More Takata Airbag Recalls

Earlier this month, troubled airbag manufacturer Takata agreed to replace another 10 million airbag units the company provided to a wide variety of car makers. Takata has been under pressure since at least 2015 to recall defective airbag inflators that can, under some conditions, explode too forcefully and send metal pieces that make up the airbag's inner workings flying towards a driver or passenger.  More than two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries have been linked to the exploding airbags.

Drivers should be on the lookout for official notices from their car maker indicating that they need to take their car in for free airbag replacement service. Even vehicles that have had an airbag replaced before might need a second replacement since Takata has expanded the list of airbags multiple times over the last five years. Most affected car companies have easy ways to look up affected vehicles on their websites in case you missed their recall mailings. You normally just need to provide basic information and your car's Vehicle Identification Number.

Unfortunately, it seems that Takata still has more recalls ahead of it which means car owners need to remain vigilant in case their car is recalled, or recalled again, in the future.


Do Ignition Interlocks Have A Blind Spot?

An ignition interlock is a device that can be wired into a vehicle's electrical system in order to make sure it cannot be started until the driver provides a breath sample to be checked for signs of alcohol. There are now some 300,000 ignition interlocks in active use in the U.S. and that number is growing rapidly. It seems pretty self explanatory that these devices can save live. They prevent drivers from starting their vehicles while intoxicated. That has to be a win for vehicle safety, right? Well, not always.

A recent article in the New York Times highlights a potential fatal flaw in these ignition interlocks: Almost all of them make drivers perform checks at random times while the vehicle is moving. This feature is meant to stop someone from beginning a drive sober but having drinks along the way, but as shown in the Times' article, randomly asking a driver to do any task beyond driving can be extremely hazardous.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration looked like it was going to outlaw rolling retests, but it dropped a mandate that drivers pull over to retest after receiving intense industry pushback. How a driver would even pull over while in fast moving traffic is a question that no one from the government or ignition interlock industry really wanted to answer.

The Times did some investigation work and found over fifty incidents that ignition interlocks were cited as a reason for an accident or crash in Virginia alone. But, the Times notes, this number is almost certainly heavily under reported. And the data comes from just one state. The fact that most of the reported accidents came back when there were far fewer ignition interlocks on the road is also a bit worrisome.

In addition to ignition interlocks potentially being more distracting than cell phones, there is also the issue of false positives, the Times says. Ignition interlocks use the same alcohol sensing equipment that portable police breathalyzer units use, but those units are known to be imprecise, especially when not properly maintained, and sometimes tests conducted with them are not allowed as evidence in court.

Again, it seems like common sense that these ignition interlocks can save lives by preventing intoxicated drivers from starting their cars in the first place, but it does seem more questionable that drivers are asked to perform rolling retests while driving when study after study shows that even minor distractions while driving can lead to a collision.

The full article over at the New York Times provides more examples of how these ignition interlocks seem to have some blind spots. You can give it a read by clicking here.


Help Keep New Year's Happy By Not Drinking & Driving

The New Year's holiday is one of the most dangerous times to be on the road. Partiers who think they can get home after having a few drinks can easily ruin their own lives and the lives of others when it turns out they can't.

Texas ranks 7th for number of drunk driving deaths on New Year's Eve according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. According to statistics, some 44 people lost their lives during the New Year's Holiday in Texas alone. Another 171 were seriously injured, and over 4,000 had their New Year's holiday otherwise ruined due to drunk drivers.

Each year, the message is the same: Don't drink and drive. If you do have some drinks, get a cab or a ride share to take you home. Check around. There are often great deals and even free rides offered on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

But, maybe the best take on holiday drinking and driving comes from a Pennsylvania State University article written a few years ago titled: 10 Times It's Totally Okay To Drive Drunk On New Year's.

(Hint. The answer is "Never.")

We hope you have a great New Year's. Please stay safe out there.


Hoverboards Might Be Safe This Year, But Only If You Buy The Right One

Hoverboards, the most common name for two wheeled self-balancing scooters, made a big splash during the 2013 holiday season. A couple of years later, they were one of the hottest holiday gifts, but for all the wrong reasons. Cheaply made hoverboards often contained subpar batteries or badly designed chargers which caused several dangerous fires.

