Wednesday, May 28, 2014

NHTSA looking into 2 million GM vehicles

Bloomberg News (5/28, Green, Higgins, Plungis, 2.76M) reports that NHTSA is looking into issues reported by drivers concerning 2 million GM vehicles that have not yet been recalled over concerns that include “corroding brake lines and the unexpected failure of automatic braking and headlights in GM vehicles.” Jack Nerad, executive market analyst at auto researcher Kelley Blue Book, said that NHTSA is “almost certainly going to be finding more.”
        CNN’s Money (5/28) lists the top 10 auto recalls by number of cars, noting that GM’s largest recall of 2.6 million vehicles “doesn’t stack up to the biggest in history.” The list features Ford Motor Company in the top two places, including a 21 million vehicle recall in 1980 for “a problem that caused some vehicles to slip from park into reverse” that caused 6,000 accidents and 100 deaths. 

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Dangerous Guardrail Designs

Lawsuits seek records on guardrail-design change that some blame for horrific crashes.

Scripps Howard News Service (5/19, Walsh, 132) reports on a January 27 accident in which North Carolina motorist Jay Traylor lost both legs after his Isuzu Trooper “slammed head-on into a guardrail” that cut into the SUV. The report, which includes audio of Traylor’s 911 call excerpted in a video report by E.W. Scripps-owned KNXV-TV of Phoenix, says Traylor, who now uses prosthetic legs, has sued guardrail manufacturer Trinity Highway Products, whose president, Scripps Howard reports, “acknowledged the company failed to update” FHWA of a 2005 design change for the head of its ET-Plus guardrail until 2012 but also said the change isn’t a safety threat. Traylor’s suit, as well as similar ones around the US, claim Trinity engineers “reduced the feeder channel and guardrail head size.” FHWA said it had tested Trinity’s updated ET-Plus with a 4-inch guardrail head in 2005 “and found it met all safety standards,” but the agency explained that it thought it was testing a 5-inch head and still hasn’t issued “a formal approval letter for” the smaller version.

        Safety Research & Strategies, (5/19) a transportation watchdog mentioned in both the Scripps Howard and KNXV reports, posted on its own website news of its lawsuit filed in Florida seeking to force that state’s DOT to release documents related to Trinity about “the design, manufacture, failure, purchase and testing” of the company’s ET-Plus guardrails. Dallas-based Trinity “has been under fire since 2012,” when a competitor charged that “Trinity modified the design of its guardrail end terminals, causing [them] to perform poorly in crashes and injure and kill occupants in striking vehicles.” SRS announced last week that it was suing FHWA for disclosure of documents “regarding the safety of guardrail end terminals used on highways nationwide.” 

Friday, May 16, 2014

GM to pay $35 million U.S. fine for delayed recalls

Automotive News

General Motors has agreed to pay the government’s maximum fine of $35 million for waiting too long to recall 2.6 million cars with faulty ignition switches and to make “significant and wide-ranging internal changes” in its handling of future safety defects, the U.S. Department of Transportation said today.
“Safety is our top priority, and today’s announcement puts all manufacturers on notice that they will be held accountable if they fail to quickly report and address safety-related defects,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
Federal law requires automakers to notify safety regulators within five days after determining that vehicles are defective. Documents filed by GM indicate that its engineers first encountered a problem with the switch in 2001 and studied the issue multiple times in 2004 and 2005 without issuing a recall or modifying the switch.
“We have learned a great deal from this recall. We will now focus on the goal of becoming an industry leader in safety,” GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement issued by the company. “We will emerge from this situation a stronger company.”
NHTSA ordered Toyota Motor Corp. to pay three fines totaling nearly $50 million in 2010 and 2012. The maximum fine has been increased to $35 million per incident since then, and Foxx recently expressed support for raising it to as much as $300 million.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ABC Highlights Dangers of Tire Age and Recalled Tires

The Rubber Manufacturers Association has dubbed the first week in June Tire Safety Week. But, ABC News isn't waiting -- Tire Safety Week is right now. They'll be talking about it on their shows Good Morning America, World News, and Nightline, along with stories by local affiliates. They'll be covering service recommendations by tire and automakers, why the tire recall system doesn't work, the industry's intransigence, and of course, all the deaths and injuries. It's must-see television. Don't miss it.  Click this link to get started.

