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Car Safety: Comparing the Old With the New

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It has been an epic battle for advocates of car safety features over a greater part of the past one hundred years. But the car industry has finally reacted to the growing consumer demand and regulatory pressure with various safety inventions and innovations.

In an attempt to produce cars with better safety features, America has begun a long, complex journey that has recorded quite a number of detours and accidents along the way.

As a result of the inferior safety features of early cars, the first auto casualty of the United States occurred on September 14, 1899. On that day, 68-year-old real estate agent Henry Bliss lost his life due to injuries he suffered after being hit by an electrically-powered taxi in Central Park in New York City.

Automobile deaths became a frequent occurrence at a rate 25 times faster than today within a decade of the first occurrence. This led to the invention by John O’Leary, who developed the O’Leary Fender, a classic solution of that inventive era.

The fender, according to a New York newspaper, “made it practically impossible to suffer serious injury when hit by a car.”

Going by the fact that O’Leary was the major inventor of safety devices in the early years of the automobile industry, it wouldn’t be wrong to say safety features were very few. Consumer’s indifference and tough-minded attitudes have made it difficult even for very sound safety approaches in the automobile industry over the years.

Some figures of the auto industry in spite of the increased pressure for better safety after World War II still objected to the need of making automobiles safer. To them, it was drivers who needed to improve. Progress made in comfort, handling, performance, or styling were seen as innovations which improved safety.

Not surprisingly, in 1946, physicians became proponents for safety improvements, obviously growing tired of the damage they were seeing more frequently in their hospitals as a result of automobile accidents.

Safety features were so lacking in those early days that, according to the Journal of American Medical Association in 1955, they determined that early cars were built so poorly, they offered zero forms of protection from a safety point of view.

Padding is another safety feature introduced by the early auto industries to protect the head of a driver from hard surfaces; this invention was made in the early 1950s. Shortly after, by mid-decade, the use of other inventions like seat belts started gaining popularity (as an option rather than a necessity) since their proponents had a difficult time overcoming critics’ questions about their effectiveness.

Despite the criticisms, researchers continued to look for ways to improve the safety features of early vehicles. They came up with some ideas that enabled them to invent new safety features for those early vehicles; the features included an elastic windshield, rear-facing seats for passengers (to enable them to cope better with the force of a crash) and two levers in place of the steering wheel (minimizing head injury risk).

Although there were consistent improvements in the safety features of early cars, most of those innovations are inferior when compared with current innovations—which makes sense. As the years tick by, and more information is learned about the dangers of cars and how technology can help eliminate those risks, we look back on the early inventions as stepping stones that got us to where we are today.

Presently, automobile safety features are aided by highly sophisticated computers, which prevent us from swerving out of our lane, hitting the car in front of us, reversing into another vehicle, spinning out, flipping over, and so on. In other words, rather than simply minimizing injury risk when accidents occur, which is what early safety features did, modern features aid in preventing the accident from happening or occurring at all. And if the race to put driverless cars on the road continues, we may one day see a complete elimination of auto accidents altogether.

As auto manufacturers work toward making our future safer on the road, it is the consumer’s job to demand safer vehicles, and help pass legislation in each of our states to help do our part as drivers.

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SafetyTrending Automotive News

SB1080 Making Major Changes on Arizona Roads

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It looks like Arizona roads are about to become a lot safer, thanks to Senate Bill 1080. On April 20, the Arizona state House gave final approval to legislation banning teens with a learner’s driving permit from texting or making calls from their cell phones behind the wheel. Passing with a 32-24 margin, SB1080 also extends that restriction to the first six months the driver has their actual Class G license, which is reserved for new drivers.

This bill was first introduced to the state senate on January 17, 2017, and just earlier this month, many had doubts that the bill would pass. Rep. Phil Lovas, R-Peoria, who chairs the House Rules Committee, expressed on April 6 that he would refuse to give a hearing to the Senate-passed bill. The Senate had previously approved the bill on a 24-6 margin.

