Dodge Ram and Durango May Get Shifter Recall

Fiat Chrysler is undergoing a new series of investigations into their dial-actuated shifters used in many of their automatic transmission-equipped vehicles. This time, Dodge models, including the model years 2014 to 2016 Durango, and the 2013 to 2017 Ram Truck are under investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) because the vehicles roll away after they have been shifted into park. The dial-actuated shifters use an electronic rotary controller to actuate the mechanical shifting mechanisms inside the transmission and the actuators do not effectively shift into park in some cases, allowing the vehicle to roll away from the intended position if the vehicle is left on a slight grade without any additional resistance to movement. NHTSA is gathering information to formulate an official recall for the Durango and Ram Truck vehicles. At this point, NHTSA is investigating how frequently and how severe the reported roll-away cases are to determine a plan of action for the recall. Up to this point, there have been 43 reported cases of Durangos or Rams moving away from the driver after the shifter was put in park, and of these 43 cases, 25 have resulted in crashes or property damage, and approximately nine incidents have resulted in personal injuries, but no fatalities have been reported due to this issue. The dial-actuated shifter mechanism is different than the mechanism used by Chrysler in their Charger, Chrysler 300, and Grand Cherokee models that has already been recalled on over 1.1 million vehicles, however the actuation process is very similar to the previously-recalled unit. NHTSA expects that the recall of the Durango and Ram models will affect over 1 million vehicles. Taken from Motor1

Takata Airbag Recall on Fast Track to Completion

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is eager to have all affected Takata-brand airbags replaced in passenger vehicles. “The Department of Transportation is maintaining its aggressive oversight of the efforts to recall Takata airbags as quickly as possible…” Foxx stated in a recent press conference. The NHTSA is actively overseeing the recall of the Takata airbags because the recall is so widespread and the affects of failing airbag units is so devastating. In fact, the recall is considered the largest safety recall ever for the automotive industry. The airbag recall potentially affects up to 69 million airbag inflators that are in place on approximately 42 million vehicles worldwide. (to find out if your vehicle has an affected airbag, please click on the following link: Foxx stated that the NHTSA will be prioritizing the recall by recalling the highest risk vehicles first, then working down the list to the lowest risk vehicles on the massive list towards the end of the recall. This procedure is in an attempt to minimize the chances of personal injury or death due to the faulty airbags in the event that the airbag malfunctions. Historically speaking, there have been 11 reported deaths in the USA that are attributed to the Takata airbags malfunctioning. 184 people have been injured by the airbags. This information taken from: motor1

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

Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Battery Failure Theories

Last week, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued an advisory warning that every Samsung Galaxy Note 7 phone should be shut down and not used at all based on the number of battery failures that have occurred. The batteries in the Note 7 phones have been catching fire, causing property damage and physical injuries to the phone users. Over 100 cases of Note 7’s catching fire have been reported, prompting Samsung to recall every Note 7 phone until the battery overheating problem has been resolved. Samsung is offering phone owners a full refund for their phone and has been working with carriers to get phones returned as quickly as possible. The cause of the Note 7 phone’s battery fires is unknown at this point, however battery fires are not uncommon in any area of electronics. Fires in batteries can be the result of manufacturing errors, however more often than not, fires can occur when the internal circuitry of the battery shorts together, releasing the stored energy in the battery very quickly which results in a dramatic increase in battery temperature and fire. Batteries are constructed of a series of thin layers separated by an insulating layer. If the insulating layer is damaged, the thin layers can come into contact with each other, short circuiting the battery and causing a fire. Another common cause for battery failure is a chemical reaction that produces small, sharp “dendrites” on the surface of the conducting layers of the battery. The ionized dendrites can actually pierce through the insulating layer of the battery much like little sharp blades and short circuit the cells. Yet another theory points the finger back at Samsung, for an improper charge detection circuit on the phone itself. Researchers into the battery failure have posed the suggestion that the Note 7’s phone circuitry does not properly detect when the battery is fully charged and overcharges the battery cells. If the battery is consistently overcharged, the battery structure can break down and again, short circuit the battery. The CPSC is officially looking into the cause of the failures. An estimated date as to when the investigation will yield an answer is unknown, however previous investigations into battery fires has taken over six months to complete. Samsung is investigating manufacturing of the Note 7 batteries also. -from CNet

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.