Bryant will authorize legal penalties to people who violate the state’s digging laws and cause damage to buried utilities. The law authorizes a fine, ranging from $500 to $5,000 per incident.

“Anytime you hear a friend or neighbor say something about a project that will involve any excavation, be sure to remind them to call 811 at least two working days before they start their project,” he noted. “If you see someone that you care about, excavating but you don’t see any signs that the utilities have been marked (flags, paint, etc.), ask them if they have taken advantage of the free service to have the utilities marked. It’s the law, and it’s just the right and safe thing to do.”