By 2016, hoverboards were becoming so associated with fire risks that recalls became common, multiple shipping ports in the UK blocked their import, and even Amazon.com, which will sell most anything, officially banned the sell of hoverboards for a time. The fires, recalls, and bans continued into the 2017 holiday season, but then things started to get better.

These days, hoverboards are again sold in stores and online. So what changed? According to one scooter and hoverboard manufacturer, hoverboards only started be accepted again once they started meeting Underwriters Laboratories UL 2272 standard. This series of tests sets safety standards for things like a hoverboard's battery, charging system, internal wiring, and general durability.

It still took some time for hoverboard manufactures to get onboard. The UL 2272 standard was established in 2016 but fires and recalls were still surprisingly common even into late 2017, but after that, the recalls stopped. There were no reported hoverboard recalls in 2018 and so far have been none in 2019.

Does this mean that hoverboards are now safe purchases for the 2019 Christmas season from a fire hazard point of view? Yes. Or, at least, they are a much safer bet than they were just a few years ago. Still, even though compliance with the UL 2272 tests seem to be much more widespread, you do need to do you homework. For instance, don't just rely on a badge on the packaging, be sure and do a check to make sure a hoverboard you are thinking of buying is actually certified.


Mazada Issues Second Recall of Takata Airbags

For years now, car manufactures have been recalling their vehicles to replace faulty airbags made by the Takata Corporation. Not only have millions of cars been recalled, there have been some twenty deaths and many more injuries related to bad Takata airbag inflators that can throw metal shards at the driver or passenger they were supposed to protect.

Recently, Mazda issued a second recall of some of their cars to again fix airbag issues stemming from Takata's bad design. As it turns out, in the early days of recalls, Takata simply replace known bad airbag units with ones of the same design. Those replacements also could go bad and result in the same types of injuries. This second recall from Mazda replaces the bad design with a new design that will hopefully eliminate the danger once and for all.

The important thing for drivers here is to keep paying attention to recall notices, even if they are for a part that was previously recalled. Sometimes a recall can be done improperly or the new part can have similar or even different and worse issues than the part being recalled. Even if you do not own a Mazda it is possible that similar second recalls could happen with other manufacturers as well.


Be Careful, Auto Accident Claims Rise By Up To 40% During Thanksgiving Week

Black Friday is a time for great deals and special offers, but also a time for long lines and crowded stores. And crowded roads too!

A few years back one of the major auto insurance companies went through their records and tallied up some frightening statistics. It turns out it's not just Black Friday you need to watch out for, it's all of Thanksgiving week.

For instance, on average, traffic accidents jump by 25% on the day before Thanksgiving. But, for Texas, that jump is closer to the 40% mark. A lot of the accidents involve hitting stationary objects, perhaps showing that harried nerves, low low deals, and parking lots do not mix.

That trend of parking lot accidents becomes even more clear starting Thanksgiving evening and extending through Black Friday. More than a third of car insurance claims involved backing into objects or hitting other vehicles while parking. People rushing for the best deals of the year can be a bit dangerous, it seems.

The last major statistic given involved the Sunday after Thanksgiving. With so much family travel for the holiday, it only seems natural that out of state accidents jump to some of the highest levels of the years. Clogged roads and drivers in unfamiliar locations don't mix. In fact, the number of claims dropped off by almost 40% for drivers traveling back Monday instead of Sunday. Even the Saturday after Thanksgiving is far safer than Sunday.

If you do need to get on the roads this Thanksgiving week, for shopping or travel, be patient, watch out for others, and give yourself a little extra time to get where you are going. Taking an extra half hour could save you hundreds or thousands of dollars on car repairs and, according to the statistics, will certainly help keep you safe.


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New Bill Will Allow Veterans To Seek Damages In Military Medical Malpractice Lawsuits

soldiersIt seems only right that the men and women who have served in our armed forces should get the best medical care, but often that is not the case. We've all heard rumors and stories about long waits or poor standards of care for veterans, but one thing you may not have heard is that veterans have little recourse if a military doctor or hospital injures them as part of a procedure.

