Auto Safety – Teen Develops Promising Solution to the Blind Spot

Auto safety is always a great topic to discuss and recently there has been much buzz about a fourteen-year-old Pennsylvania student who invented a new vehicle safety feature that earned her a $25,000 prize. 

Teen Develops Blind Spot Solution

Over the decades, automobile design and engineering have made tremendous strides in terms of safety features, including strengthening of the vehicle frame to prevent vehicle collapse in the event of a rollover. Unfortunately, this strong A-frame design leads to serious visibility problems for drivers, as the A-frame pillars create “blind spots” in the driver’s viewable area. According to NHTSA data, nearly 840,000 accidents per year are related to blind spot issues.

Fourteen-year-old Alaina Gassler of West Grove, PA seems to have hit upon a viable solution to this issue with her blind spot reduction system, which makes the A-frame pillars in a vehicle effectively disappear! Alaina’s system employees the use of a webcam, a projector, a 3D printed adapter and retro-reflective fabric. It is demonstrated in the video below:

The invention, which she completed while in eighth grade, earned Alaina a grand prize of $25,000 from the Society for Science and the Public’s Broadcom MASTERS (Math, Applied Science, Technology, and Engineering for Rising Stars) science and engineering competition.

Congratulations to this incredible young woman on her achievement!

STOP! Pay Attention to Signs of Brake Problems

Stop for Brake ProblemsYour car’s brake system is highly complex, involving multiple integrated components, all of which are prone to wear and eventual failure. Brake problems can have serious and deadly consequences, so drivers need to pay attention to any indications of brake trouble. People often ignore the signs, thinking they do not have the time or money to deal with it. But when you think of all that is at stake if your brakes fail, you cannot afford to ignore any warning signs.

Today’s vehicles have many ways of letting you know that brake problems may be starting. Pay attention to brake problem warning signs and you can have brake problems fixed before they put the safety of you and your passengers in jeopardy.

Common Warning Signs of Brake Problems:

Strange Noises

If you hear a high, screeching sound when you apply your brakes, it might mean that your brake pads are excessively worn and need to be replaced.

When Braking Causes the Vehicle to Pull to One Side

When your car pulls to one side as you are braking, it could be an indication that the brake lining is wearing unevenly or that the brake fluid is contaminated.

Brake Pedal Feels Odd or Spongy

When you hit the brake pedal, it might feel spongy or sink to the floor. This could mean a leak in the braking system, such as an air leak in the brake hose or a brake fluid leak. A brake pedal that feels stiff or is difficult to press may indicate a blockage in the brake line or an issue in the vacuum system.

Excessive Vibration When Braking

You might notice excessive vibration in your brake pedal during breaking, similar to the vibration you feel when the anti-lock brakes feature engages. This vibration or pulsating can be an indication of warped rotors.

Jerking Sensation As Brakes are Applied

If you experience a grabbing or jerking feeling when applying the brakes, it could mean the rotor is unevenly worn or that the brake fluid is contaminated.

Along with these warning signs, the brake system service light on your car’s dashboard will illuminate if your on-board diagnostic system senses any problems. It can happen that service lights come on even when there is not a problem, if you see the brake service light up, you definitely should take your vehicle in for a brake system inspection.

Back to School Road Safety

In most areas, kids are now back in school and you are seeing more school-related traffic on the roadways. This includes those dreaded school buses, which always seem to magically appear in front of you when you are running late. While sharing the road with school buses can be somewhat of a pain, try to keep in mind that buses play an essential role in the safe transportation of children. It is important to support them by knowing and obeying school bus traffic laws.

School Bus

According to the National Safety Council, school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation for students. They warn, however, that more children are hurt or killed outside of the bus when they fail to watch where they are going, or when a motorist does not pay attention and illegally passes a stopped school bus.

The council offers the following points to remind drivers of school traffic safety laws and procedures:

  • In all 50 states it is illegal to pass a school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children.
  • In all 50 states traffic in both directions is required to stop on undivided roadways when students are being picked up and dropped off.
  • State laws vary on divided roadway requirements, however in all cases, vehicles driving behind the bus, and moving in the same direction must stop when the bus does.
  • Flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate the bus driver is preparing to stop to load or unload passengers. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm signals that the bus has stopped and children are exiting or entering the bus.
  • A required distance of 10 feet around a school bus must be observed to allow sufficient space for children getting on or off the bus.
  • Be on the lookout for children who may run or fail to observe safety rules when moving to and from the bus stop.
  • Drivers should never block crosswalks when waiting to turn or stopped for a red light.
  • In school zones be alert for warning flashers, and while you are in an active zone, be sure to yield the right-of-way to students crossing in the marked crosswalk.

