Honda Odyssey gets top safety ratings in insurance, government crash tests

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Honda’s redesigned 2018 Odyssey minivan picked up a Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and a five-star Overall Vehicle Score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Odyssey joins the Chrysler Pacifica as the only minivans to receive the IIHS’s coveted award.

Honda won the Top Safety Pick+ designation via the addition of its Sensing braking system and improved LED headlights to the 2018 model, its fifth generation. The Odyssey won “good” ratings across the five crashworthiness tests, including small overlap front, moderate overlap front and side impact. It also won a superior rating for front crash prevention and an acceptable rating for the LED reflector headlights that feature on Elite and Touring trim lines, which automatically switch between high and low beams, depending on the presence of other vehicles.

Honda has been integrating its Sensing advanced safety and driver-assist technologies, part of its quest to develop highly autonomous vehicles, into many of its new models. In IIHS track tests at 12 mph and 25 mph, the system helped the vehicle avoid collisions. The 2017 Odyssey earned a basic rating for front crash prevention because it came only with an optional forward collision warning.

The Odyssey also notched a 5-star Overall Vehicle Score in NHTSA’s New Car Assessment Program by getting 5 stars in the frontal crash test for driver and passenger, 5 stars for side crash tests for both front and rear seats and pole, and 4 stars in the rollover test.

The IIHS also awarded a Top Safety Pick to the 2017 Kia Sedona, which missed out on the top award because of its “poor” headlights rating. The Sedona got a 5-star crash rating from NHTSA.

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Hyundai developed an airbag for panoramic sunroofs

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We’ve reached a point where you can be in a car crash from just about any angle, and find yourself with a face full of airbag. But there’s yet one more airbag frontier that Hyundai and its parts supplier company Hyundai Mobis are pioneering: the sunroof airbag. More specifically, the companies have developed an airbag to protect occupants in cars equipped with panoramic sunroofs.

Hyundai explains in a press release that there was concern passengers’ heads and limbs could end up going through the big glass opening in a rollover, leading to serious injury. The resulting airbag design aims to prevent that by deploying when a rollover is detected to contain occupants’ bodies. It inflates from the back of the sunroof toward the front in 0.08 seconds and will go off regardless of whether the sunroof is open or closed.

Hyundai, which together with Kia and Genesis had six of the 15 recent IIHS Top Safety Pick+ vehicles, claims the airbag reduced life-threatening injuries to minor ones during testing. It also noted that the company has 11 patents on the technology. No mention of when these airbags would appear in production vehicles was made. We would imagine that whenever Hyundai starts offering the feature, it will show up first on high-end vehicles such as Genesis luxury cars.

[Source: Autoblog]

Dog in lap is distracted driving: But ban it? That dog won’t hunt

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Those happy dogs sitting in a driver’s lap or hanging their heads out the car window may look like the model of canine companionship. But they’re also potential projectiles, poised to rocket through the air in a crash.

“A 10-pound dog can turn into 300 pounds of force at 30 miles an hour,” said Richard Romer, AAA’s state relations manager. “Going on a trip with Fido can really turn fatal if it’s not restrained.”

But while traffic safety experts say a dog moving freely in a car can be dangerous for the driver, passengers, other motorists and the pet, it’s perfectly legal in most states.

Hawaii is the only state that specifically prohibits drivers from holding an animal in their lap or allowing one in their immediate area if it interferes with their ability to control the car, according to AAA. In at least three states — Nevada, New Jersey and Washington — animal cruelty laws that make it illegal to improperly transport an animal could apply to driving with an unrestrained pet, but Romer said they are likely to be enforced only in egregious situations.

Washington and at least seven other states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive distracted driving laws that generally prohibit careless driving or tasks not associated with operating the vehicle, and interacting with a pet might be considered a distraction, Romer said. D.C.’s law is the only one that specifically mentions pet interactions in its definition of distracted driving.

But passing laws specifically to forbid furry friends from sitting in drivers’ laps is another matter. In the past five years, nearly a dozen states have considered such bills, but none has become law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In California, the Legislature passed a measure in 2008. It was vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, who said the bill wasn’t a priority.