While Lovas claimed that he personally was for the bill, he heard enough concerns from other members to take a bold stance. According to Lovas, once Arizona enacts its first-ever restrictions, no matter how minimal, it potentially becomes easier to expand the law so that more people, not just new drivers, are barred from driving while texting.

This type of thinking is how the term “nanny state” was coined. This describes a situation where the state begins telling people what’s best for them. Those arguments have proven successful in the past, even resulting in lawmakers voting in 1976 to repeal laws requiring motorcyclists to wear helmets.

As it currently stands, Arizona and Montana are the only two states that do not have any restrictions on cell phone use behind the wheel of a vehicle. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), 14 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit all drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. 37 states and D.C. ban all cell phone use by novice or teen drivers, and 46 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Virgin Islands ban text messaging for all drivers.

Unlike laws in other states, SB1080 would make cell phone use and driving for new drivers a secondary offense, meaning the driver could only be issued a ticket for it if they had been pulled over for some other reason, such as speeding.

Despite his threat to squash the bill before it reached the state house floor, it was indeed presented and passed, thanks in a large part to Rep. Karen Fann, R-Prescott, who shepherded SB1080 through the Senate. She expressed that the Rules Committee, unlike other panels, is not supposed to debate the policy merits of a measure. Instead, the only issue for that committee to decide is whether a measure is constitutional and in proper form for consideration by the full House, and SB1080 was approved in both areas.

Now, the bill just needs one remaining signature to become law—Governor Doug Ducey’s. Ducey, who has three sons, two of whom are of driving age, finds this to be a personal bill to him.

That, partnered with the sad statistic that 11 teens die nationally every day while texting and driving, pushes many to believe that Ducey will sign the bill without any hesitation.

While a AAA study found that 94 percent of teen drivers recognize the danger of texting and driving, 35 percent admit to doing it anyways. This gives merit to the importance of the bill and getting it passed.

Ducey is expected to make a decision shortly, so be sure to follow the story for more updates in the coming days.

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SafetyTrending Automotive News

Wrong Way Drivers in AZ Becoming Frequent Occurrence

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On Friday, April 14th at 2 A.M., Keaton Tyler Allison, a 21-year-old student at Grand Canyon University (GCU), was driving the wrong way down Interstate 17. Approaching the Greenway Road exit, Allison collided head on with a driver traveling the right way on the 17. Carrying fellow GCU student Karlie Arlene Richardson, 20, and her sister Kelsey Mae Richardson, 18, neither vehicle made any attempt to brake, and the cars collided at a high rate of speed.

With all three individuals trapped in their vehicles, they were pronounced dead at scene after being extricated by Phoenix fire emergency crews.

Bob Romantic, a spokesman at GCU, released the following statement to students and staff in an email sent early Friday morning: “It is with great sorrow and heavy hearts that we share the news that three people, including two students from Grand Canyon University, were killed in a wrong-way driver accident last night on Interstate 17… As a close-knit community of students, faculty, and staff, please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers during this tragic time.”

The death of these three individuals is heartbreaking, and sadly, not a unique situation in Arizona. In 2016 alone, the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) received more than 1,600 reports of wrong-way drivers, 27 of which resulted in serious injury or death. Of those 1,600 cases, more than 100 of the drivers were arrested with suspicion of impairment.

These incidents didn’t begin in 2016 either. Back in June 2014, ADOT, DPS, and the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety held an emergency meeting to help combat the increase in wrong-way driving accidents. At the end of that month, Arizona transportation officials erected new signage at various highway exit ramps throughout the state, including larger “do not enter” signs and an additional “wrong way” sign below. They also painted two large arrows equipped with light reflectors signaling the correct direction of travel.

In 2014, DPS reported fielding an average of 25 calls per month with reports of a wrong-way driver on an Arizona freeway. In 2012, wrong-way drivers played a role in 15 fatalities, and 78 fatalities between 2008 and 2012. So it’s clear that this problem is nothing new, and appears to be worsening.

