Category Archives: Quality & Safety

Nearly 500K Dodge Ram Trucks Recalled Over Fire Risk

Fiat Chrysler has recalled nearly half a million large trucks after reports from customers revealed the vehicles could pose a fire risk. The carmaker announced Tuesday the recall of 443,712 model year 2013 to 2017 Dodge Ram 2500 and 3500 pickup trucks, and 3500, 4500, and 5550 chassis cab trucks in order to repair a water pump that could lead to engine fires. The recall also affects another 56,000 trucks in Canada and outside North America. According to FCA, the vehicles are equipped with a water pump bearing that, after exposure to certain conditions, may overheat and potentially cause an engine-compartment fire. If the water pump is affected it may activate a warning light in the vehicle’s instrument cluster. Customers are urged to consult a dealer if the warning lights illuminate. FCA notes that it became aware of the issue and opened an investigation into the problem after it received customer feedback. The company is unaware of any injuries or crashes related to the issue. However, a rep of the company tells the Detroit Free Press that “in accordance with the regulatory definition (of fire), which includes everything from a burning odor to open flame, we are aware of a small number of such incidents. Of these, a smaller number involved damage – none of which extended beyond the immediate area of the water pump.” FCA notes that it no longer equips vehicles with this specific water pump. Owners of affected vehicles will be notified when service is available, and dealers will inspect and replace the water pump if necessary. Customers who have questions or concerns may call the FCA US Recall Information Center at (800)-853-1403.

At Least 163 Children Drowned In Pools & Spas This Summer

Now that summer is over, many of us have fond memories of a few months splashing around in the pool with family and friends. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on the potential for danger, as a new federal report claims that at least 163 children drowned while swimming in pools or spas in just the last few months. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, along with the USA Swimming Foundation, announced today that at least 163 children under the age of 15 drowned in pools and spas from Memorial Day to Labor Day this year. Of those deaths, which were compiled through media reports, 112 involved children under the age of five. Florida recorded the highest number of drownings this summer with 25, while Texas and California had 14 each and Arizona had 10. While these incidents are tragic, the rate of drownings decreased over the past year, the agency notes. During the same time in 2016, there were 205 reported drowning deaths involving children under the age of 15. Of those incidents, 140 involved children under the age of five.

Safety Steps

“Each one of these deaths is a tragedy, which serves as a sobering reminder of how dangerous water can be for young children,” said acting CPSC Chair Ann Marie Buerkle. Although summer is quickly coming to an end, and time in pools is running out, the CPSC reminds consumers to take steps to protect children and others around water. For instance, the CPSC’s Pool Safely campaign encourages consumers to install four-sided fences around pools and spas; teach their children to swim; learn CPR; and ensure pool or spa drains are covered and comply with federal safety standards.

TSA Approves Faster Airport Baggage Scanners

No matter how well you prepare for airport security — wearing belt-less pants and slip-on shoes, knowing exactly how to stand when it’s your turn — you may still end up waiting because your carry-on hasn’t finished its trip through the baggage scanner. That may soon improve, now that the Transportation Security Administration has approved new, faster scanners for use at airport checkpoints.
Massachusetts-based Analogic Corp. revealed this week that its ConneCT scanner had received a stamp of approval from the TSA by meeting the agency’s Advanced Technology (AT) detection standards. Like the speedier machine currently being tested by American Airlines at Phoenix’s Sky Harbor Airport, the Analogic scanner users computed tomography (CT) to generate a fuller, three-dimensional image of bags and their content. As the L.A. Times points out, the TSA approval of ConneCT means that additional airports will be able to test this next generation of scanners, hopefully expediting their deployment in the long run.

The Technology

The newly approved ConneCT scanners, manufactured by Analogic Corp, uses the same imaging technology one would find in a hospital CT machine. But instead of looking at your insides, the scanners will generate a 3D image of carry-on baggage. The image is then analyzed by security officers, who can manipulate the image, spinning 360 degrees to show the contents from several angles. Additionally, the machines use an algorithm to automatically identify weapons, Analogic says in a statement. If an item in the bag appears suspicious, a security worker will check the bag. “With record-breaking air travel numbers and new threats to the public, it is ever more important to deploy cutting-edge technology that can evolve with the security landscape,” Jim Ryan, senior vice president and general manager of security detection and power technologies at Analogic, said in a statement.