This year, at least five states — Indiana, Maine, North Carolina, Oregon and Pennsylvania — considered such bills. Four either died or were withdrawn by sponsors; the Pennsylvania measure is pending. In November, a Michigan state legislator filed a similar bill for the 2018 session.

State legislators who have sponsored bills to ban animals in laps or require them to be restrained in cars often have been met with howls from pet owners.

“The public outcry was unreal,” said North Carolina state Rep. Garland Pierce, a Democrat who filed a bill in February that would have imposed a $100 fine for driving with an animal in your lap. Facing a deluge of complaints from angry dog owners, he withdrew the bill just a week later.

“I got ridiculed. I got beat up bad,” said Pierce, who previously sponsored a successful bill to ban texting while driving. “I saw this as a highway safety issue. I had no idea that I was opening a can of worms.”

Pennsylvania Democratic state Rep. Angel Cruz, who is sponsoring a bill to ban pets in drivers’ laps, said he has tried to get the measure passed in previous sessions but it hasn’t gotten anywhere — and still isn’t.

“You can’t drive with a child on your lap. You have to put it in a car seat. And you can’t be distracted with a cellphone,” he said. “So how can you drive with a pet in your lap?”

Few drivers restrain their pets

While some pet owners use harnesses, crates or carriers to transport pets in their cars, many prefer driving with their animals untethered.

A 2011 survey of dog owners by AAA and Kurgo, a pet travel product manufacturer, found that most agreed that having an unrestrained dog in the car could be dangerous, but only 16 percent said they used some form of restraint.

The survey also revealed how distracting it can be for drivers to have an unrestrained canine in the car. Fifty-two percent admitted petting their dog while driving, 19 percent said they have used their hands or arms to keep it from climbing into the front seat, and 17 percent have held it or allowed it to sit in their lap.

The results can be serious — even tragic.

Last year, a 76-year-old North Dakota woman drove her car into a pond when her Shih Tzu jumped into her lap and blocked her view. In November, a 19-year-old Maine driver with a cat in her lap got distracted, swerved into the oncoming lane and ran into a school bus, injuring herself, some students and the bus driver — and killing her cat. And in 2012, police say, a 47-year-old Washington state driver who was killed after crashing into an SUV may have been distracted by the Chihuahua sitting in her lap.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends restraining animals in a vehicle with a secure harness or carrier. It says a pet sitting in a driver’s lap could be injured or killed by an airbag and an untethered pet could be thrown out of a window or through the windshield.

Lindsey Wolko, founder of the Center for Pet Safety, a nonprofit consumer watchdog group that tests the safety of pet products, said pets should be in back seats and restrained, but those restraints need to be crash-tested and certified to be safe. Her center has tested harnesses, crates and carriers and found that many are not safe, she said.

But educating pet owners about the risks of driving with an unrestrained animal is much more effective than trying to enact laws, she said. “Pet owners often don’t want that type of regulation. It’s a very emotional thing. They think it’s overkill, that it’s not necessary.”

Seems like a problem, but there’s no data to prove it

Some state legislators see distracted-by-dog measures as overreach or question whether they really are necessary.

Connecticut Republican state Rep. Fred Camillo, a dog lover who frequently drives around with his unrestrained German shepherd in his SUV, said he was skeptical about a 2015 bill that would have barred drivers from having pets in their laps and made it a distracted driving offense.

“I’m all for tougher distracted driving laws, but they didn’t come up with any statistics showing this was a problem,” Camillo said. “Are we going to pass laws without any hard evidence? If the stats are out there, I’m willing to be open-minded. But I haven’t seen anything.”

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration doesn’t keep data on how many crashes or fatalities are linked to unsecured pets, and traffic safety experts say it’s unlikely states do either. Nor is there much information available about how often police ticket drivers for being distracted by their pets.