According to the military news website Task & Purpose, a 1950 Supreme Court ruling that was originally intended to shield doctors from lawsuits as they made life or death decisions on the battlefield has, over time, been applied to non-battlefield cases. At this point, the ruling essentially blocks veterans from suing for medical malpractice.

Fortunately, efforts are in the works to amend this situation. A bill has already been passed in the U.S. House of Representatives and is soon to be co-sponsored in the Senate by Florida Senator Rick Scott. The bill, named after Richard Stayskal, a green beret who is dying of lung cancer after he was misdiagnosed as having pneumonia by doctors at Fort Bragg, is said to change things by allowing veterans up to three years to sue after discovering a misdiagnosis or instance of medical malpractice.


E-cigarettes Not Upholding Safety Promises

E-cigarettes seemed to sweep in a few years ago with the promise of a safe, smokeless alternative to real cigarettes. You didn't inhale the smoke, so all those cancer causing toxins never made it to your lungs. Even better, switching flavors just meant switching which liquid you used instead of having to buy a whole new pack of smokes. Vaping was to become the new, safe way to maintain a now harmless nicotine addiction.

Except things haven't turned out so rosy.

First, there is the lesser issue of e-cigarette hardware itself. Hooking up a high-capacity battery to to a heating element that is used to warm potentially flammable liquids has, unsurprisingly, caused accidents. The battery inside an e-cig is more or less the same as the ones that power our smartphones. Modern batteries store a lot of energy in a small space, and if anything goes wrong that energy gets released as an uncontrolled jet of flames and burning plastics instead of a nice steady flow of electrons. Just ask Samsung, who had to recall every single one of their Galaxy Note 7 phones a few years back. Or talk to the makers of battery-powered self-balancing "hoverboards" whose quality control was so bad across the board that they were outright banned in the UK because their batteries were such a fire risk.

Two notable reports of e-cig fires include a young man who was caught on store video as his pocket burst into flames, and a lawyer who had to rush out of a courtroom when one of the spare batteries he had in his pocket began smoldering.

E-cigs aren't exploding left, right, and center, but poorly made or poorly maintained e-cigarettes certainly can become a fire risk.

The second, more notable issue of e-cigarettes is the notion that they separate the act of smoking from the harmful chemicals that come with normal cigarettes seems to be incorrect. Vaping has now been linked to several hundred cases of sicknesses and severe lung injuries spread across the nation. E-cigarettes may not have the outrageous amount of harmful chemicals that a traditional cigarette has, but the smoke inhaled from vaping can apparently still be very dangerous. Some doctors are even going so far to say that the damage done by smoking an e-cigarette reminds them of the effects of actual chemical weapons such as mustard gas!

The issues seems to be one of chemical choice and quality control at vaping companies such as Juul. This year, that company was all but forced to remove several of its vaping flavors from stores across the US. Juul is also now tangled up in a whistleblower lawsuit brought against it by one of its former vice presidents of global finance. Siddharth Breja, the vp in question, is claiming that the vaping company ignored the expiration dates of its own products and cut corners to keep up with demand after it was forced to stop selling some of its products.

Any way you look at it, the promise of a safe, non-toxic, high-tech future of smoking delivered by e-cigarettes seems to be going up in smoke.


Vaping-related Illnesses Spread With Cause Still Unknown

Vaping and E-cigrettes are becoming a serious problem according to the Food and Drug Administration. The government organization has opened a criminal investigation into a wave of more than 530 reported illness that came as a result of vaping. According to Politico, the director of the Centers for Disease Control is "very concerned" about the sharp increase in vaping-related illnesses.

The reports, so far, are making it hard to track down the exact cause since those becoming sick are spread across at least 38 states and not everyone is using the same set of products or vaping liquids in their e-cig.

So far, the FDA thinks that the fault may not lie with the design of the e-cigs or the intended chemical makeup of individual vaping liquids, but might be with a lack of consistency or care somewhere in the supply chain. "There may be a problem with source material or modification that may be occurring at different places," a CDC official said.

Unfortunately, right now the causes are not known and may not be known for weeks or months. The fast growing vaping industry may be subject to additional regulation in the future, but for now, the safest bet is to only buy vaping supplies from a reliable source or hold off vaping all together until a root cause to these illnesses can be found.