Moving Faster

TSA has previously noted that CT screening technology could decrease time spend in security screening by about 30%. Travelers would be able to speed through the lines, as the technology would allow them to keep liquids and personal electronics in their bags. The L.A. Times reports that Analogic estimates the number of passengers going through security in one hour would increase from 180 to 500 if its scanners were in use. While its unclear just where the scanners will turn up, Analogic already has one customers: American Airlines. The carrier announced in June that it would purchase several ConneCT scanners for use in the future.

Proposed Law Could Let Businesses Off The Hook For Complying With Disabilities Act

A new piece of federal legislation would delay consumers’ ability to hold businesses legally accountable for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — a move that some critics say could allow companies to never comply with the ADA in the first place.  Under current law, when a business fails to comply with the ADA, those affected by the failure have the option of taking that company to court. But the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (HR620) would prohibit Americans from filing an ADA compliance lawsuit without first having gone through a lengthy process involving several new steps. The bill was introduced earlier this year by Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, and now that it’s been approved by the House Judiciary Committee it could come up for a full House vote in the near future.

What Is ADA?

The ADA is a civil rights law — enacted in 1990 — that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, school, transportation, and public or private venues open to the general public. Title III of ADA specifically addresses an individual’s access to public accommodations even when privately owned, such as retail stores, movie theaters, hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. While the title sets the minimum standard for accessibility when it comes to remodels and new construction of these venues, it also requires businesses to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense. Businesses are directed to make “reasonable modifications” to their usual ways of doing things when serving people with disabilities. If a business does not abide by these rules, an individual can enforce their right to access by addressing the issue with the business, filing a complaint with the Dept. of Justice, or take the company to court.

What Would Change?

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 would essentially shift the burden of compliance. Instead of businesses proactively complying with ADA, the bill would place the burden on the individual while providing the offending business with weeks, months, or even years to address the issue. Instead of simply being able to file a lawsuit against a business, individuals would have to take numerous steps before they are able to take legal action. Here’s how it would work: When an person encounters an obstacle or barrier preventing them access to a business, they are required to provide that business with written notice of the issue. The business then has 60 days — about two months — to provide its own written response to the customer. This response must provide a description of what the company is doing to improve access and remove the offending barrier. Once this letter is sent, the business receives another 120 days — about four months — to either remove the barrier or make “substantial progress” in removing the barrier. Only if the business fails to provide written notice, or make progress after 120 days, can the consumer file legal action against the company forcing it to comply with ADA.

That’s A Problem

HR 620 incentivizes business to drag their feet in complying with ADA’s accessibility obligations and acts as a deterrent to people looking to enforce their rights, consumer advocates argue.

“The so-called ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 is not what its proponents claim and will not achieve its stated goals,” the ACLU contends. “Instead, this bill undermines the very purpose of the landmark civil rights law and harms people with disabilities.” If the legislation is enacted, compliance under the ADA will suffer and people with disabilities will be denied the access to which they are entitled to under the law, the group notes. By requiring individuals to jump through numerous “procedural hoops” before filing a lawsuit, the ACLU believes that business will likely wait until they are confronted by a customer to take action to comply with ADA. But even then, the business only has to show that it has made “substantial progress” in removing the barrier. However, the legislation does not specify what constitutes as substantial progress. To that end, the ACLU argues that businesses could wait years without removing the barrier and face no penalty, as long as they can show substantial progress is made. “By allowing a business an endless amount of time to become compliant with the ADA’s reasonable requirements, H.R. 620 removes any incentive for a business to proactively ensure that people with disabilities have access,” the group states. “Instead, the bill encourages businesses to just wait until an individual’s civil rights are violated before making any changes.” Human Rights Watch argues that if the legislation is enacted many would likely give up on their plight to ensure access, rather than put themselves through so many hurdles and delays in complying with the ADA. “The United States has the obligation to ensure businesses do not discriminate against people with disabilities,” Carlos Ríos Espinosa, Senior Researcher and Advocate of Disability Rights Division for HRW, wrote in a blog post on the issue.