To learn more about the laws in your area, see AAA’s summary of school bus traffic laws state by state

If your morning commute takes you through an area with school bus stops, just leave a little early so you won’t have to stress about delays. Remember, we are all sharing the same roadways, and it is up to each of us to keep the drive safe!

More Travelers Than Ever Expected for Independence Day

Next week a record number of people will be travelling on America’s roadways for Independence Day vacations. According to AAA, a new record will be set with 41.4 million Americans traveling by automobile this Independence Day.

Independence Day Travel

Travel  numbers are up this year for several  reasons. Lower gas prices have more people making road trip plans and a robust economy has greater numbers of Americans planning vacations across the United States.

When making your plans for your Independence Day holiday or other summer travel, make sure your vehicle is safe and ready for the road.  Start with this check list:

  • Test your battery
  • Check your lights to make sure all are working
  • Make sure wiper blades are in good shape
  • Check fluid levels
  • Check the pressure on all tires including your spare
  • Pack roadside emergency items like jumper cables and travel compressor

Other ideas for planning a smoother trip include:

  • Make sure your maps are up-to-date – whether paper or GPS
  • Download an app like GasBuddyto make sure you find the best gas prices
  • Check out the Waze app for real-time traffic info
  • Pack snacks and drinks for the car to save time and money
  • Plan your route and stops before you leave
  • Bring along a cell phone charger with a car adapter

Where ever you are planning to go, have fun and have a safe trip!

Slow Down and Look Out for Potholes

potholeNow is the time of year when legions potholes bring appearing everywhere. Not only do these annoying, and often cavernous craters jar you with a panic-inducing thud when you hit them, they can inflict some significant damage on your car.

While it may seem as though an army of gremlins equipped with pickaxes and jackhammers has launched a full scale assault on your neighborhood roadways, there is actually a more reasonable explanation for potholes.  The pothole problem begins in the winter, when freezing and thawing cycles cause cracks in road surfaces to get larger and further degrade. The application of road salt can accelerate the damage because it creates more freezing and thawing stress while melting ice on the roadway. In the spring, heavy rains infiltrate the cracks and cause more deterioration.

Potholes are more than an annoyance. Hitting potholes can lead to serious vehicle component damage, typically to the shocks and struts, which control ride and handling. Shocks and struts dampen the bouncing action of the vehicle springs by regulating spring and suspension movement. They keep the car’s tires in contact with the road to facilitate proper steering, stability, and braking. Compromised shocks and struts can create a dangerous situation, so it is important to be aware of the signs that your shocks or struts may need to be replaced:

  • Bottoming out or thumping on bumps
  • Bouncing or sliding sideways on rough or winding roads
  • Swaying or rolling on turns
  • Front-end dives when braking or rear end dips when accelerating
  • Loss of directional control during abrupt stops
  • Noticeable puddles under the car or leaking fluids

Hitting potholes can also result in tire and wheel damage, engine and  exhaust system issues, as well as suspension problems. Have your vehicle inspected if you experience any of the these types of issues. Addressing pothole damage issues early can prevent more extensive problems down the road.

Remember, it is really important to slow down and look out for potholes, especially at this time of year. When you see ones that are particularly bad, look up your local DOT or government website to see if you can report them. Crews are out repairing potholes, but they can only fix the ones they know about.

Teaching Younger Drivers Vehicle and Tire Maintenance

teensEach year a new batch of younger drivers pulls onto America’s roadways. During their intensive training, they learn the rules of the road, how to maneuver a vehicle, and the importance of safe driving. Especially poignant for this new tech-savvy generation, they are warned about the dangers of distracted driving. With all of this preparation, there is one important area that seems to have been overlooked with younger drivers. That area is the importance of vehicle and tire maintenance.

A recent Tire Review article illustrates this problem by highlighting a recent study commissioned by Goodyear Auto Service and Just Tires. According to the study, “Younger drivers (millennial/Gen Z) are more than 1.5 times more likely to identify popular emojis correctly than the tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) warning symbol.”

