Tag Archive | "NHTSA"

Feds: Police Crackdowns Reduce Driver Texting, Cell Phone Use

High-profile police efforts to crack down on driver texting and talking on hand-held cell phones deter large numbers of violations, a government report released today said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said two government-funded publicized police crackdowns in Syracuse, N.Y., and Hartford, Conn. reduced texting and cell phone use by at least a third, reported The Detroit News.

“These findings show that strong laws, combined with highly visible police enforcement, can significantly reduce dangerous texting and cell phone use behind the wheel,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement.

“Based on these results, it is crystal clear that those who try to minimize this dangerous behavior are making a serious error in judgment, especially when half a million people are injured and thousands more are killed in distracted driving accidents.”

The results may bolster efforts by advocates of tougher efforts to crack down on distracted driving.

Nationwide, 34 states – including Michigan — and the District of Columbia have enacted texting bans.

Nine states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands have prohibited all hand-held cell phone use while driving.

A total of 30 states haves barred young drivers from using any cell phone behind the wheel. Michigan hasn’t imposed restrictions on driver cell phone use.

NHTSA said because of high-visibility enforcement — both hand-held cell phone use and texting behind the wheel declined by about one-third in Syracuse.

In Hartford, there was a 57 percent drop in hand-held use, and texting behind the wheel dropped by 72 percent.

Researchers initially identified drivers talking on their cell phones twice as much in Hartford as Syracuse.

LaHood, who has made cracking down on distracted driving a top priority, will be in Syracuse today to unveil the results.

NHTSA provided $200,000 for each pilot program — along with $100,000 from each state — for the stepped-up law enforcement effort coupled with high-profile public education campaigns.

The program funded four waves of efforts from April 2010 through April of this year. The study looked at driver behavior before and after each wave.

The study examined whether increased police enforcement along with paid advertising and news media coverage could reduce distracted driving.

The pilot efforts used “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other” as the media campaign theme and were structured similarly to the national seat belt campaign, “Click It or Ticket.”

Vernon F. Betkey, chairman of the Governors Highway Safety Association, cited the study’s “encouraging results.”

“The high-visibility model that has worked so well with seat belt use and drunk/drugged driving is translating well to distracted driving,” he said, praising the Transportation Department and the states for their effort. “GHSA supports a federal/state partnership to combat distracted driving.”

During four periods of stepped up enforcement over the past year, Syracuse Police issued 9,587 citations for driver violations involving talking or texting on cell phones while operating a vehicle.

During the same period, police in Hartford issued 9,658 tickets for illegal phone use.

Before and after each enforcement wave, NHTSA actively observed cell phone use and conducted public awareness surveys at driver licensing offices in the two cities.

“The success of these pilot programs clearly show that combining strong laws with strong enforcement can bring about a sea change in public attitudes and behavior,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

GHSA said states should take low-cost roadway distracted driving countermeasures such as edge line and centerline rumble strips to alert inattentive drivers.

“Experience with similar short-term high visibility enforcement campaigns directed at impaired driving and seat belt use suggests that the effects often diminish over time unless the campaign is repeated periodically,” GHSA said in a report last week.

In Hartford, the number of drivers seen talking on a cellphone fell from 6.8 percent to 2.9 percent.

The study said texting behind the wheel fell from 2.8 percent to 1.9 percent in Syracuse, while it fell from 3.9 percent to 1.1 percent in Hartford.

In 2009, nearly 5,500 fatalities and another half-million injuries resulted from crashes involving a distracted driver. Overall, distraction-related fatalities represented 16 percent of total traffic fatalities in 2009.

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NHTSA Investigating 440,000 Nissan Altimas Over Braking Issues

Federal auto safety regulators are investigating 440,000 Nissan Altimas for braking issues.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said today it had opened a preliminary investigation into 2007-08 Nissan Altima vehicles after receiving 20 complaints alleging brake master cylinder leakage, reported The Detroit News.

NHTSA had 16 of those complaints since October. Two complaints allege a reduction in brake effectiveness.

