“Regional” auto safety recalls place military families at risk

The refusal by Takata and some manufacturers to expand the safety recall of defective, exploding air bags to cover the entire nation is jeopardizing the safety of many of America’s military families.

If you are a member of the Armed Forces, under Federal law, you are allowed to register your car in your official state of residence. Regardless where you are stationed, or the state where you and your family members are actually driving your car.

Auto manufacturers use data from RL Polk to identify owners of recalled vehicles and send them notices. But that data is based on where their vehicles are registered.

So if you are serving  in the military, and register your car in New York, but are stationed in a high-humidity state like Florida, you may not receive the safety recall notice for your car.  Even though  Honda, Toyota, and other manufacturers, as well as the air bag supplier Takata, now acknowledge the air bags should be recalled in high-humidity states like Florida.

That’s because, as far as RL Polk and the manufacturer are concerned, cars that are registered in New York are being driven in New York. They fail to account for the fact that if you’re serving in the military, you may have registered your car in New York, but be stationed for years in a high-humidity state like Florida.

Florida is home to at least 29 Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard bases, with over 50,000 active duty personnel.  No doubt many of them have chosen to register their cars in their official state of residence, where the taxes may be lower, or it is simply more convenient.

What are Takata and auto manufacturers who installed the potentially deadly air bags in their cars doing to protect military families?  It appears that the answer is nothing.

We hope that Members of Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will pressure the manufacturers to ensure that members of the Armed Forces and their families are alerted to the hazards, and their cars are repaired, regardless where they are stationed, or where their cars are registered.

Better yet, all auto manufacturers and Takata should make the safety recall national, so all owners and their families can have the safety recall repairs performed, without having to pay out of pocket for the mistakes made by Takata and the manufacturers — and without being injured or killed by flying shrapnel from the defective air bags.

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One more reason NOT to buy a car from a car dealer

Even the auto dealers themselves have to admit:  many car buyers dread buying cars from auto dealers. Young people are especially wary.  And for good reason.

Car dealers keep selling unsafe, recalled used cars to consumers, putting them, their friends and family, and other motorists at risk of death or serious, debilitating injuries.

And as if that weren’t bad enough, they also insist that you surrender your Constitutional rights as part of the price of buying a car from them.

Good luck trying to buy a car from a dealer without a “gotcha” clause hidden in the contract that says you give up your Constitutional right to take them to court, and benefit from  our nation’s hard-won consumer protection laws. Like laws against rolling back odometers, selling “junk” cars that are advertised as being “in mint condition,” or engaging in other forms of cheating, lying, fraud, and thievery.

And get this:  the dealers got a special exemption from Congress — just for car dealers –  that allows them to keep THEIR Constitutional rights. So they can take anyone they want to court, and use the laws that benefit THEM. But they killed a bill that would have protected YOU from losing your rights when you sign on the dotted line to buy a car from them.

If you’re fed up with car dealers and their scams, check this out:

Cleveland Plain Dealer: Arbitration: What you don’t know about fine print can hurt you

And let your local car dealers know you’re not buying from them until they clean up their act, and you don’t have to surrender your rights to buy a car from them.

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ABC 30 investigation finds dangerous recalled cars for sale on dealer lots

“A record number of vehicles are getting recalled this year. Car makers have pulled about one of every five vehicles on the road, 58 million of them. But many of the potentially dangerous cars are hiding in plain sight on used car lots here in the [Central] Valley.

The truth is: they’re all over the place, and you may never know it until it’s too late.”

ABC 30 investigation finds dangerous recalled cars for sale on dealer lots

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CarMax — caught on Camera AGAIN selling unsafe, recalled cars

An undercover investigation by WSB-TV in Atlanta, GA found CarMax is still selling unsafe, recalled cars — while claiming they take care of safety recalls.

Instead of cleaning up their act, and ensuring the cars they sell are safe, CarMax says they plan to keep leaving it up to car buyers to get the safety recall repairs done — AFTER they buy the car. For millions of recalled cars, it could take months before repair parts are available, and meanwhile CarMax customers will be stuck driving ticking time bombs.