Facebook Launching Crisis Center To Put Safety Check, Fundraising In One Place

Facebook knows that when a natural disaster or other major crisis hits, many people turn to social media to connect with loved ones, ask for or offer help in their communities, and raise money for charitable causes. The company is now putting all of those tools in one place.

All together now

Following an earlier update that expanded Safety Check to allow users to offer and get help in a crisis, Facebook is now moving Community Help and Safety Check to its new Crisis Response feature. In that area, users will also be able to create fundraisers and donate to support those affected by the crisis, as well as nonprofit organizations helping with relief efforts. And in an effort to provide more information about crises, Facebook will show folks links, articles, photos, and videos of crisis-related content from public posts.

Making money on Facebook

Perhaps to prepare for the likelihood that some bad actors may try to take advantage of this new feature to make money off such crises, Facebook also introduced monetiziation eligibility standards this week. “These standards provide clearer guidance around the types of publishers and creators that are eligible to earn money on Facebook, along with guidelines on the kind of content that can be monetized,” the company says. With these new standards, content must meet certain guidelines. If users don’t comply with the standards, Facebook will notify them that it has removed the ads. Users can challenge the eligibility of their content through the appeals channel. For example, tragedy and conflict content — focusing on real world tragedies, like natural disasters, crime, or medical conditions — may be ineligible, Facebook says, “even if the intention is to promote awareness or education.” Other kinds of content that may get vetoed for monetization include misappropriation of children’s characters, debated social issues, violent content, adult content, prohibited activity (sale or use of illegal products, for example), explicit content, drug or alcohol use, and inappropriate language.

Shortage Of Insurance Adjusters May Delay Claims For Hurricane Irma Victims

If your home sustained damage from Hurricane Irma, you might have to wait just to get the insurance company to look at your property to see what repairs will and won’t be covered. Why? Because there aren’t enough claims adjusters to go around right now. Claims adjusters are the folks used by your insurer to assess damage claims. Larger insurance companies have their own staff adjusters, but smaller insurers often turn to independent adjusters. And in times of widespread calamity, insurers of all sizes will turn to third-party adjusters. Since independent adjusters get paid on a per-job basis — and on the size of the claim — they are often traveling to areas that have been newly ravaged by disasters, working 12-plus-hour days and seeing as many homes as possible. So when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas and Louisiana, a number of adjusters from Florida went west to deal with the massive amount of post-storm claims. Problem is, notes the Wall Street Journal, that many of those Florida-based adjusters are still out of state working on the Harvey aftermath, meaning there is a shortage of adjusters immediately available to assess Irma-related claims. The Journal also points out that the lack of readily available independent adjusters is particularly a problem in Florida because the state’s home insurance market is heavily populated with smaller and mid-size insurers. While homeowners might feel like their insurer is deliberately delaying sending out a claims adjuster, the reality is that the sooner an insurance company looks at a damaged property, the better it is for the insurer. If you think a home with a roof ripped open by a falling tree looks bad on day one, imagine how it looks after two weeks. Not only will that claim be more costly to the insurer, but the delay increases the likelihood that the homeowner could get litigious. “An insurance claim isn’t a bottle of wine,” an insurance company defense attorney to the Journal. According to the Journal, Florida insurers are in a game of tug of war, offering increased compensation to attract adjusters and get these claims sealed up now. At the same time, insurers in Texas are tugging back in an effort to hold on to the adjusters working on Harvey claims. “Right now, anyone with a license to adjust claims can get a job and some company will try them out,” one adjuster for an independent company tells the Journal. “They’re paying more for adjusters to work Irma than they’ve ever paid insurance adjusters ever.”