The rest said the only symptom of the problem was illumination of the brake warning lamp. Of the 18, 17 said a Nissan dealer diagnosed the problem as a leak in the brake master cylinder, including several that indicated brake fluid leaked into the brake booster assembly.

Nissan has also provided reports of master cylinder leakage in Early Warning Reporting system submissions.

In July 2008, Nissan recalled 169,000 2007-08 Nissan Sentra vehicles to address a defect in the brake master cylinder that could result in brake fluid slowly leaking from the master cylinder into the brake booster assembly.

In October 2009, Nissan expanded the scope of the Sentra recall by adding an additional 10,586 2008 vehicles.

Nissan said the recall of the Sentras was prompted by a gap in the internal seal groove in the body of some master cylinders.

The leakage resulted in reduced brake reservoir fill level, resulting in brake warning lamp illumination. Nissan said continued operation with the warning lamp illuminated for “a relatively long period of time” may result in loss of one braking circuit.

Nissan spokesman Colin Price said the company is working closely with NHTSA.

“Nissan is committed to customer safety and the quick, effective resolution of safety issues and will work closely with NHTSA to investigate this issue. While we are aware of several customer complaints made directly to NHTSA related to this issue, we are not aware of any accidents or injuries related to this investigation,” Price said.

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Feds Find No Improper Industry Influence On Safety Probes

A government report has found no improper influence by the auto industry in safety defect investigations conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The report covered former NHTSA employees who went to work for the auto industry as well as former auto industry employees who left for NHTSA.

“We found no evidence that the former employers influenced the [Office of Defects Investigations] employees in deciding whether to upgrade or close the cases,” Calvin Scovel, the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general, wrote in an April 4 letter to two Senators who requested the investigation. The letter was posted on the Department of Transportation’s Web site, reported Automotive News.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., asked for the study in the wake of NHTSA’s review of sudden acceleration claims in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles. The review revealed that two former NHTSA officials were now working for Toyota and dealing directly with the administration.

Christopher Tinto, vice president of regulatory affairs in Toyota’s Washington office, and his employee Christopher Santucci helped persuade NHTSA to end probes into some Toyota vehicles, according to government documents surrounding the unintended acceleration case. Santucci said he had worked with NHTSA to determine the scope of the investigation. Tinto left NHTSA in 1994 and Santucci in 2003.

The inspector general’s study contradicts those allegations.

“We are pleased this study has confirmed the professionalism and integrity of those in the public and private sectors who work cooperatively and openly to enhance safety,” Toyota said in a statement.

Toyota is only one of many automakers to employ former NHTSA officials.

Since 1984, 40 NHTSA employees left to work in the auto industry, Scovel wrote in the letter. Of those, 15 departures occurred in the past 10 years. He also reviewed 65 cases that went through the Office of Defects Investigations during that time.

Investigators based their determination on statistical analyses of cases and from interviews with administration employees.

In his letter, Scovel said most former NHTSA employees went to work for automakers or law firms that represent the auto industry. These include Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and Volkswagen, he said.

Scovel also found 23 cases of individuals leaving the auto industry for NHTSA since 1984. But this, too, did not influence defect investigations.

“Overall, we found no evidence suggesting undue influence or pressure on NHTSA’s employees conducting safety defect investigations, and NHTSA had adequate controls in place to ensure employees’ compliance with ethics requirements,” Scovel wrote in the letter. “Additionally, NHTSA officials complied with U.S. Office of Government Ethics rules for employee training, financial disclosure reviews, and ‘cooling-off’ periods for current employees who previously worked for automakers.”

NHTSA employees are required by law to wait two years before going to work in the auto industry.

Some lawmakers have complained about the “revolving door” between NHTSA and the auto industry. Last April, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., even introduced legislation that would require top NHTSA officials to wait three years before taking employment in the auto industry. The bill, which was supported by former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook, has since stalled in committee.

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Feds Investigate Toyota Air Bag Incident

DETROIT – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has agreed to review a petition claiming the frontal airbag of a 2008 Toyota Corolla failed to deploy during a crash.