Driver Assist Technology

Questions remain about responsibility for driverless car accidents.

The New York Times (5/13, Miller, Subscription Publication, 9.65M) reports in its “Upshot” blog that while mainstream use of driverless car technology approaches, one of the larger questions about the technology is – who is responsible when something goes wrong? Experts and lawyers say “current liability laws already provide some guidance” and four states plus the District of Columbia have passed legislation specific to the vehicles. Additionally, the cars themselves could “make reconstructing accidents and assigning blame in lawsuits more clear-cut because the car records video and other data about the drive,” according to inventor Sebastian Thrun. Brookings Institute scholar John Villasenor said insurance companies may even reward those who have driverless cars. However, the Times says “people’s own visceral fears of robots” could be a bigger obstacle than legal disputes and those fears could be exacerbated by the first deadly accident involving the vehicles.
        Google shows off self-driving car. USA Today (5/13, della Cava, 5.82M) reports Google held a press day yesterday to answer questions about its self-driving car and give the media a chance to ride in one. Engineers showed off how the vehicles integrate the use of digital maps and on-board sensors to safely navigate streets. Project director Chris Urmson and other panelists highlighted the technology’s potential for greatly reducing traffic accidents, while one expert said one of the largest questions unanswered is who would be responsible for an accident. Other significant issues with the cars included “the high cost of the technology, its sensitivity to hackers who might reprogram a car’s route, and serious weather.”

        Reuters (5/13, Oreskovic) reports Google’s event was its largest effort to date to provide an up-close look at its vehicles. The company did not say when the cars will be available or indicate whether it would produce the vehicles itself or license its technology to automakers. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Meta-analysis: AD/HD medication not tied to increased smoking risk.

USA Today (5/12, Healy, 5.82M) report that according to a meta-analysis published online May 12 in the journal Pediatrics, medications for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD), teens “who are prescribed stimulant medications to treat AD/HD are less likely to smoke than those with AD/HD who are not treated with the” medications. The meta-analysis pooled data from “14 published studies involving 2,360 participants (1,424 were treated with medication; 936 were not).”

GM replaces head of safety investigations.

The Detroit News (5/10, Shepardson, Burden, 643K) reports that General Motors reassigned its former director of safety investigations and safety regulations Carmen Benavides to another company safety division, having been replaced by Brian Latouf, who comes from previously serving at GM as its field product investigations and evaluations director. The article notes that this “latest shakeup in GM’s safety department” follows GM’s massive recalls involving 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Ions, and other small cars, which led to Federal investigations by NHTSA, the Justice Department, and Congress. According to the article, Benavides received an email in July 2013 from NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation Director Frank Norris saying that the automaker was “slow to communicate, slow to act.”
        In other coverage of the GM recalls, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (5/10, 614K) reports that GM needs “nine million parts” to fix all the vehicles “recalled since Feb. 7,” as replacement parts are “arriving slowly at dealers.” The article notes that the company is having to organize fixes for millions of vehicles at once, which is uncommon for an automotive recall, with GM claiming that sending out all the replacement parts for the largest recall issue, ignition switches, will require about half a year.

Chrysler recalling almost 800,000 vans for overheating risk.

Reuters (5/10, Klayman) reports that Chrysler announced yesterday that it was initiating a recall of around 780,477 minivans for problems relating to overheating and potential fire risk. In a statement, Chrysler spokesperson Eric Mayne noted that not all of the incidents about overheating reported to the company resulted in fires, although in all the cases there was damage to the driver’s-side door, where power-window vent switches are. Chrysler investigated warranty claims related to problems with these switches, which can short circuit if they come in contact with moisture, either from the weather, car washes, or beverages.

Ford recalls nearly 1.4 million vehicles.