175K Dressers Sold At Target Recalled For Tip-Over Hazard

Just a week after more than 1.6 million topple-prone dressers sold at Walmart were recalled, Target has issued a safety campaign of its own, recalling 175,000 potentially dangerous dressers. Target announced Wednesday the recall of its Room Essentials four-drawer dressers after receiving reports that two children were injured when a piece of the furniture tipped over. According to a notice posted with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the unstable dressers pose a serious tip-over and entrapment hazard if they are not anchored to the wall. In all, Target is aware of 12 reports of dressers tipping over or collapsing, including one incident in which a piece of furniture tipped over on two three-year-old children. Thankfully, so far, no injuries have been reported. The affected Room Essentials dressers contain four drawers and come in three colors: black, espresso, and maple Measuring about 42 inches tall by 31.5 inches wide, the dressers were sold exclusively at Target and Target.com from Jan. 2013 to April 2016 for about $118. Recalled dressers can be identified by the following model numbers printed on the furniture packaging:
• 249-05-0103 (black)
• 249-05-0106 (espresso)
• 49-05-0109 (maple) Consumerist has reached out to Target for details on how to determine if a dressers is recalled if the packaging has been thrown away. We’ll update this post with more information. Consumers who have the furniture in their homes are urged to stop using dressers that are not properly anchored to the wall and place it into an area that children cannot access. The dressers should be returned to Target for a full refund. Owners should return the recalled dresser to any Target store for a full refund. Customers with questions can contact Target at 800-440-0680 or online at www.target.com.

Is That Sardine-Style Coach Class Seating So Tight It’s Unsafe?

Everyone who flies, but who doesn’t have deep enough pockets to travel exclusively in first class, knows it: Airplanes are increasingly crowded and unpleasant. But is that frustrating lack of legroom actually endangering your life when you fly? The Daily Beast reports today that based on more than 900 pages of Department of Transportation and FAA documents it reviewed, that coach may simply be so crowded that it’s no longer safe in the event of an emergency.

Smaller and Smaller

It’s no secret that coach has steadily been getting more crowded for years. Seat pitch in particular — the distance between your seat and the seat in front of you — has been putting the squeeze on consumers for decades. In 1985, that depth measured between 31 and 36 inches on the major airlines; by 2014, it was down to the 30-33 inch range. Budget carrier Sprint crams their seats in even more shallowly, with a seat pitch of 28 inches, while American recently abandoned a plan to drop their economy seat pitch to 29 inches. Seats are also significantly narrower. Thirty years ago, they measured an average of 19 to 20 inches across; these days, they’re as low as 16.5 inches and average 17-18 inches wide. In Aug. 2015, an organization called Flyers Rights called on the Federal Aviation Administration to start making rules about seat pitch. Flyers Rights claimed that it wasn’t just a matter of convenience and comfort, but literally one of health and safety: Decreased space could make evacuations more difficult, they argued, as well as increase the risk of blood clots forming in the legs of passengers trapped in tiny seats for long-duration flights. After a lengthy legal back-and-forth, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the FAA needs to at least give serious consideration to the Flyers’ Rights petition, even if ultimately declines to make a rule about minimum allowable seat pitch.

The dangers of squeezing in

The Daily Beast reports that one of the reasons the FAA may have tried to dismiss Flyers Rights’ claims out of hand is because none of the safety testing actually lines up with the current configuration of planes and passengers. “All of the tests designed to achieve the fastest possible evacuations were devised decades before” density began to skyrocket and seat size began to shrink, the Daily Beast writes. As a result, it’s impossible to know if everyone really can evacuate a fully-packed jet under current seating conditions based on the tests that are currently done — especially as many tests are kept proprietary and internal by the airlines and manufacturers that conduct them. Of particular concern are the individual seat-back TV screens that airlines increasingly use. Sure, they’re convenient for catching an in-flight film or ordering a snack, but the combination of “TV” and “head” is not a healthy one. Department of Transportation documents the Daily Beast examined revealed that testing seat-back screens for blunt trauma impact destroyed so many screens that the FAA started allowing manufacturers to test with cheaper replicas, instead. Why? Because dummies’ heads were whamming into them with alarming frequency. For your safety, in a crash or otherwise problematic landing, you’re supposed to put yourself in the brace position to protect your head. But DOT diagrams show that simple geometry means that with low seat pitch, you literally don’t have enough space to do so.

