Category: Safety

By on November 3, 2015

Yesterday, TTAC’s daily news editor Aaron Cole wrote an editorial calling for a new Ralph Nader to arise and save us from our own refusal to make appropriate safety-related automotive choices. I found the article fascinating, not least because one of my first editorials for TTAC was a skeptical look at the benefits of so-called “advanced driver training”. In that editorial, I argued that the decision to purchase a safe car was far more critical to crash survivability than any amount of special training would be. I then proceeded to prove my own point by selling my Phaetons, buying a Lincoln Town Car, and experiencing an incident (direct, high-speed perpendicular impact to my passenger door) that would have been trivial in said Phaetons but which was crippling in the aforementioned Town Car.

Since then, my thoughts on road safety have primarily centered around the idea of risk reduction. I believe that if you cancel or modify your riskiest trips, you’ll see tangible benefits from doing so. I don’t put my son in the car with me unless I have a specific agenda in mind to minimize risk from that trip. My goal is to reduce his exposure, which means no unnecessary trips, no bad-weather trips, and no trips without a plan.

On the other hand, this past year I put about half of my commuting mileage on motorcycles. That tilts my overall risk profile pretty far away from “safe”. It has, however, allowed me a front-row seat for all sorts of traffic incidents and accidents, playing out in full widescreen all around me.

For those reasons, I’m inclined to disagree with Aaron a little bit when it comes to the role of the government and/or quasi-governmental activists to improve vehicle safety. I’ll explain.

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By on November 2, 2015


In 1966, nascent federal automotive safety regulators recalled 982,823 vehicles. For the week of Oct. 25-31, automakers announced recalls of 2,727,205 vehicles. In 2014, the so-called “year of the recall,” more than 72 million cars were recalled by automakers in 902 separate recalls. On average, there are 2.5 times more cars on the road today than there were in 1966.

By most measurable statistics, vehicle recalls are more frequent and more costly to automakers and, according to safety data from NHTSA, fatal crashes happen proportionately less since their peak in 1972 — in short, recall repairs work and serve a purpose. Ralph Nader’s 1965 book, “Unsafe At Any Speed,” which accused automakers of intentionally delaying now-standard safety equipment, such as airbags, seatbelts and passive safety features, was met with fierce criticism from automakers. By 1972, several of Nader’s key points, including the federal oversight committee that would become NHTSA, had become commonplace. Automotive safety was already moving in the right direction, but Nader punched the throttle. 

Like Nader’s call for mandatory safety equipment and tests in the ’60s and ’70s revolutionized automaking, a new call to revolutionize and modernize is needed. However, instead of focusing on defective and unsafe cars, there needs to be new focus for this future safety revolution: defective and unsafe drivers.

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By on October 6, 2015


The autonomous vehicle is coming. Everybody says so. Or at least everybody who is paid to be optimistic about the fascist-corporate future of the Western World says so. Autonomous vehicles are already so safe that the only risks come from the imperfect humans surrounding them. The Times regularly fawns over the autonomous vehicle in the same vaguely insincere, Backpfeifengesicht-smirking way it concern-trolls about suicide-by-firearm. The problem, you see, is with all the people out there. They’re too stupid to drive a car or handle a gun and the only solution is for their betters in the $100M Manhattan condos and too-precious San-Fran Nob Hill homes to keep them dosed with soma and distracted with Centrifugal Bumblepuppy during the two and a half hours a day they’re not supposed to be either working in their ping-pong-table-equipped offices or sound asleep.

I’ve spent much of the past week reading about the near-perfect safety of the autonomous roadways of the future. As fate would have it, I spent much of the week before that driving a few hundred miles’ worth of fast back roads in an assortment of very fast sports cars. After spending some time considering what I’ve read and what I’ve been doing in a sort of holistic fashion, I’ve come to believe that the safety of autonomous vehicles, like many other technical and social issues in the United States, comes down to the story of the Country Mouse and the City Mouse.

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By on September 18, 2015

In July, we learned the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky may be at a risk of fire due to a blower motor issue that caused the recall of the Hummer H3. This may not be the only part that should be recalled. Many of GM’s roadsters are suffering from a defective sensor which could prevent the passenger airbag from deploying in an accident.

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By on August 17, 2015


Volkswagen has spent over two years trying to block the publication of a research paper which reveals a key hacking vulnerability in many of their models as well as thousands from other manufacturers. According to Bloomberg, a team of researchers discovered the vulnerability in 2012 and notified Volkswagen in May 2013. Instead of working with the researchers to resolve the issue, Volkswagen argued that the paper would increase the risk of theft and sued them to stop the publication. Read More >

By on July 23, 2015


Left: Updated Tacoma Resistor, Right: Colorado Resistor

Left: Updated Tacoma Resistor, Right: Colorado Resistor

The fire-risk blower motor resistor harness has been recalled in the Hummer H3 and owners will start receiving repairs once parts become available. Owners of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky should be able to use the updated parts as well but will have to pay out of pocket as General Motors has not recalled them at this time. The Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon also use a similar design and pose a similar fire risk but are slightly different than the recalled part due to having one less blower speed.

Hummer owners will most likely wait a few months minimum for the updated parts to get to their dealers to perform their free recall repairs. Colorado and Canyon owners may be waiting much longer — if they are recalled at all. The only silver lining for the Colorado and Canyon is that they use a similar resistor to the Toyota Tacoma and share a connector. The Tacoma also suffered from blower motor resistor issues and received updated parts along with a Technical Service Bulletin in 2011.

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By on July 20, 2015


Last week, we learned General Motors was recalling the majority of their Hummer H3 and H3T models due to a fire risk from a melting blower motor resistor and harness. We also learned GM didn’t issue the recall until they were threatened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

A few days ago, Jalopnik’s Michael Ballaban pointed out the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon were also at risk due to similar components. These trucks may not be the last of the affected models as the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky also shared many HVAC components with the Hummer H3.

Searching through the NHTSA complaints database and user forums yielded many examples of melted and burnt blower motor resistors and harnesses for the GM roadster twins.

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By on July 8, 2015


When Maggie Dajani realized that the tire-pressure warning light was on in the van she’d rented to take six teenagers and their parents to a One Direction concert in El Paso, she took the van back to the rental company. A representative of the company, Star Limo, told her not to worry. She then continued to the concert. Shortly afterwards, the van blew two tires and rolled over. Several motorists helped drag the ten passengers out of the van, which was filling with smoke. The children went to the hospital with various injuries, and one of them reportedly received one hundred and fifty stitches as a result.

Now, the New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission has delivered a very, ahem, business-friendly verdict on the whole ordeal. Turns out that Star Limo is the beneficiary of a unique combination of regulatory conditions.

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By on July 29, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-07-29 at 11.00.15 AM

In a few weeks, at WOOT (the USENIX Workshop on Offensive Technologies — an academic conference where security researchers demonstrate broken stuff), a team from the University of Michigan will be presenting a lovely paper, Green Lights Forever: Analyzing the Security of Traffic Infrastructure. It’s a short and fun read. In summary, it’s common for traffic light controllers to speak to each other over a 5.8GHz wireless channel (much like WiFi, but a dedicated frequency) with no cryptography, default usernames and passwords, and well-known and exploitable bugs. Oh boy. And what can we do with that?

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By on June 29, 2014

One of the Best & Brightest recently asked me to write about the history of automotive safety equipment. Today’s consumers ask how many airbags a car offers as standard equipment but in the 1970s the idea had a difficult time getting accepted, by both automakers and consumers. Read More >

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