The New York Times (5/10, Jensen, Subscription Publication, 9.65M) reports that Ford has put out a recall on “nearly 1.4 million” Escape and C-Max vehicles “from the 2013-14 model years” for problems related to the air bags and door handles. On the one hand, Ford said that some of the computer software in the safety canopy airbags of these vehicles may be defective, thus delaying the airbags “in certain rollover circumstances, potentially increasing the risk of injury.” Meanwhile, the door handle issue also relates to possible malfunction where the handles may not latch correctly, “allowing the doors to open when the vehicle was in motion.”
        Bloomberg News (5/10, Plungis, 2.76M) reports, Ford spokesperson Kelli Felker stated, “Ford is committed to providing our customers with top quality vehicles,” adding that “We are equally committed to addressing potential issues and responding quickly for our customers.” The article notes other large recalls “over air-bag defects,” pointing out GM’s recall of 2.59 million vehicles, as well as Nissan’s recall of nearly 1 million vehicles. While Ford has not been made aware of any injuries related to either of its recall defects, the article does mention that the company settled with NHTSA last August for “a record $17.4 million civil penalty” over allegations of delaying the recall of its Escape vehicles for unintended acceleration.

        The AP (5/10) has similar coverage, as does the website of Automotive News (5/9, Bunkley, 199K). 

Friday, May 9, 2014

Cadillac recalls SRX for acceleration lag

By:  on 5/08/2014

Cadillac is recalling certain 2013 model year SRX crossovers for an issue that can cause a three to four second lag in acceleration due to a problem with the transmission control module. Such a lag may increase the risk of a crash, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

This recall concerns only the SRX models equipped with the 3.6-liter V6 engine, and the affected vehicles were manufactured between May 29, 2012 and June 26, 2013. A total of 50,571 examples of the 2013 model year SRX are a part of this recall.

General Motors has not yet disclosed the timing of notifying owners of the affected SRX models, though the fix for this issue will involve the reprogramming of the transmission control module. This fix can be implemented at the dealership level once owners of the affected vehicles are notified.

The second-generation SRX has been on sale since July 2009, and has been offered with a total of three engines during its run, including a 2.8-liter V6 which was available only in 2010, and a 3.0-liter V6, available in 2010 and 2011. From 2012 onward, the SRX has been sold solely with a 3.6-liter V6 engine.

Owners can contact Cadillac customer service at (800) 458-8006, and use the code 14132 for this recall campaign. Owners can also contact the NHTSA vehicle safety hotline at (888) 327-4236, (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to for information about this recall.

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Monday, May 5, 2014

Atlee Hall Success Story

Settlement for Man Who Fell During Testing

Atlee Hall recently brought to a successful conclusion a case involving a patient who was asked to perform a spirometry test at his family doctor’s office. The spirometry test involves blowing into a tube for as long and as hard as the patient can. Unfortunately, some patients will become dizzy and fall, or even pass out during the course of performing this test. As a result, standard of care protocols require that a patient be either sitting while performing the test, or at least having a chair placed behind the patient in case the patient begins to lose balance. In this case, neither such precaution was taken. The safety rule was broken and as a result the patient did indeed fall, striking his head and sustaining a closed head injury. The case required significant work-up in order to demonstrate the injuries that the patient sustained as a result of the fall. Ultimately the case was successfully concluded one month before the scheduled trial date.

Click here to see other Atlee Hall success stories.

General Motors Is Recalling 51,000 Cars to Fix Fuel Gauge

WASHINGTON — General Motors is recalling 51,640 Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and GMC Acadia sport utility vehicles of the 2014 model year because faulty software may cause the fuel gauge to read inaccurately, federal regulators said Saturday.

“An inaccurate fuel gauge may result in the vehicle unexpectedly running out of fuel and stalling, increasing the risk of a crash,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on its website.

G.M. said in a letter to the agency that the fuel gauge reading could be off by as much as a quarter of a tank. To fix the problem, G.M. dealers will reprogram the vehicles’ engine control modules.

G.M. has recalled about seven million vehicles this year, including 2.6 million Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and other models for faulty ignition switches that are linked to at least 13 deaths.

The automaker is under investigation by the N.H.T.S.A., Congress, the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission for waiting until February to begin ordering the ignition switch recall, despite first learning of the defect more than 10 years ago.