Does it matter?

The FAA has until Dec. 28 to respond to the Flyers Rights’ petition with “a properly reasoned disposition of the petition’s safety concerns about the adverse impact of decreased seat dimensions and increased passenger size on aircraft emergency egress.” In English, that means the agency has to explain why it’s fine for them not to make rules about seat size or pitch, and ignore how densely packed airplanes are getting to be.

Tourists Claim Marriott Rescue Ship Denied Them Boarding After Hurricane Irma

Earlier this week, several cruise lines sent ships to rescue people stranded on Caribbean islands after Hurricane Irma ravaged the area. Hotel mega-chain Marriott attempted to undertake a similar rescue mission to St. Thomas, but that effort has come under fire, after some stranded tourists claim they were denied boarding simply because they weren’t guests of the hotel.  ABC News reports that about 30 people were denied boarding on a U.S. Coast Guard boat chartered by Marriott for the purpose of picking up guests stranded on St. Thomas. The guests were unable to leave the island before Irma’s arrival because the island’s airport had closed. With the island suffering significant damage during the storm, the hotel decided to take matters into its own hands and pick up the guests themselves.

No Boarding

Except, not everyone was welcome. About three dozen tourists were left behind again, when security denied them boarding because their name was not on Marriott’s guest manifest. One stranded tourist shared a video on Facebook, showing the boat — which they claim had hundreds of empty seats — pull away from St. Thomas.
“We just felt hopeless,” one stranded tourist tells The Washington Post. “We didn’t need a whole lot. But it was really hard to see people with kids and elderly people who don’t have anywhere to stay get turned away by this boat… For some people, that was the only [glimmer] of hope. After the boat left, they just felt hopeless and helpless.” To make matters worse, those left waiting on St. Thomas’ dock were facing another brewing storm: Hurricane Jose was thought at the time to be approaching the island, exasperating the already desperate situation. Hurricane Jose eventually changed course, sparing the island.

No Authorization

Marriott defended its actions, claiming that tit did not have authorization to take passengers who weren’t staying at the hotel. The company said that while it wanted to help the other tourists stranded on the island, that wasn’t an option. “We very much wanted to assist these other travelers to Puerto Rico, however, the Marriott team on-the-ground was told they had no authorization to board additional passengers who were not on the manifest. This was enforced by dock security,” the company told ABC in a statement. The boat also couldn’t wait at the dock to receive authorization, the company says, noting that with Hurricane Jose making its way toward the island, Marriott was told to leave the port by nightfall. “We knew that it was in our best interests and in the best interests of our guests to get that ship out of there that night,” Tim Sheldon, president of the Caribbean and Latin America region for Bethesda, Md.-based Marriott International, told the Post.

Feds Release Guidelines For Self-Driving Cars, But Does It Really Matter Yet?

While we might dream of a day where we can sit behind the wheel of a vehicle reading a book or watching a movie, all while the car drives itself, that day remains many moons away. But here’s the thing about technology — it changes, and it changes quickly. To that end, federal safety regulators are working to ensure that carmakers create safe systems to prepare for the day that self-driving vehicles are actually on the road. There’s a catch, though: It’s all voluntary. 

Aren’t There Self-Driving Cars Now?

