Traffic Deaths Increased in 2016

Driving on the roads and highways in the United States can be dangerous. Statistics showing the number of fatalities caused during driving have been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA released the stats which showed that traffic deaths increased in 2016 over the number of deaths recorded during the same amount of time in 2015. The trend for traffic-related fatalities has been increasing every year since 2014. This has some researchers at NHTSA concerned and looking for an answer as to why the numbers are increasing. Experts have mentioned that the increase in deaths is due to an increase in the number of miles that Americans are driving. The amount of driving has steadily increased as the economy has improved and Americans are also taking advantage of the low cost of fuel. However, the increase in deaths has far outpaced the increase in miles driven. In fact, the increase in traffic-related deaths has risen approximately 8 percent since the beginning of 2015, where the increase in miles traveled has only increased about 3 percent. The increase in fatalities seems to be located around certain areas of the country. For example, in the heart of New England, traffic related deaths have increased significantly; around 20 percent more than in 2015. In the western center of the United States, an area that includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada, the increase in fatalities has only risen about one percent. Even more concerning is the fact that traffic-related deaths have increased even while almost all automakers have developed significant safety systems in new vehicles in an attempt to make the vehicles safer. Systems such as stability control, traction control, lane departure warnings, backup cameras and other similar systems are now common in new vehicles. Despite the increase in vehicle safety systems, traffic deaths are on the rise. -taken from Detroit News

New Technology Will Increase Fuel Economy of Big Rigs

A new technology developed for large semi trucks and other commercial vehicles shows great promise in increasing fuel economy. Semi tractor trailer vehicles, otherwise known as “Big Rigs” are the focus of a new cutting edge product that is being developed to help these large trucks reduce fuel consumption. The product uses plasma-emitting strips along the trailing edges of the big rig’s trailer to help eliminate aerodynamic drag present at the rear of the vehicle. Preliminary studies show that the plasma strips can reduce fuel consumption at highway speeds up to 10%, a significant savings considering there are over 133 million large trucks on the road that could benefit from this technology, and commercial vehicles consume over 60 billion gallons of fuel per year currently. The plasma strips consist of two electric plates separated by an insulating material that are energized at a high voltage to produce an electric plasma, or fourth state of matter. The plasma works to reduce air turbulence by negatively charging particles in the air, thus reducing the amount of turbulence caused at sharp corners, such as the sharp corners on the edges of a big rig’s leading edges, or the back of a trailer. The company that is developing this technology, Plasma Stream Technologies, has dubbed the system eTail. Plasma Stream Technologies claims that the system is completely safe and has shown great promise in laboratory tests. Real-world testing of the eTail is scheduled to begin in the coming months. Plasma Stream Technologies anticipates that a sellable product will be available to the commercial market by 2018. A retrofit device is expected to cost around $2000 and provide an average savings of over $8000 for big rigs that travel the roadways consistently. The eTail will be mountable on the rear edge of trailers without any additional modification. A huge benefit of the eTail over conventional aerodynamic aids such as boat-tails is that the eTail does not impede access to the rear doors of the trailers. The eTail will take up only a few inches of space around the rear of the trailer. Read More: Society of Automotive Engineering Article

Tesla Motors is Developing Driverless Cars

Tesla Motors’ autonomous vehicle system technology is progressing at a rapid rate towards being offered as an option on their vehicles. The autonomous system is being perfected to work in everyday driving situations to allow the vehicle’s driver to completely disengage from controlling the vehicle and allow the car to do all of the driving functions. Tesla has been developing their autonomous system for some time, and the system has undergone much iteration to get to the point at which it is capable of controlling a vehicle. Unfortunately, the current system, while very robust and dependable, is still prone to errors caused by circumstances that are unexpected under normal driving situations. Exact situations have not been shared, however speculations as to very quick moving obstacles in the path of travel, or even very small obstacles in the path of travel are thought to cause the autonomous system to fail. Driverless cars in general, including Tesla Motors, are under extreme scrutiny because of the significant dangers involved if a driverless car control system fails. Serious injury, property damage, or even death are all possible outcomes if a driverless car fails to operate properly. Tesla’s driverless autonomous vehicle system consists of a multitude of cameras and sensors that are supposedly capable of detecting objects around the vehicle as well as signage along the path of travel. Signs, such as stop signs or other warning indicators such as stop lights are identified by the driverless car and the car’s operation is changed appropriately to these signals. While the software behind controlling the vehicle’s sensors and cameras is currently still in development, the vehicles themselves are now being produced with the necessary hardware that will allow the cars to drive themselves in the near future. The software will be released as part of an update to the vehicle’s computer system and can be updated without significant maintenance to the vehicle.   Taken from Motor1