So what is being done in 2017 to reduce the number of wrong-way drivers and save lives along Arizona freeways?

An ADOT spokesperson says they’ve received an influx of suggestions from the public regarding possible preventative solutions. One mentioned was the use of spike strips, which are used to blow the tires of wrong-way vehicles moving at very low speeds. ADOT will not be utilizing them on Valley highways for a variety of reasons, including:

ADOT admits that there is no perfect solution for stopping wrong-way drivers, especially when drugs and alcohol are involved. They do want the public to be assured, however, that they are working on a solution. In 2017, ADOT began work on a project that would use existing highway sensors to detect wrong-way vehicles and alert police and other drivers. These sensors would also be placed on freeway on-ramps. While there is no exact time frame for when ADOT expects to roll out this technology, they do plan to do so in 2017.

DPS Director Frank Milstead believes that increasing local police traffic squads could also help prevent wrong-way crashes on highways. According to Milstead, wrong-way accidents are often devastating because “the closing speeds are so tremendous” as was the case in Friday’s incident.

Milstead doesn’t believe the freeway system needs a multi-million dollar sensor system. His theory is that budget cuts and shrinking police forces are contributing factors in the crashes. If local traffic enforcement officers can be used to spot and pull over impaired drivers, they’ll never even reach the highways, according to Milstead’s theory.

“We can spend millions and millions of taxpayer dollars to try and defeat this, “ Milstead said in reference to impaired, wrong-way drivers, “but at the end of the day, it’s really upon each of us to defeat the wrong-way driver.”

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Safety

Talk to Your Teen: What to do After a Car Accident

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With prom season officially underway for Tucson high school students, it’s imperative for parents to talk to their children about staying safe on the road—especially on a busy night like prom.

Covering drinking and driving, the importance of wearing a seatbelt, and how many kids are allowed in the car while your teen is driving are all crucial topics to review. In the unfortunate situation, however, that an accident should occur when your teen driver is behind the wheel of the car, you’ll want to discuss what steps your child should take post-accident.

1. Remain calm and pull over.

Faced with an accident on their record and the impending wrath of their parents, some teens may become overwhelmed with anxiety, causing them to flee the scene of an accident. By expressing the importance of remaining calm in an accident, your teen will be able to better handle the situation they are facing, and stay put to work through the next steps.

2. Check for injuries on your passengers and in the other car.

While an accident is frustrating, especially when it’s not your fault, what’s most important is that everyone is safe and there are no injuries. If someone in your party or in the other vehicle is injured, your first move should be to call 911 and request an ambulance.

3. Call the police.

Even if everyone in your car is unharmed, you’ll want to call 911. Based on the severity of the accident, they’ll be able to tell you whether an officer needs to come out to the scene of the crash to fill out a report, or if you can fill one out at your local police station.

4. Document the damage.

When getting out of your car to interact with the other driver, make sure you don’t admit fault. Checking to make sure they’re physically and emotionally okay is the right thing to do, but avoid statements such as “I’m sorry” or “I have no idea what happened.” With your smartphone, begin taking photos of each vehicle and the surrounding area. You may also find it helpful to jot down a few notes to help you remember details of the collision.

5. Exchange information.

Even if very little damage has been done to either vehicle, always make sure you get the other driver’s full name, contact information, and insurance paperwork. Take pictures of their driver’s license and insurance card to ensure you don’t run into any issues down the road. You will also need to be prepared to provide the same information of yours to the other driver.

6. Call your parents.

While the next logical step for an adult would be to call your insurance company regarding repairing your vehicle, your teen doesn’t need to be involved in that process. Urge your teen driver to call you and have you meet them at the scene. Parents, remember that you too need to stay calm. Once you have a clear understanding of the situation, call your insurance company for more information.