I’m sure you’re thinking, “But what about Tesla’s Autopilot, doesn’t that count as a self-driving car that’s already on the road?” Tesla’s Autopilot feature is not entirely self-driving. Instead, it is considered a semi-autonomous assisted-steering feature that isn’t totally hands-off. Currently, Autopilot will let vehicles “steer within a lane, change lanes with the simple tap of a turn signal, and manage speed by using active, traffic-aware cruise control.” It also has other features, like auto-braking, collision avoidance, and automated parallel parking. Last year, Tesla rolled out a new feature that gives the car the ability to be fully autonomous, but that technology isn’t live right now. The system will feature eight surround cameras that provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car; 12 ultrasonic sensors that will allow for the detection of objects at nearly twice the distance of the current Autopilot system; and a forward-facing radar that can process driving conditions such as fog, rain, and dust. Despite launching the pumped-up feature, Tesla said at the time that the system won’t actually be turned on anytime soon. “Before activating the features enabled by the new hardware, we will further calibrate the system using millions of miles of real-world driving,” the company said.

Looking To The Future

As we can see with Tesla’s technology and the plethora of self-driving vehicles being tested — with drivers behind the wheel — by automakers and technology companies around the country, it’s clear that one day, maybe in the not-too-distant future, fully autonomous vehicles will be a reality. To that end, federal safety regulators and lawmakers are already working to craft guidelines and regulations related to these future vehicles. On Wednesday, the Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released “Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0” [PDF], a guidance that simply gives recommendations for carmakers, tech companies, and state regulators on how to deal with self-driving vehicles.

It’s All Voluntary

The guidance, which is a revision of a similar policy released by the previous administration in Sept. 2016, is completely voluntary, and the companies won’t face any kind of action if they don’t comply with the suggestions. The voluntary guidance contains 12 priority safety elements that carmakers are urged to consider and use in the design of their systems. The 12 elements include determining where the vehicle can operate safely, how vehicles can recover from errors or obstacles, how vehicle safety is validated, and how to ensure cybersecurity. But again, if they don’t use these elements, that’s fine too, according to the DOT and NHTSA. Additionally, the guidance encourages, but doesn’t require, companies to disclose Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments demonstrating their varied approaches to achieving safety in the testing and deployment of ADSs. While the 2.0 guidance incorporates much of the same points as the previous policy — which was also voluntary — it does eliminate elements related to privacy. Related: How Much Control Do You Actually Have Over Your Private Data? The agencies note that “privacy is not directly relevant to motor vehicle safety,” adding that the Federal Trade Commission is charged with protecting consumer privacy.

Actual Rules Needed

While NHTSA and the DOT note that self-driving vehicles aren’t arriving in showrooms tomorrow, they are coming. With that in mind, consumer advocates urge the agencies to take real, tangible steps to oversee automated vehicles. Our colleagues at Consumers Union called the latest guidelines a weakening in oversight, adding that the guidance is a step backward for consumer safety. “Self-driving cars have enormous potential to improve mobility and safety on our roads,” David Friedman, director of cars and product policy and analysis for Consumers Union, said in a statement. “But innovation must be accompanied by sensible, strong federal oversight. The Department of Transportation should be asking more of automakers, not less.” NHTSA should work to protect consumers and ensure that automated systems work as they should, Friedman notes. As it stands, the new guidelines minimize the information carmakers provide, which could prevent the agency from determining when a system puts consumer safety at risk. “It wouldn’t serve consumers if NHTSA were to be an agency that only takes action once people are being injured or killed,” William Wallace, policy analyst for CU, said in a statement.

Other Measures

NHTSA and the DOT aren’t the only ones working — even in a hands-off manner — to address self-driving technology and safety. Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Self-Drive Act, intended to bolster and increase the creation of self-driving features and vehicles based on the notion that such vehicles would one day make the roads safer. However, the legislation promotes the creation of these safety systems by allowing NHTSA to provide companies with exemptions to safety standards. Currently, NHTSA provides about 2,500 exemptions to companies each year; under the legislation, that number would increase to 100,000 exemptions in three years. Lawmakers believe that such exemption will bolster carmakers’ ability to test and develop new self-driving technology. Our colleagues at CU, on the other hand, note [PDF] that while the Act would benefit consumer safety there are concerns that it would also open regulatory gaps and fail to adequately protect consumers from vehicle safety hazards. CU recommends that no exemptions should be made that would undermine impact protection for occupants, and exemptions would be limited to equipment required exclusively for the driving task that can be replaced by automation.