Even in Hawaii, which has had its law for decades and imposes a $97 fine for driving with a “person, animal, or object” in your lap, officials don’t track how many of those citations by police specifically involved animals. Last year, Honolulu police issued 38 such citations; this year they issued 13, according to the Hawaii Department of Transportation.

Brooks Baehr, spokesman for the Honolulu Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, said that in the past four years, two people have been prosecuted for driving with a pooch in their lap or close by. One was a man with a little dog in the passenger seat of his Mercedes. The other was a woman in a Cadillac Escalade whom police spotted with a small, long-haired dog in her lap. One of her hands was on the wheel. In the other she had a cellphone, and she was looking down at it.

By Jenni Bergal for Stateline, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

[Source: Autoblog]

Traffic fatalities at their highest since 2007

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The U.S. Department of Transportation has released its statistics on traffic fatalities for 2016, and they’re not good. Overall fatalities increased by 5.6 percent from 35,485 in 2015 to 37,461 in 2016. This means 2016 was the deadliest year on the road since 2007, when fatalities totaled 41,259. Some of the increase may be due in part to the greater number of miles driven, which jumped 2.2 percent from 2015 to 2016. But even with the increase in travel, 2016 came out worse with an increased number of deaths per million miles traveled, from 1.15 in 2015 to 1.18 in 2016.

The increase in fatalities was generally across the board. All types of light-duty passenger vehicles, including motorcycles saw increases in deaths from as little as a 1.5-percent increase for pickup trucks to as high as 8.4 percent for vans. More pedestrians and cyclists died, too, with increases of 9 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively. Drunk driving-related deaths also rose by 1.7 percent, while fatal accidents involving senior drivers over the age of 65 increased by 8.2 percent.

There is some good news, though. Seat belt usage is at its highest ever, with 90.1 percent of vehicle occupants using them. And although drunk driving fatalities were up, distracted and drowsy driving deaths were down. The distracted driving number dropped by 2.2 percent while the drowsy driving number dipped 3.5 percent. Also, the increase in traffic deaths between 2015 and 2016 was notably less than the increase between 2014 and 2015, which was a jump of 8.6 percent For additional details from the DOT’s study, check out its official page where more documents breaking down all the statistics can be found.

Senate bill would secure the ‘internet of things,’ from cars to fridges

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A bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Tuesday is introducing legislation to address vulnerabilities in computing devices embedded in everyday objects — known in the tech industry as the “internet of things” — which experts have long warned poses a threat to global cybersecurity and which has made several recent hacking events all too easy.

Reports of thieves using laptops to steal cars have persisted for years, and white-hat research into hacking cars goes back at least to a 2010 study at the University of Washington. The biggest real-world example surfaced last year when a pair of hackers in Houston were accused of using FCA software on a laptop to steal vehicles, mostly Jeeps, that were spirited away across the Mexican border. Possibly 100 vehicles were stolen this way.

Nissan had to suspend its Leaf smartphone app for a time, as did GM with its OnStar app, which got some notoriety when the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) used the app to hack a Chevy Impala for 60 MInutes.

In 2015, cybersecurity researchers Chris Valasek and Charlie Miller accessed critical vehicle controls on a 2014 Jeep Cherokee via the infotainment system. This allowed the pair, without physical access to the vehicle, to remotely disable the brakes, turn the radio volume up, engage the windshield wipers, and tamper with the transmission, measure its speed and track its location. The hack prompted Fiat Chrysler to recall 1.4 million vehicles.

Security researchers say the ballooning array of online devices including vehicles, household appliances, and medical equipment are not adequately protected from hackers. A 2016 cyberattack was facilitated when hackers conscripted the “internet of things” into a “zombie army” of devices that flooded servers with web traffic in what’s known as a “distributed denial of service.”

The new bill would require vendors who provide internet-connected equipment to the U.S. government to ensure their products are patchable and conform to industry security standards. It would also prohibit vendors from supplying devices that have unchangeable passwords or possess known security vulnerabilities.

Republicans Cory Gardner and Steve Daines and Democrats Mark Warner and Ron Wyden are sponsoring the legislation, which was drafted with input from technology experts at the Atlantic Council and Harvard University. A Senate aide who helped write the bill said that companion legislation in the House was expected soon.