The agency said in a statement on its website that it received a petition that “the frontal air bags in their MY 2008 Corolla failed to deploy during a 55-mph frontal impact with a large animal (a deer). During this crash, neither the driver nor front passenger was seriously injured in the incident.”

NHTSA is reviewing complaints of air bag nondeployment on 2008 Corollas and peer vehicles as well as other crash data, reported The Detroit News.

Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said the company is cooperating with NHTSA and has not received its request for information.

NHTSA has also been investigating air bags that failed to deploy in Ford F-150 vehicles.

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NHTSA Delays Final Rulemaking On Backup Cameras

The National Highway Safety Administration has postponed its final rulemaking on whether to require backup cameras on all vehicles by Sept. 2014.

The final ruling was expected to be released Feb. 28. NHTSA proposed the rule in December and gave the public two months to comment.

“The public comment period on this safety proposal only recently closed, and NHTSA will be asking Congress for additional time to analyze public comments, complete the rulemaking process and issue a final rule,” the agency said in an emailed statement, reported Automotive News.

It did not say how long the delay would last.

NHTSA estimates about 18,000 people a year are hurt in back-over accidents, with about 3,000 suffering “incapacitating” injuries. The agency said 44 percent of the incidents involve children under age 5.

If enacted, the ruling could generate as much as $2.7 billion in revenue to suppliers of backup-camera components, the administration said in its initial report.

One such supplier is Gentex Corp., which provides rear- camera display mirrors to 59 vehicles sold by Ford, General Motors, Toyota and other automakers.

R.W. Baird analyst David Leiker has said the Zeeland, Mich., supplier has “nearly 100 percent” of the market for rear-camera display mirrors. He said in-mirror monitor displays could spread to lower-priced vehicles that don’t have video displays already installed, because “the consumer prefers it in the mirror.”

In response to the delayed ruling, Brett Hoselton, a senior automotive analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets, issued a hold notice on Gentex stock. A hold indicates the stock is expected to remain steady for the next 6 to 12 months.

Following NHTSA’s original proposal, Gentex stock jumped 17 percent to $26.89 on the Nasdaq Stock Market and it has continued to rise. The shares closed Friday at $30.65, up 23 cents from where they opened.

“The reason for the delay is the large number of comments (approximately 200) that made it not feasible to work through in the original timeline,” Hoselton said in a statement.

He said he expects the rule to be tweaked to include testing for illumination at night and the time it takes the picture to appear on the display. Overall, though, he said there shouldn’t be any major changes that would cause the ruling to be enacted later than September.

NHTSA did not specify the position of the camera display. Most current systems connect to either a console display, such as those used for navigation systems, or a small screen embedded in the rearview mirror, such as Gentex’s products.

The agency says the cheapest option is to connect the camera to a vehicle’s existing video screen at a cost of $58 to $88. Equipping a vehicle that doesn’t already have a screen would cost $159 to $203, NHTSA said.

To meet the requirements of the proposed rule, NHTSA said, 10 percent of new vehicles must comply by Sept. 2012, 40 percent by Sept. 2013 and 100 percent by Sept. 2014.

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NHTSA Opens Probe into 2000-02 M Class Vehicles

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened an investigation into concerns that 2000-2002 Mercedes Benz M Class vehicles have a defective warning light that could result in drivers being unable to disengage the cruise control, reported The Detroit News.

NHTSA said in a notice posted Monday on its website that the investigation covers 137,400 vehicles. The agency said the failure of the brake lamp warning light could potentially lead to “the inability to disengage the cruise control using the brake pedal.”

NHTSA said it has received 15 vehicle owner questionnaire reports alleging the brake lamp switch failed. Some said the failure resulted “in an inability to shift the vehicle out of park gear position” while others said it “led to an inability to disengage the cruise control system once enabled and set.”

Daimler AG’s Mercedes Benz unit issued a technical service bulletin in May 2005 to address the issue.

NHTSA is opening an investigation to determine whether a recall is necessary and whether the bulletin fully addressed the issue.

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