It’s crucial for drivers to remember that while their insurance company may have recommended collision centers, you have the ultimate power and can make your own decision on where you get your car fixed. Make sure you read online reviews before making a decision about where to get your vehicle repaired.

So as the big dance is just a couple days away, make sure you sit down with your student to review the steps listed above.

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LifeStyleSafety

The Harsh Reality of Teen Drivers

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When it comes to teen drivers, it’s no secret that they have a bad reputation. All one has to do is type “teen driver” into a Google search and find dozens of articles related to texting while driving, accident statistics among younger drivers, and the list goes on.

Car manufacturers and independent companies alike are creating software to be installed in new vehicle models to help combat the dangers that come with a teen behind the wheel of a car. For example, General Motors recently released their active safety technology called Teen Driver. This software allows parents to view their teen’s driving habits and use the information to continue to coach their new drivers, even when they can’t be in the car.

Producing a report card at the end of each ride, Teen Driver reports the maximum speed reached, stability control events, forward collision alerts, and more. These categories touch on the biggest issue teen drivers face: inexperience.

While distracted driving does play a role in many of the teen-related accidents, inexperience is the underlying cause. According to a study done by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, lack of scanning the roadway, driving too fast for conditions, and distraction by something inside or outside the vehicle were the most common errors leading to a crash involving a teen driver.

With motor vehicle crashes as the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, this is something that parents, fellow drivers, and industry leaders alike must be looking into. And while campaigns like “Don’t Text and Drive” and innovative technology such as tXtBlocker have begun to chip away at the problem, in 2014 alone, 2,270 teens in the U.S. ages 16-19 were killed and 221,313 were treated in emergency departments for injuries suffered in motor vehicle crashes.

So what can parents do to help change the harsh realities of teen drivers on the road? First, they must take time to actually teach their child to drive. Studies show that the more the parent is involved when a teen is learning, the lower their chances are for a crash. While many states only require 50 hours or drive time before obtaining a license, parents should be striving to log more hours of time spent with them in the passenger seat, and their teen in the driver seat.

Secondly, both parents and non-parents alike can support local legislation to help achieve better road safety for everyone. AAA Arizona is advocating for Senate Bill 1080, which would prohibit teen drivers from the use of all wireless communication devices.

Arizona and Montana are the only two states that do not ban texting while driving for all or most motorists, so drivers can also rally for safer roads by pushing to eliminate texting while driving for all drivers, not just those in the teen age bracket.

Recent studies have found that teens who have been involved in a severe collision—defined as “police-reportable” and causing major damage, airbag deployment, injury or a rollover— experience an immediate change in their driving habits. In some cases, risky driving dropped by 34 percent.

The focus now, however, is to change the mentality of teen drivers before an accident ever occurs, and better teach and prepare them for the responsibility of operating a vehicle. Only then will we see a decrease in vehicle-related deaths for drivers of all ages.

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Safety

ADOT: Taking Highway Traffic Signs to the Next Level

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It may be biased to say, but when it comes to Arizona, we seem to do everything better than the rest. The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) is no exception, and their handiwork on freeway signs throughout the Valley is proof of that.

One of the most important things to know about the Arizona traffic safety sign rules is that they are more permissive than most. And there is a reason behind that; regular traffic signs just don’t catch the driver’s attention. Without a little creativity, and in most cases, a whole lot of humor, most signs go unnoticed by those driving by.

It is because of this reason that ADOT started an exciting campaign designed to boost traffic safety. Rather than the boring “Stay safe and buckle up” phrases, they are utilizing references to many items in pop culture that are trending at the time.

If you’ve been on an Arizona freeway recently, you’ve likely seen references to Adele, Star Wars, Pokémon Go!, and even guacamole. With creativity like that, it’s safe to say that the entire experience is designed to catch the driver’s attention, as well as stress the importance of staying safe on the road, which is the goal ADOT has set out to reach. They stress that the signs are meant to be both serious and fun.