Watch video: WSB-TV report: CarMax under Fire over Recall Policy

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In the future, you might be able to stop car thieves with a text message [w/video]

Texting Standoff Negotiations

As the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Faced with a family member’s carjacking, entrepreneur Kelvin Macharia Kuria wanted to do something to stem the massive problem with vehicle thefts in Nairobi, Kenya. Still in his early 20s, he founded a company called Sunrise Tracking in 2012 to do just that, and Macharia has come up with a novel way to potentially get people’s cars back, according to CNN.

Sunrise’s main business is signing clients and installing GPS devices to track their vehicles. The users also have access to their own cars’ location data. Other companies already offer this service, of course – what makes Sunrise so interesting is that it then goes even further in an effort to get its customer’s property back.

First, the company uses closed-circuit television systems that can snap photos of thieves. However, if a vehicle is stolen, then the owner has an easy solution. Sending a special text message immobilizes the car until it can be retrieved. To be drivable again, it just takes dispatching a second message.

As CNN points out, even this immobilization-by-text technology isn’t entirely unheard of. But it’s still an intriguing example of someone like Macharia seeing a local problem and finding a way to craft a business around solving it. Scroll down for a video from CNN that delves deeper in the story behind Sunrise Tracking.

[embedded content]

News Source: CNN

Image Credit: Mark Bugnaski / AP Photo

Category: Aftermarket, Technology, Videos, Safety

Tags: auto tracking, car theft, car tracking, carjacking, kenya, nairobi, sunrise tracking, text message, text messages, video

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Written by: Chris Bruce

Motorists losing right to see automated license-plate reader data [w/videos]

Law enforcement agencies know a lot about the whereabouts and daily habits of millions of American motorists through the use of automated license-plate readers.

Motorists, on the other hand, don’t know much about the records police officers have collected through the use of these machines. These records are getting harder to obtain.

“What it says is that we’re all suspects in waiting,” – Steve Orr

Even though the vast majority of these records involve ordinary drivers not accused of any crimes, law-enforcement officials are increasingly withholding license-plate reader data from public purview. Three court cases filed within the past month could go a long way in determining whether the public has a right to see this data.

Advocacy groups, reporters and private citizens behind these lawsuits all believe the records will shed light on how police officers collect and utilize records that can paint detailed portraits of a motorist’s private life. But at a time when more Americans are growing concerned over widespread surveillance techniques and mass collection of personal data, authorities are justifying their decisions to keep this information secret by claiming the records are all part of ongoing investigations.

In Monroe County, New York, authorities denied an open-records request from a reporter at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle who had sought license-plate reader records from his own vehicle, those of six of his colleagues and two county vehicles. In denying the newspaper’s Freedom of Information request, county officials argued release of the records could hamper ongoing law-enforcement investigations. Steve Orr, the reporter who filed the request, said neither he nor his colleagues are under investigation.

“What investigation is that? Most people in the database are not, and haven’t been associated with an investigation,” he said. “There’s no criminal concern here. … They’re saying, ‘OK, maybe there’s not an investigation now, but there could be one down the road.’ … What it says is that we’re all suspects in waiting.”

“An investigation isn’t just because somebody says, ‘Hey, we’ve got this database and maybe someday your car will get stolen,” – Chris Thomas

That’s the crux of a legal position that won approval from a judge in California Superior Court in August. Arguing against the release of records, the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles Sheriffs Department said all cars are under suspicion, and as such, license-plate reader records are exempt from laws that would otherwise mandate their disclosure.

Los Angeles deploys hundreds of automated license plate readers that, collectively, produce approximately 3 million records every week. The Electronic Freedom Foundation, one of two organizations seeking records in the lawsuit, says it’s inconceivable the city’s police force could be conducting so many investigations each week, and believes the Fourth Amendment should protect against overly broad searches and surveillance.

“You have a situation where 99.8 percent of these records have nothing to do with any kind of criminal investigation and the purpose of data collection is to solve crimes,” says Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney with the EFF.

