Thursday, March 29, 2012

NHTSA Issues Eighth Consumer Advisory about Dangers of 15-Passenger Vans

NHTSA Issues Eighth Consumer Advisory about Dangers of 15-Passenger Vans

On March 1, the Epicenter of Worship Church held a prayer vigil for Omberi Erasto, the 18-year-old East Lansing High School student who died in a 15-passenger van rollover crash last month. Erasto was one of 17 occupants in a 2002 Chevrolet Express homeward bound on I-96 after a choir performance in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The left rear tire of the Express failed, leading to a loss-of-control crash that left several passengers severely injured, including Erasto’s younger sister, who lost her leg.
Two weeks later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, issued yet another warning about the proper use of a 15 passenger van, in advance of the “spring driving season.” The agency is, once again, urging “colleges, church groups, and other users of 15-passenger vans to take specific steps to keep drivers and passengers safe.”
This is the agency’s eighth consumer advisory about the dangers of 15-passenger vans since 2001. The number one tip? Never overload a 15-passenger van because they “are particularly sensitive to loading.”
Funny, though, the agency neglects to define “overload” for the consumers they presumably want to warn. Fifteen-passenger vans have the dubious distinction of being a vehicle this inherently unsafe if used for its intended purpose. Back in 2001, the agency issued specific information related to overloading, and emphasized the deadly consequences of failing to heed this warning:
“The results of a recent analysis by NHTSA revealed that 15-passenger vans have a rollover risk that is similar to other light trucks and vans when carrying a few passengers. However, the risk of rollover increases dramatically as the number of occupants increases from fewer than five occupants to over ten passengers. In fact, 15-passenger vans (with 10 or more occupants) had a rollover rate in single vehicle crashes that is nearly three times the rate of those that were lightly loaded. NHTSA’s analysis revealed that loading the 15-passenger van causes the center of gravity to shift rearward and upward increasing the likelihood of rollover. The shift in the center of gravity will also increase the potential for loss of control in panic maneuvers.”
Now, consumers get a vague: Don’t overload the van. It’s sensitive – which is odd, because NHTSA sets great store by the efficacy of its warnings. In 2005, it bragged that “the public is responding to safety information about 15-passenger vans. Fatalities from 15-passenger van rollover crashes have declined 35 percent since advisories began in 2001.” In 2009, the agency again touted the steady decline in fatalities since 2001.
But, the decline in deaths has not been steady. Statistician Randy Whitfield, of Quality Control Systems Corp., who has published a statistical analysis of cumulative death rate of 15-passenger vans has noted that the decline has not been consistent: “Annual fatalities in 2007 and 2008 were about half of the totals in the peak years of 2000 and 2001. However, the number of persons killed actually increased in 2004, 2007, and 2008 compared with the previous years. 39% of all of the 15-passenger van rollover fatalities during 1982-2009 (454 of 1,153) occurred after the first Consumer Advisory was issued by NHTSA in 2001.”
And any decline is more likely attributable to other factors – such as Dodge’s decision to get out of the 15-passenger van business and Ford and General Motors’ decisions to make Electronic Stability Control standard in later model 15-passenger vans. So, warnings, coupled with the retirement of the older, less safe vans, are the agency’s only real action items in its apparent strategy of managed attrition.
According to NHTSA, as of July 1, 2007 there were about 564,000 15-passenger vans registered in the US, and only 7 percent of the fleet was 2004 or newer. That percentage has no doubt grown over the last five years, but there’s also likely to be a healthy percentage of pre-2004 model year vans, that are now five years older.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

BMW recalls 1.3 million cars for electrical problem that may lead to fire

.BMW recalls 1.3 million cars for electrical problem

USA Today (3/27) reported, "BMW announced in Frankfurt today that it is recalling it is recalling 1.3 million cars worldwide for an electrical problem." The recall order "covers all 2003 to 2010 model 5- and 6-series cars." In the US, the recall will affect 368,000 vehicles. "BMW says that in a few of the cars, a battery cable covering in the trunk was not installed properly, and it could eventually keep the car from starting and even lead to a fire." According to the company, it's only received a few complaints related to the issue, and there have been no reports of crashes or injuries linked to the defect.