According to ADOT, the signs help reinforce the state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which aims to cut down on DUIs, speeding, aggressive driving, distracted driving, failure to use seatbelts, and other bad driving behaviors.

With a few jokes and simple messages, each Arizona traffic sign will be able to save lives more efficiently. As safe as we may try to be on the road, and on the freeway specifically, it’s all too easy to get distracted. With an eye-catching sign, drivers are reminded to focus on the road, all while enjoying their commute a little more.

While ADOT has done an excellent job with the content they’ve come up with so far, they’re looking for a little help from Arizona locals. Drivers in the area can share their submissions with ADOT until February 19, and the best 15 messages will advance to the next round. In March, the public can then vote on which signs should be showcased on the road starting in April. To submit your own idea, just visit: http://azdot.gov/about/transportation-safety/safety-message-contest

Regardless of the messages picked, one thing is for certain; Arizona drivers can admire the commitment shown by ADOT for road safety, and we can all look forward to the creative signs in April!

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SafetyTrending Automotive News

Big Changes Expected on Interstate 10

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The cities of Phoenix, Casa Grande, and Tucson make up what’s known as the ‘growing southwest megaregion’ in Arizona. Cities within a megaregion are tied together by strong links and can influence one another, even if they’re hundreds of miles apart.

For this megaregion in Arizona, Interstate 10 serves as a conduit between the cities, and is heavily trafficked by freight vehicles. Carrying everything from avocados to medical supplies, the freight traffic is both necessary and taxing on I-10.

From wear and tear of the road itself to placement of rest stops and fuel stations, all of this has begun to affect driver safety. Thanks to students at Arizona State University, University of Arizona, and Northern Arizona University, a new study is being done to plan for the future of freight traffic on the I-10 with a focus on efficiency, safety, and sustainability.

“Hopefully, in the long run, this research will help shorten commutes, save lives, create more breathable air and find a way to pay for all of it,” Michael Kuby, a professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, said.

This study will focus on topics such as reaping more benefits from pass-through traffic, emerging technology called connected and automated vehicles (CAVs), and identifying threats posed to transportation infrastructure by natural and man-made hazards, to name a few.

Students at the three major in-state universities aren’t the only ones taking a look at the I-10 and devising strategies to improve it. The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), and the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) launched their own study back in 2014.

Their study focuses on the 31-mile freeway corridor beginning at the I-17/Loop 101 North Stack interchange in the north Valley and travels south and east to the Interchange I-10/Loop 202 Pecos Stack. This area has been dubbed the “Spine” because it is the transportation backbone of Maricopa County. In fact, more than 40 percent of all freeway traffic in the area travels over the Spine.

Drivers in that area have been pressing for solutions due to a high volume of accidents, closures, and gridlocks. According to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, “the goal is to make our most heavily traveled freeway safer and more efficient for commuters, residents, and pedestrians.”

With MAG, ADOT, and FHA completing their study, they now have recommendations including upgrading 24 of 31 traffic interchanges to widen roads and improve cross-freeway traffic, provide better technology to help communicate travel information to drivers, and improving availability and reliability for transit and carpooling, among other things.

Arizona locals are urged to give their feedback on these proposed changes, and have until February 17th to do so. Simply click here for a chance to give your feedback and have it included in the study record.

Beyond the major improvements happening on the I-10, the local universities are excited about the opportunity to be working alongside one another.

“This is the first time we have a project between all of us, and you can see relationships and partnerships develop as we work through this. It’s going to be very exciting and very fruitful as we move into the future,” Edward Smaglik, associate professor in the Department of Civil Engineering, Construction Management and Environmental Engineering at NAU said.

So whether you’re a Sun Devil, Wildcat, or Lumberjack fan, this I-10 project is something we can all be rooting for.

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SafetyTrending Automotive News

SB 1054: Arizona Collision Law Moving to Senate

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On June 17, 2016, recent Horizon High School graduate Joe Smith and three of his high school friends were driving back from a post-graduation trip to California. Upon nearing Quartzsite, Arizona on Interstate 10, the boys slowed down due to an accident, when an 18-wheeler barreled into them and another vehicle.

