November 29, 2009

Devices Help Drivers Put Down the Phone

New technology called ZoomSafer is a free service that uses a phone’s GPS sensors to determine whether the user is at driving speeds, and then disables the cellphone from making or receiving phone calls until the car is stopped (New York Times, 11/22, Grobart). Drivers can override this command, but doing so generates an e-mail to the account administrator alerting them of the override command. Of course, turning a cellphone off while driving is another solution to this problem, but most Americans will forget to turn off their phone or don’t have the discipline to do so as we are addicted to being in constant contact with the world.

In fact, not all consumers are comfortable with the idea of a service automatically disabling their phone, and some would rather continue to use cell phones with hands free devices. Ford and Microsoft, for example, “ are selling systems that rely on voice commands to dial phones.” These devices are more popular with consumers, but the auto shut off technology has “caught the eye of large auto insurers,” who are not convinced that hands free chatting is much safer and want to have less payouts for accidents.

As a Chicago attorney who has seen the repercussions of careless phone use while driving tear lives apart, I am intrigued by the new technology. Especially for young drivers, have an automatic cell phone “muzzling” mechanism may lead to a drastic decrease in auto accidents involving new drivers. I encourage all drivers to make sure they are being cautious will cell phone usage, whether hand free or otherwise, behind the wheel and to be sure to abide by any law regulating cell phone usage while driving.

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November 23, 2009

G.M. Recalling 53,000 Vehicles due to a Fuel Leak

Christopher Jensen reports, “General Motors is recalling almost 53,000 Chevrolet Cobalts, Saturn Ions and Pontiac G5s because a fuel leak could cause a fire” (New York Times, 11/6). General Motors has said it will “replace the fuel pump module on cares on cars used in states with weather hot enough to cause the problem.” The recall includes both 2006 and 2007 models of the Cobalt and Ion, and the 2007 model of the G5s. The 2006 Cobalt and Ion are being recalled in Arizona and Nevada, but the recall of the all the listed 2007 models includes Arizona, Nevada, California, Florida and Texas.

This type of recall is a geographic recall. Consumer groups have hotly objected to selective recalls contending that while it saves the automaker money, consumers who use vehicles to travel between states, and necessarily do so without the safety modification, are at extremely high risk of unnecessary danger. As a products liability attorney, I always encourage people to pay attention to vehicle recalls and act quickly to correct any defects in their vehicles.

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November 23, 2009

Chrysler Is Recalling Jeeps for Transmission Issue

As a personal injury lawyer and an advocate for vehicle safety, I urge all people to maintain awareness about vehicle recalls that affect your family. This week, Chrysler announced it is recalling “about 161,000 Jeeps because their automatic transmissions were assembled without a system to warn if the fluid is overheating” (New York Times, Jensen, 11/13). The issue with the transmission is particularly apparent when “operating a vehicle under rigorous off-road conditions,” which if done continuously “will cause the vehicle’s transmission temperature to elevate…[and] may lead to a transmission failure.”

All 2007-8 Jeep Wrangler drivers should act immediately to repair this defect and avoid possible injury. Other drivers may want to routinely check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website for additional recalls.

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November 8, 2009

FAA grounds wayward Northwest Airlines pilots

Recent events surrounding the two Northwest Airlines pilots who overshot their Minneapolis destination by 16 minutes and 150 miles, has raised questions about pilot responsibility in the cockpit (Lowy, AP for FindLaw, 10/28). Fortunately, the FAA acted swiftly in grounding the pilots indefinitely and revoking their licenses for a year.

The pilots told investigators that they lost track of time and location during flight because they were on their personal laptops while the flight was out of communication with air traffic control for 91 minutes. Air traffic control in two states tried a total of eight times to contact the pilots, and even suspected the plane was hijacked.

As a attorney who strives to compensate those whose lives have been harmed by the negligence of others, I am concerned about the careless pilot conduct that came to light in this story. Although I am hopeful that it was an isolated incident, the FAA should take steps to ensure the other pilots are not engaging in similar careless behavior, and should articulate standards for when a suspected hijacking should be reported to Washington.

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November 1, 2009

Recalls: Off-road Utility Vehicles

Just under 4,000 off-road utility vehicles have been recalled due to the threat of unprompted acceleration (AP for FindLaw, 10/21). The vehicles are manufactured by Bad Boy Enterprises of Natchez, Mississippi and were recalled in response to “32 reports of unexpected acceleration” leading to injury to both the user and bystanders. The vehicles are new, and were sold in June and July of 2009. Affected models have serial numbers between 85004828 and 95010404. More information is available at http://www.cpsc.gov or 1-866-678-6701.

As a Chicago lawyer and automobile consumer, I am concerned about the exacerbated hazard of off-road utility vehicles. Off-road utility vehicles are hazardous by nature, and often attract thrill-seeking drivers. It is imperative that owners of these vehicles take care of the acceleration issue immediately before any more injuries occur.

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