As the article points out, failure to identify the TPMS light likely means that the necessary services indicated by vehicle warning lights are being ignored. The study also found that most of the surveyed younger drivers were not taking adequate measures to prepare their vehicles for winter:

“Among drivers who live in areas with usually cold winters, less than half (42%) get their tires checked in advance of the winter season. And almost two in five winter drivers (37%) do not take any action at all to prepare their cars for winter unless they have an issue. As a general rule of thumb, drivers should check their tires monthly, especially during temperature shifts of 10 degrees or more.”

One of the best ways to combat the problem of poorly prepared younger drivers is for seasoned drivers to seek out the young people in their lives and offer them guidance. Educate new drivers on the importance of preventative car care and how proper maintenance directly effects driver safety.

CarCare.org offers free online resources for new drivers. Among the available resources are:

Take time to prepare the younger drivers in your life. They will benefit from increased confidence and you will enjoy the peace of mind in knowing they are fully ready for the road!

Be Afraid of Driving on Old Tires!

Be Afraid of Driving on Old TiresNever mind ghosts, witches and zombies, do you know what is really frightening? Driving on old tires!

It is critical to your safety on the road that you are able to recognize the signs of worn out, dangerous tread. Even if old tires look okay, they could be seriously compromised and pose a serious a safe driving hazard.

Old tires may not show any obvious signs of deterioration. While they may appear to be safe, usable tires, cracks can develop both on the inside and the outside of the tire. Since the rubber compounds used in tires degrade over time, cracks will develop in the rubber, regardless of mileage and wear. Ultimately, this cracking leads to the steel belts in the tread separating from the rest of the tire.

The Rubber Manufacturers Association reports that putting an expiration date on a tire can be difficult since factors such as heat, driving, and storage conditions can greatly impact the usable life of a tire. The recommendation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is to refer to the guidelines set by the specific tire manufacturer when it comes to tire aging and usable life.

Not unsure how old your tires are? In 2000 the U.S. Department of Transportation began requiring tires to have a DOT code. With this code, you can learn details about the tire, including its age. Decipher the code by downloading a free app offered by the Tire Safety Group. Available for Android and iPhone, the app enables you to get to get a free Tire Facts Report by simply entering the DOT code from your tire.  The report lets you know if a tire is old, defective, or has been the subject of a recall. The app shows you where to find the code on the tire and even includes a flashlight function to help you see the code clearly!

If your tires are damaged, old, worn or otherwise compromised, don’t risk the scare of a blowout or a wreck! Buy some new tires as soon as possible!

Be Prepared for Dead Car Battery

dead car batteryFall is here and soon the temperatures will be getting colder. Since low temperatures lead to sluggish batteries, your chances of experiencing a dead car battery will be increased. As the colder months approach, you will not only want to be equipped with a quality set of jumper cables in your car, you will also need to know how to use them safely.

Jump starting a vehicle isn’t difficult, but because jumper cables transmit electrical current from one car to another, it can be dangerous if not done correctly. It is necessary to take precautions to prevent dangerous electric shocks.

Once you have purchased your jumper cables and have them stowed in your vehicle, take some time to review these steps so you will be prepared to use them!

Getting Ready to Jump Starting the Car:

  1. Park the running car so the cars face each other, about one to two feet apart. Make sure that the cars are not in contact with each other.
  2. Set the parking brakes on both cars. Turn off both cars and take out the keys.
  3. Lay out the jumper cables on the ground, making sure the clamps do not touch each other.
  4. Open the hood to both cars. Locate the batteries and battery terminals. (See your owner’s manual for details). The two terminals on each battery are usually covered in red or black, with a + or – sign on top. Confirm you are able to identify which is positive, and which is negative, as this will be crucial to the success of your jump. Dirty or corroded battery terminals should be cleaned off with a rag or wire brush.

Attaching the Jumper Cables to the Car:

  1. Attach the red, positive cable clamp to the positive (+) battery terminal of the dead battery. Make sure you have a solid connection to the battery terminal.
  2. Attach the red, positive cable clamp on the other side of the jumper cables to the working battery’s positive (+) battery terminal
  3. Connect the black, negative cable clamp to the working battery’s negative (-) battery terminal. In the vehicle with the dead battery, attach that clamp to a metal part of the car that is unpainted, as far from the battery as the cable will reach. This will ground the circuit and help prevent sparking.
  4. Once you have one end of the jumper cables connected to a car, it is critical that the other end of the cables do not touch the metal clamps to anything other than the specified components on the other car. Make sure that none of the cables are in contact with moving engine parts before starting the engine.