“We’re trying to take the lightest touch possible,” Warner said. He added that the legislation was intended to remedy an “obvious market failure” that has left device manufacturers with little incentive to build with security in mind.

The legislation would allow federal agencies to ask the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for permission to buy some non-compliant devices if other controls, such as network segmentation, are in place.

It would also expand legal protections for cyber researchers working in “good faith” to hack equipment to find vulnerabilities so manufacturers can patch previously unknown flaws.

Between 20 billion and 30 billion devices are expected to be connected to the internet by 2020, researchers estimate, with a large percentage of them insecure.

Though security for the internet of things has been a known problem for years, some manufacturers say they are not well equipped to produce cyber secure devices.

Hundreds of thousands of insecure webcams, digital records and other everyday devices were hijacked last October to support a major attack on internet infrastructure that temporarily knocked some web services offline, including Twitter, PayPal and Spotify.

The new legislation includes “reasonable security recommendations” that would be important to improve protection of federal government networks, said Ray O’Farrell, chief technology officer at cloud computing firm VMware.

Reporting by Dustin Volz. Background information from Autoblog was included.

Speed kills – and now we know it kills as much as drunk driving

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The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its findings on a study regarding the effects of speeding on car crashes, and what can be done to mitigate those effects. It found that from 2005 to 2014, speeding was a factor in 112,580 traffic fatalities. Drunk driving, the organization found, was a factor in just 368 more fatalities at a total of 112,948. The speeding-related fatalities also represents 31 percent of all traffic deaths over that period.

The NTSB also concluded that speeding greatly increases the chance of severe injuries or death, which makes sense, because higher speeds means greater forces that can harm people when the car comes to a stop, or hits a pedestrian. In addition, the agency said speeding increases the chance of a crash, but it admits that accident causes are a complex topic, and reporting is inconsistent.

It is then understandable that the NTSB would like to reduce fatalities due to speeding, and it has a number of ideas of what might and might not help. The first thing it highlights is that raising speed limits to match the 85th percentile of what speeds people actually drive, a typical practice by traffic engineers, wouldn’t be very helpful. It notes there is little to support its effectiveness, and in general it would increase speeds and therefore crashes, which would obviously be counterproductive.

But areas where the NTSB sees potential for improvement are in greater enforcement and additional safety equipment. It encourages more speed enforcement, and making sure it’s done visibly (i.e. people see people pulled over). It also recommends automated enforcement via speed cameras, and it cites the success of speed cameras in other countries. Using such cameras may require changing laws in some states to allow this type of enforcement. For safety equipment, the NTSB wants to see more car dashboards display speed limits based on navigation systems, and it suggests that including the feature into consumer safety ratings would help the feature proliferate as those ratings influence car purchases. What are your thoughts?

[Source: Autoblog]

6 ways to make roads safer: Roundabouts top AAA’s list

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With traffic fatalities on the rise, AAA has produced a list of highway infrastructure changes that could save 63,700 lives and avoid 353,560 injuries over 20 years. In the organization’s list, six key areas account for 95 percent of the safety gains AAA predicts. Chief among them is the implementation of roundabouts.

According to AAA, converting traditional intersections to roundabouts covers 30 percent of the fatality and injury reductions. They do this by drastically reducing the number of ways and locations cars can collide with other cars or pedestrians. What points of collision remain for cars are also less severe, since T-bone or head-on collisions are unlikely.

The other areas of improvement AAA lists are fairly commonsense. Adding roadside barriers and removing roadside objects comprise another 20 percent of safety gains, as do adding sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks with signals. The remaining safety improvements would come from additional median barriers on highways, shoulder and centerline rumble strips, and wider highway shoulders.

AAA estimates the cost of these infrastructure changes at $146 billion. That includes an upfront cost of $134 billion, and the rest of the money would be used for maintaining the upgrades over the following years. If you’re interested in digging deep into the AAA report, you can view it here.