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Los Angeles: All cars under suspicion

Here’s how the automated license-plate readers work: Cameras are triggered by reflective material in license plates, and character-recognition software discerns plate numbers and attempts to match them against “hot lists” of stolen cars, vehicles sought for Amber Alerts and known fugitives. When a match is found, it sends an alert.

On some level, they do work. During the first phase of a study (PDF) conducted by the Police Executive Research Forum in the car-theft hotbed of Mesa, Arizona, the readers scanned 457,368 plates and had 24 hits, a hit rate of .00005 percent. But the same study also concluded license-plate readers hold “a limited amount of promise for law enforcement” because of costs involved, technical difficulties and problems presented by false positives.

Lynch is concerned with both the application of the technology and with the length of time law enforcement holds onto the collected data. In an ideal scenario, she said police agencies could use the data for 48 hours before it is deleted. “You don’t need to hold onto the data for any real length of time to search for stolen vehicles,” she said.

“If I’m not being investigated for a crime, there shouldn’t be a secret police file on me,” – Michael Robertson

But most law enforcement agencies retain the data anywhere from two to five years, if they have restrictions at all. In that time, they can pool the data with other agencies, which in turn may have different regulations on the length of time they can store data.

Over time, dozens of records for a given license plate can detail the habits of the driver. Law enforcement can know where they work, who they associate with, which doctors they see, what political protests they attend, where they attend religious services and where they stop for their morning cup of coffee.

Without public scrutiny of how such data is handled, it is too easy for the government to overreach, the American Civil Liberties Union says. “The knowledge that one is subject to constant monitoring can chill the exercise of our cherished rights to free speech and association,” it wrote in a 2013 report (PDF).

The ACLU and EFF are the two plaintiffs in the Los Angeles case. Last week, they filed a petition to appeal the August ruling that allowed officers to claim their records are all part of investigations. No court date has yet been set.

In their initial request made under California open-records law, the two organizations asked for one week’s worth of data from the license-plate readers, saying a large amount of data is necessary to inform the public about how the systems are used.

For example, without substantial data, they cannot learn if police officers are scanning more plates in one neighborhood versus another, nor gain more insight on how many records might exist for an average vehicle. Lynch says seeing millions of data points on a map better illustrates the vast scope of the readers and their intrusiveness.

“If I say 3 million scans a week, it’s hard to wrap your head around that,” she said. “There’s nothing comparable to seeing what that data looks like.”

But because police claim the data is investigative in nature, Judge James C. Chalfant wrote the potential harm to those investigations outweighs the public’s value in seeing that sort of analysis from the collected data.

[embedded content]

Can you see your own records?

The request for records is different in Rochester. Unlike in Los Angeles, Orr, the reporter, didn’t ask for a wide swatch of the county’s license-plate reader records, which numbered 3,765,555 as of July. He asked for specific existing records for his own vehicle, those of six colleagues and two county vehicles.

County officials issued a two-part rejection to that request, first saying they were off limits because disclosure would infringe upon the privacy of the motorists whose license plates were scanned, even though Orr and his colleagues had signed waivers authorizing the release of their own information.

That claim echoes a September case in San Diego, California, in which a judge rejected a records request from Michael Robertson, a tech entrepreneur, who had asked only for records for his own vehicle.

“If I’m not being investigated for a crime, there shouldn’t be a secret police file on me,” Robertson told The Associated Press. “That’s crazy, Nazi police-type stuff.”

Authorities are justifying their decisions to keep this information secret by claiming the records are all part of ongoing investigations.

There’s a degree of irony in the privacy claims. Courts have long ruled that, generally speaking, motorists have diminished rights to privacy in their cars. One of the many ramifications from that precedent has been the proliferation of license-plate readers. From a legal perspective, these cameras can operate specifically because a car’s license plate is considered in public view.

“The justification that law enforcement often cites when people question whether they have a right to take an image of peoples’ license plates is basically that of course they do, the plates are in plain sight and there’s nothing private about them,” Orr said. “That’s their rationale for legally doing it. At the same time, when someone asks to see the records, they turn around and say it’s private. To me, that’s illogical.”