Performing the Jump Start:

  1. Start the engine of the car with the working battery.
  2. Let the car to run for several minutes. The time required to get the jump to work may vary depending on the age and condition of the battery.
  3. Attempt to start the car with the dead battery. If unsuccessful, allow the working car to charge the battery for a several minutes longer and try again.
  4. As soon as the disabled car is running again, you can disconnect the jumper cables, starting with the black, negative cable clamps. Never allow the clamps to come in contact with each other while any part of the cables is still attached to a vehicle.
  5. Taking the charged car for a short drive lets the battery to build up a charge to ensure the battery doesn’t die again once you turn off the car.

It’s That Time – Back to School Safe Driving

Back to School Safe DrivingEven if you don’t have students in your home, back to school time effects everyone when it comes to driving. Now is the time of year when the school buses and backpacked pedestrians begin appearing everywhere and we all need to think about back to school safe driving.  While we all can relate to the frustration of being “stuck” behind a school bus, it is important for everyone’s safety that we exercise patience and also know school bus traffic laws. It is equally important that we pay attention for students in school zones who may be excited or distracted as they make their way to and from school.

The National Safety Council reports that school buses are one of the safest forms of transportation for students. They caution, however, that more children are hurt or killed outside of the bus when they fail to watch where they are going, or when a motorist does not pay attention and illegally passes a stopped school bus.

The council offers the following points to remind drivers of school traffic safety laws and procedures:

  • In all 50 states it is illegal to pass a school bus that has stopped to pick up or drop off children.
  • In all 50 states traffic in both directions is required to stop on undivided roadways when students are being picked up and dropped off.
  • State laws vary on divided roadway requirements, however in all cases, vehicles driving behind the bus, and moving in the same direction must stop when the bus does.
  • Flashing yellow lights on a school bus indicate the bus driver is preparing to stop to load or unload passengers. Red flashing lights and an extended stop sign arm signals that the bus has stopped and children are exiting or entering the bus.
  • A required distance of 10 feet around a school bus must be observed to allow sufficient space for children getting on or off the bus.
  • Be on the lookout for children who may run or fail to observe safety rules when moving to and from the bus stop.
  • Drivers should never block crosswalks when waiting to turn or stopped for a red light.
  • In school zones be alert for warning flashers, and while you are in an active zone, be sure to yield the right-of-way to students crossing in the marked crosswalk.

If you know your morning route includes an area with school bus stops, come up with ways to help you safely share the road. Listen to music or a podcast to help you exercise patience with frequent stops. Leave  a little early so you won’t have to stress about delays. Remember, the most important thing is that EVERYONE arrives at their destination safely!

New Holiday Travel Record Expected for 4th of July Holiday

4th of JulyAre you planning a trip for the 4th of July holiday? If so, you are definitely not alone. According to AAA, a record-breaking 46.9 million people in the U.S. will travel 50 miles or more to celebrate the Independence Day holiday. This number represents not only a 5 percent increase over last year, it is the highest volume ever projected over the 18 years that AAA has been tracking these figures.  If you are taking a road trip, AAA cautions,

“For the 39.7 million Americans planning a Fourth of July road trip, INRIX, a global transportation analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be twice as long than the normal trip, with Tuesday being the busiest day.”

If you are hitting the road this 4th of July holiday, take some time to make sure your vehicle is safe and ready for the road.  Here are a few tips:

– Test your battery

– Check your lights to make sure all are working

– Make sure wiper blades are in good shape

– Check fluid levels

– Check the pressure on all tires including your spare

– Pack roadside emergency items like jumper cables and travel compressor

Here are a few additional suggestions to consider for a smoother trip:

– Download an app like GasBuddy to make sure you find the best gas prices

– Check out the Waze app for real-time traffic info

– Pack snacks and drinks for the car to save time and money

– Make sure your maps are up-to-date – whether paper or GPS

– Plan your route and stops before you leave

– Bring along a cell phone charger with a car adaptor

– Bring an umbrella – no matter what the forecast says

Whatever your plans are, have a fun and safe 4th of July Holiday!