Health Care Law Argued Before Supreme Court

Sharp questioning at Supreme Court leaves healthcare law's fate uncertain.

Media reports and analyses last night and this morning portray the Supreme Court as leaning towards ruling against the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Yesterday's hearing generated widespread coverage on both TV and print. However, only the CBS Evening News, among the three network newscasts, led with the court hearing.

According to Brian Williams, on NBC Nightly News (3/27, story 2, 3:05, Williams), "A lot of the experts have been predicting that the law would probably stand, but after today, all bets are off." On the CBS Evening News (3/27, lead story, 4:40, Pelley) Jan Crawford said, "The healthcare law is considered President Obama's signature achievement, appeared a majority of the Justices were ready to describe the individual mandate another way -- unconstitutional."

According to the Washington Post (3/28, Fahrenthold, Aizenman), "By the end of Tuesday's long-awaited oral arguments, the individual mandate...seemed to be in trouble." Adam Liptak, in a front-page article for the New York Times (3/28, A1, Subscription Publication), also says "the available evidence indicated that the heart of the Affordable Care Act is in peril." Liptak continues, "If the indications from Tuesday's arguments are correct...the ruling may undo parts or all of the overhaul of the health insurance system, deal Mr. Obama a political blow in the midst of the presidential election season, and revise the constitutional relationship between the federal government and the states."

Justice Kennedy gets the lion's share of the attention, and "skeptical" is, by far, the adjective most often used to describe the tone of his questioning. A Los Angeles Times (3/28, Savage, Levey) headline reading "Skeptical Kennedy Signals Trouble For Obama's Healthcare Law" is a concise summation of the day's analysis.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Hyundai and Volvo Announce Recalls

Hyundai Motor Co. and Volvo Cars said Friday they are issuing new recalls for potentially faulty seat belts in Honda Sonata hybrids and problematic undercoatings in S60 and XC60 vehicles respectively.

Volvo said it is recalling 2,742 2012 S60 and XC60 vehicles because of an incorrect mixture of underbody coating "that can result icicle-like areas of underbody coating hanging from the undercarriage of the vehicle."
This could result in a fuel line cut and fuel leaks, which could increase the risk of a fire.
Volvo said it has no reports of crashes or injuries. Volvo will remove the excess undercoating and will replace the fuel lines, if necessary. Volvo will notify owners starting April 13.
Hyundai said it is recalling up to 14,728 2012 Honda Sonata hybrid sedans.
The vehicles have a center rear seat belt assembly that detaches both the lap and shoulder portion — and don't conform to a federal safety standard.
Hyundai said it issued a stop sale on March 8 for the vehicles and will fix 1,633 Sonata hybrid vehicles in dealer stock before they are sold, as required by federal law.
For the 13,095 vehicles that have been delivered to owners, Hyundai is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to waive the requirement that it fix the vehicles.
The Korean automaker said it will file a petition from the recall requirements because it says the issue is "inconsequential as it relates to motor vehicle safety."
If NHTSA rejects the petition, Hyundai says it will fix the vehicles

Subaru Recalling Foresters for Seatbelt Problem

Subaru is recalling about 275,000 Forester SUVs in the United States to replace a rear seat belt part that may not allow proper installation of a child restraint, U.S. safety regulators said.

Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd.'s Subaru is recalling the 2009 through 2012 model year Foresters because the automatic locking retractor in the rear-center seat belt assemblies doesn't meet federal requirements, according to documents filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
For that reason, the assemblies may not allow proper installation and secure attachment of a child restraint, increasing the risk of injury, NHTSA said.
Subaru will install a newly modified automatic locking retractor and the recall is expected to begin on or before April 13, NHTSA said.
A Subaru spokesman said there have been no accidents or injuries related to the issue.