A Monroe County spokesperson declined to comment on the case.

Privacy isn’t the only reason police in Rochester denied the records request. As in Los Angeles, they said the information was part of an investigation, and therefore exempt from disclosure. The newspaper’s attorneys filed a court motion last week, asking a judge to compel the release of the data. At the heart of their argument is the definition of what constitutes an investigation.

“An investigation isn’t just because somebody says, ‘Hey, we’ve got this database and maybe someday your car will get stolen,'” attorney Chris Thomas said. “It needs to be about an identified crime that has been committed or is being investigated. It can’t be some blunderbuss claim that this vehicle, this license plate, this person could someday be the perpetrator or victim of a crime, and for that reason every record in this database is part of a gargantuan, nebulous, undefined, undistinguishable investigation.”

News Source: Democrat and Chronicle, Electronic Freedom Foundation, PoliceForum.org, American Civil Liberties Union, Officer.com, Wood TV8 via YouTube

Category: Government/Legal, Safety, Police/Emergency

Tags: aclu, big brother, big data, civil liberties, electronic freedom foundation, law enforcement, license plate, license plate readers, los angeles, police, privacy, surveillance

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Written by: Pete Bigelow

Why China is more eager for self-driving cars than the West


Nielsen statistics show Chinese consumers are more interested in autonomous technology than the US and Germany.

China’s auto market continues to grow, and it’s having an increasingly important effect on the bottom line for all automakers worldwide. Just look at examples like General Motors’ strong recent growth or Porsche’s expanding sales. In addition to being vital for business, some industry watchers think the nation’s huge consumer force might just make it the premier place for automatic driving technology to prosper more quickly than in any other market.

According to Ward’s Auto, recent Nielsen statistics show that Chinese consumers are more interested in autonomous driving technology than their counterparts in both the US and Germany. The people there are more willing to pay to add it to their vehicles, too.

Rolf Kremer, Continental’s Chinese operations boss, thinks that highly automated driving features may be offered in the market as soon as 2016, according to Ward’s Auto. After that, partially autonomous driving tech could possibly be ready by 2020, and fully autonomous motoring might be feasible by 2025.

The country’s national and local governments are also pursuing autonomous driving with zeal, and it’s not hard to understand why. Traffic congestion is a major problem in many cities. China also loses about 100,000 people a year to auto accidents, compared to 34,080 in the US in 2012 or around 12,000 in the EU that year. While autonomous driving won’t eliminate either problem completely, studies indicate they might make things safer, at least in some situations.

Furthermore, welcoming this technology might be easier for the Asian nation’s consumers because affordable auto ownership is a relatively new phenomenon – at least compared to North America and Europe. Whats more, there’s a strong chauffeur-driven culture, particularly in bigger cities. These factors, along with a number of others, could well might lessen whatever stigma among drivers there might be about handing over control to a machine.

News Source: Ward’s Auto – sub. req.

Image Credit: Larry Downing / AP Photo

Category: Safety, Technology

Tags: autonomous, autonomous car, china, self-driving car

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Written by: Chris Bruce

TX guardrail manufacturer found guilty of defrauding federal government

highway passing through the...

The ongoing safety fight over a specific type of guardrail end terminals (not necessarily pictured above) has reached its first of perhaps many verdicts. Trinity Industries, makers of the ET-Plus, has been found guilty of defrauding the federal government under the False Claims Act. Specifically, the company was accused of making a design change to its product and not advising the Federal Highway Administration about the revision for seven years. According to The New York Times, the jury awarded $175 million in the case. However, that amount will be tripled to $525 million under federal law.

According to the lawsuit, the company’s alteration to the design sometime in 2005 allegedly allowed vehicles to spear into the end of the rail, rather than deforming around them. Also, Trinity didn’t tell the FHA about the change until 2012. According to The New York Times, a competitor was the one that found the revision and brought the case forward as a whistle-blower. The jury award will be split between this person and the government.