20 Years of Automobile Safety Engineering Makes a Difference

Despite the claim that older vehicles would survive a crash better than newer vehicles, safety systems designed into newer cars make the probability of sustaining injury in a collision much lower. The fact is, new cars have safety systems that are incorporated into the vehicle that are very cutting edge and capable of reducing injury significantly. The Insurance Institute of Highway Safety recently posted a video on their website showing a collision between a late model Nissan Versa and a 20-year old version of the Versa to compare the collision and occupant compartment intrusion between the two vehicles. Interestingly enough, the Versa from 20 plus years ago is still being sold in some countries, such as Mexico, as a new vehicle but with old and severely outdated safety and technology. The 20-year-old Versa, sold under the model name “Tsuru” in Mexico, does not have airbags, anti-lock brakes, or a reinforced chassis designed to absorb crush energy during a collision. The IIHS video distinctly shows the difference in crush damage and internal collisions between the driver test dummy and the internal components of the occupant compartment and exposes the shortcomings that the Tsuru has in protecting the driver test dummy from colliding with the inside of the vehicle and steering wheel. The new Versa is able to divert the energy from the impact away from the occupants of the vehicle, rendering the collision much less severe than for the Tsuru. While a 40 mph head-on impact will be severe for any type of vehicle, modern safety systems sold in late model vehicles help in reducing injury and can even reduce the likelihood of occupant fatalities from serious impacts. View the collision video and more information here

Airbag Bicycle Helmets May Be More Effective at Preventing Brain Injury

Researchers from Stanford University are experimenting with a new technology that is aimed at reducing injury severity caused by bicycle helmets. Current bicycle helmet design consists of a hardened foam or plastic shell that covers the upper half of a rider’s skull and reduces the impact forces present during a head to ground impact. New helmet technology includes the use of inflatable air bladders that cover the head in a similar fashion to most traditional helmets. The inflatable air bladders, similar to automotive airbags, cushion the head during an impact with a pillow of air. Current testing by Stanford researchers has shown that airbag helmets can reduce head impact forces by as much as five to six times over forces present in impacts with traditional helmets. Most foam bicycle helmets have been shown to significantly reduce significant impacts, reducing the likelihood of cranial fractures, concussions, or other head injuries. Airbag helmets are a promising step in the direction of reducing such injuries even more. Much of the current research done at Stanford consists of properly understanding the mechanics behind brain injuries due to impacts with the ground or other hard surfaces. Research into the damage to brain tissue has shown that concussions occur when brain cells stretch or twist torsionally. During an impact, the brain may collide with the side of the rider’s skull, causing a collision within the head between the skull wall and the brain itself. Energy is absorbed by the brain in severe impacts by the brain matter itself. Obviously damage to the brain can occur if the impact is severe enough. Helmets capable of reducing impact severity, such as the airbag helmet, are already hitting the market in some European countries. One main potential drawback to the airbag helmet design as a mainstream product is due to the fact that an airbag helmet’s effectiveness at reducing injury is only as good as the amount of cushioning provided by the airbag. If the airbag is not properly inflated with high-pressure air prior to impact, the helmet becomes significantly less effective at absorbing impact forces. Proper inflation of the airbags is therefore extremely important. Current versions of airbag helmets are not consistently providing sufficient air pressure to the airbag, rendering the helmets less effective at preventing injury. The future of airbag helmets will rely on more thorough testing of the helmets that are more representative of actual impacts. Current testing procedures do not effectively model the occupant’s head, neck, and associated mechanics thoroughly enough to gain proper testing data. Further testing and development of the airbag inflation devices is also necessary to create a product that ensures proper inflation and a more robust inflation rate. from Science Daily