As a result of the impact, 18-year-old Joe was killed and the three other boys in his vehicle were seriously injured. In the other vehicle, 74-year-old Sun City resident Joseph Garcia was killed, and his wife Mary Lou was left paralyzed from the waist down.

Seven months later, and the truck driver has not been charged with any crime. As it stands currently, Arizona law does not require that drivers in deadly accidents be given a drug or alcohol test. Steve and Tana Smith, Joe’s parents, are on a mission to change that.

The Smith’s are lobbying a new bill in the Senate that would change the law in his name. SB 1054, known as “Joe’s Law” would require drug or alcohol testing for driver’s involved in crashes that cause serious injury or death.

According to records obtained from a Department of Public Safety trooper, the 42-year-old semi-truck driver seemed lethargic and tired after the accident, and when asked if he was tired, he responded “yes.” However, he was not tested for drugs or alcohol.

“If this bill passes, ‘Joe’s Law’ would help ensure that families who endure a tragedy like ours won’t have the added stress of forever wondering and never knowing if there were more factors that caused the crash, “ Tana Smith wrote in a post on Facebook.

The bill’s primary sponsor is Senator Judy Burges, and the co-sponsors are Senator Sylvia Allen, Senator David Farnsworth, Senator Steve Montenegro, and Senator Frank Pratt.

While not an official bill sponsor, Senator Lupe Contreras spoke emotionally in support of Joe’s Law. He lost his sister in a car accident when she was just 18 years old, as well.

“I know what that pain is cause here I am today and I’m able to sit up there and hopefully pass this law that will hopefully prevent another family from having to endure what we have endured for so many years,” Contreras said.

On January 26th, a Senate Panel approved SB 1054 on a 7 to 0 vote. The law will now move to the full Senate for action.

According to Joe’s dad, Steve, simply knowing whether the driver had been impaired would make the death of their son easier to manage.

“Had we known whether or not this driver was impaired, it would make this unbearable situation easier to cope with. The not knowing, because no test was done in our case, is agonizing,” Steve said.

A petition on Change.org has garnered more than 2,000 signatures in support of having the law passed, and will be delivered to Senator John McCain.

Tana believes that many individuals are unaware that the Arizona law does not require drug and alcohol testing after a deadly accident, and hopes that Joe’s Law will bring the flawed law to light, and ultimately change it.

“I’ll do whatever I can do to change this because this is something that can affect anybody at any time,” Tana said.

This will be an interesting story for the Arizona collision industry, as well as all Arizona residents, to follow in the coming months.

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SafetyTrending Automotive News

Rear Seat Reminder Newest Technology in GM Vehicles

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Recent events in the news have taught GM that a change needs to be made. Over the summer, it seemed like a weekly occurrence to hear about another child being left in the backseat of a car, oftentimes dying of heat stroke. In fact, in 2016 alone, 39 children died as a result of being left in vehicles or gaining access to an unattended vehicle, a 60 percent increase over 2015’s figure.

With technology in the automotive industry improving in new models each year, GM sought to make a change that could save lives, and their new 2017 models appear to be doing just that.

This industry-first system feature, called the Rear Seat Reminder, monitors rear door usage and is designed to remind drivers to check the back seat of their vehicle before they exit or walk away from their vehicle.

“We want to help everyone to take one simple, extra step. That’s why Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac will offer the Rear Seat Reminder on a broad range of vehicles, from small cars to full-size SUVs and everything in between,” Vice President of GM Global Vehicle Safety Jeff Boyer said.

How does the technology work? The Rear Seat Reminder system will activate when either rear door is opened and closed up to 10 minutes before the vehicle is started or while the vehicle is running. Once activated, the system sounds five chimes and displays a message on the drivers electronic dashboard display that reads “Rear Seat Reminder/Look in Rear Seat” the next time the vehicle is turned off.