As previously covered by Autoblog, Trinity’s ET-Plus end terminal design was shown in one study to potentially be nearly three times more likely to be invoked in a fatal crash than an earlier product from the company. Nevada, Missouri, and Massachusetts have all banned the purchasing more of them, and Virginia has begun an investigation.

Trinity plans to appeal the ruling, but it could be just the beginning of action against the company. The judge in the case still must determine the number of false claims under the act, and each one could cost between $5,000 and $12,000. There are also a number of other lawsuits alleging deaths or injuring, including lost limbs, because of the design.

In a followup report, the Times revealed that the Federal Highway Administration has mandated additional testing of Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrail head and that federal officials be present for those tests. Failure to comply would revoke that component’s eligibility for federal funds, a move which many will be wondering the government agency has not already taken.

News Source: The New York Times (1), (2)

Image Credit: Bradley Gordon / Flickr C.C License 2.0

Category: Government/Legal, Safety

Tags: et-plus, false claims act, federal highway administration, fha, guardrail, highway safety, lawsuit, trinity, trinity industries

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Written by: Chris Bruce

Suzuki recalling 23k GSX-R750 and GSX-R1000 bikes to replace chain adjuster

2012 Suzuki GSXR-1000

Suzuki is known for having a pair of very capable sportbikes in its GSX-R750 and GSXR-1000, but now the Japanese company is recalling 23,073 of them in the US to replace the chain adjuster. Specifically, the campaign affects 2011-2014 model year versions of the 750 and the 2009-2014 1000.

According to documents from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the problem can occur if riders miss a gear while upshifting. It’s possible that the following shift might put enough added strain on the drivetrain to move the rear axle. This can damage the left-side chain adjuster. If there’s too much harm done to the part, then the chain could potentially slip off the bike, leaving the powerless bike more vulnerable to a crash.

To fix the problem, Suzuki dealers will “replace the left-side adjuster with an improved part” that will be heat-treated to be stronger. Scroll down to read the full recall report.

Related Gallery2012 Suzuki GSX-R1000
2012 Suzuki GSX-R10002012 Suzuki GSX-R10002012 Suzuki GSX-R10002012 Suzuki GSX-R10002012 Suzuki GSX-R10002012 Suzuki GSX-R10002012 Suzuki GSX-R10002012 Suzuki GSX-R1000
Show full PR text
RECALL Subject : Missed Shifts may Result in Chain Detachment

Report Receipt Date: OCT 07, 2014
NHTSA Campaign Number: 14V629000
Potential Number of Units Affected: 23,073
All Products Associated with this Recall
Vehicle Make Model Model Year(s)
SUZUKI GSX-R1000 2009-2014
SUZUKI GSX-R750 2011-2014

Manufacturer: Suzuki Motor of America, Inc.

Suzuki Motor of America, Inc. (Suzuki) is recalling certain model year 2011-2014 GSX-R750 and 2009-2014 GSX-R1000 motorcycles. If a gear is missed while upshifting, the strain applied to the drive chain after the next shift may cause the rear axle to move, damaging the left-side drive chain adjuster.

If the drive chain adjuster gets damaged, the drive chain may come off, removing power to the rear wheel, and increasing the risk of a crash.

Suzuki will notify owners, and dealers will replace the left-side chain adjuster with an improved part. The recall is expected to begin on October 17, 2014. Owners may contact Suzuki customer service at 1-714-572-1490. Suzuki’s numbers for this recall are 2A40, 2A41, 2A42 and 2A43.

Owners may also contact the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236 (TTY 1-800-424-9153), or go to www.safercar.gov.

Related Gallery2011 Suzuki GSX-R750
2011 Suzuki GSX-R7502011 Suzuki GSX-R7502011 Suzuki GSX-R7502011 Suzuki GSX-R7502011 Suzuki GSX-R7502011 Suzuki GSX-R7502011 Suzuki GSX-R750

News Source: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Image Credit: Suzuki

Category: Performance, Recalls, Safety, Suzuki, Motorcycle

Tags: national highway traffic safety administration, nhtsa, recall, suzuki, suzuki gsx-r, suzuki gsx-r1000, suzuki gsx-r750

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Written by: Chris Bruce