Pace of technology: Automatic braking for cars

Federal regulators and the auto industry are taking a more lenient approach than safety advocates would like when it comes to phasing in automatic braking systems for passenger cars, according to records of their private negotiations.  The technology automatically applies brakes to prevent or mitigate collisions, rather than waiting for the driver to react. While such systems are already available in dozens of car models, typically as a pricey option on higher-end vehicles, they should be standard in all new cars, according to safety advocates.  But instead of mandating it, the government is trying to work out a voluntary agreement with automakers in hopes of getting it in cars more quickly. The Associated Press has obtained the Meeting minutes from three of the meetings that NHTSA has held with automakers since October which show that the government is considering granting significant concessions.  Records of the third negotiating session, on Nov. 12, show that automatic braking systems would be allowed that slow vehicles by as little as 5 mph before a collision. Furthermore, manufacturers may be allowed to exempt 5 percent of their vehicles from the standard with an additional exemption for models that manufacturers intend to phase out or redesign.  The minutes don’t specify a model year by which the technology would have to be included in cars, but the group did decide that discussion of any deadline would begin with “the latest date submitted by any automaker” for when they would be ready to make the change. Meeting participants included NHTSA, 16 automakers, two auto industry trade groups and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (the insurance industry’s safety research arm). Representatives from Transport Canada, the Canadian government’s auto safety regulator, also attended. NHTSA estimates show that there are about 1.7 million rear-end crashes a year in the U.S., killing more than 200 people, injuring 400,000 others and costing about $47 billion annually. More than half of those crashes could be avoided or mitigated by automatic braking or systems that warn drivers of an impending collision.  NHTSA announced last year that it will include automatic braking and other collision-avoidance technologies in its five-star safety rating program to encourage automakers to more widely adopt the technology. In an unusually pointed criticism, the National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations, said in a report last year that “slow and insufficient action” by NHTSA to develop performance standards for automatic braking and collision warning systems and to require the technologies in cars and trucks “has contributed to the ongoing and unacceptable frequency of rear-end crashes.”

AAA testifies in favor of retaining Tennessee’s Motorcycle Helmet Law

Knoxville, TN – On Tuesday, the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee is expected to vote on House Bill 700 by Representative Jay Reedy (R-74th Dist. TN).  The proposed bill would allow riders 21 years and older not insured with TennCare, to ride without a helmet. Tennessee’s current law requires all motorcyclists to wear a helmet, regardless of age or experience of the rider. The AAA (American Automobile Association) has come out in strong opposition to the bill. Last week during the Committee meeting Don Lindsey (the Tennessee Public Affairs Director for AAA east), testified to the drastic drop in helmet use seen in other states after repealing helmet laws. The auto club also brought in another individual with a personal testimony in support of helmet laws. In the event of a crash, motorcyclists without a helmet are three times more likely than helmeted riders to suffer traumatic brain injuries. Helmets have been shown to be highly effective in preventing brain injuries, which often require extensive treatment and may result in lifelong disabilities. Helmets also decrease the overall cost of medical care. Historically, states that relax their helmet laws have seen a sizeable increase in injuries and deaths. According to a peer-reviewed study published in the American Journal of Public Health, Pennsylvania had a 66 percent increase in deaths caused by head injuries and a 78 percent spike in head injury hospitalizations following motorcycle crashes.  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), fatalities in Kentucky increased by 58 percent after they repealed their helmet laws.  Finally, in Florida, the number of hospital admissions of motorcyclists with head, brain and skull injuries increased by 82% after its helmet law was relaxed.

NHTSA Releases Its Latest Crash Statistics

NHTSA released its latest crash data statistics in two separate publications. The first is titled “Early Estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Nine Months (Jan-Sep) of 2015” . This document provides a “statistical projection of traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2015.” The report estimates that 26,000 people lost their lives in motor vehicle traffic accidents in that time period. This is an estimated increase of 9.3% when compared to the same time period in 2014. During the first nine months of 2014, there were an estimated 23,796 deaths. The second document is titled simply “Quick Facts 2014 (DOT HS 812 234).” The purpose of this document is to provide a quick reference sheet covering the most commonly asked questions relating to motor vehicle traffic accidents and fatalities.