Since the system itself cannot detect items in the backseat, it’s crucial that the driver check before exiting.

The Rear Seat Reminder debuted earlier this year on the all-new 2017 GMC Acadia. Models to offer this feature are:

  • 2017 Buick Lacrosse
  • 2017 Cadillac Escalade and Escalade ESV
  • 2017 Cadillac CT6
  • 2017 Chevrolet Cruze and Cruze Hatchback
  • 2017 Chevrolet Malibu
  • 2017 Chevrolet Tahoe
  • 2017 Chevrolet Suburban
  • 2017 Chevrolet Silverado
  • 2017 Chevrolet Colorado
  • 2017 GMC Yukon
  • 2017 GMC Yukon XL
  • 2017 GMC Sierra
  • 2017 GMC Canyon
  • 2018 Cadillac XT5
  • 2018 Cadillac CTS and CTS-V
  • 2018 Cadillac ATS
  • 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

The monitoring system will be available in additional 2018 vehicle models, to be announced at a later date.

According to Kate Carr, the president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, “This new technology developed by General Motors will give busy parents and caregivers the important reminder to always check the back seat. The safest way to protect a child from heatstroke is to never leave a child unattended in a vehicle, and features like Rear Seat Reminder, coupled with continued public education, can help combat this preventable tragedy.”

GM continues to lead the way in advanced technology for its vehicles, and many look forward to seeing how the Rear Seat Reminder will make an impact in communities.

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Safety

Pushbutton Ignitions Not as Secure as They Seem

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These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a new vehicle that doesn’t come with a pushbutton ignition. Gone are the days of digging through purses and briefcases to find car keys. With pushbutton ignitions, one simply needs to have their key fob on them to gain access to the vehicle, and start the engine.

As technology in the automotive industry continues to advance, cyber security has become a topic of significant concern. In late December, the pushbutton ignitions became the latest issue of security in our vehicles.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), a “mystery device” (pictured above) has been discovered that is allowing criminals to steal vehicles with pushbutton ignitions.

The device works in two stages. First, it detects the signal from the vehicle’s key fob from a distance up to 10 feet. Then, the information is transferred to a “relay box” which allows the thief to open the doors and start the vehicle’s engine.

Having acquired the device from a third-party security expert overseas, NICB teamed up with CarMax and used the device on 35 makes and models of vehicles, successfully gaining entry into 19 of them. Of those 19, they were able to start the engine and drive away in 18 vehicles, and 12 of the vehicles were even able to be restarted once the ignition was turned off. For understandable reasons, NICB is not saying what vehicle makes and models are susceptible to the device.

This “mystery device” can get around engine immobilizers, alarms, and other security devices that may be on a vehicle, meaning a criminal can climb into your car and drive it like they own it.

Without the trace of broken glass, sound of the car alarm being triggered, or evidence of an ignition key being stolen, there is no way for the vehicle owner to know that their car has been taken. This also means that NICB does not know how many vehicles have been stolen using the mystery device.

NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle said, “The scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner. Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”

While this mystery device seems to only work on new generation pushbutton ignition cars, the NICB say there are numerous devices that operate similarly that are being marketed to thieves. They believe that different devices work on different ignition systems and likely use different technology, putting all pushbutton vehicles at risk.

So where does this leave us? NICB spokesman Roger Morris explained that auto manufacturers must be diligent in making sure they adapt their pushbutton technology to counter these devices. However, he also noted that thieves will do the same with their technology in response.

As for vehicle owners, Morris suggests they keep valuable items out of their vehicles, keep their key fob on them at all times, and park in secure or crowded areas as often as possible.

NICB COO Jim Schweitzer was quoted saying, “The manufacturers have made tremendous strides with their technology, but now they have to adapt and develop countermeasures as threats like this surface.” Let’s hope all manufacturers hear that message loud and clear.

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