The Truth About Cars » Safety The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:03:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Safety Automotive Archaeology: Where Eaton Crash Tested the First Practical Airbags Sun, 29 Jun 2014 15:16:58 +0000 IMG_0271

Full gallery here

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.

The first modern patent on an inflatable safety device to protect people in car accidents was granted in 1952 to a retired industrial designer named John Hetrick, who called it a “safety cushion”. Inspired by a wartime incident involving compressed air and a torpedo he was repairing, Hetrick’s design used a tank of compressed air and inflatable bags located in the steering wheel, the glove box and the middle of the dash as well as in the front seat backs for rear passengers. The system was actuated by a spring loaded weight that was supposed to sense rapid deceleration and then open a valve, releasing the compressed air. Hetrick unsuccessfully tried to get interest from the domestic automakers and because he didn’t have money to develop the idea, it was stillborn. In the late 1950s, when Ford and General Motors both started working on inflatable safety restraints, they determined that any system that worked would have to have a much more sensitive collision sensor and a much faster inflation system. For an airbag to work, it must inflate in the forty milliseconds between the initial collision and the secondary impact of the passengers hitting the dashboard etc.


Around the same time that Hetrick was working on his safety cushion, German inventor Walter Linderer received a German patent for a similar inflatable cushion system, triggered by the driver or activated by by an impacted bumper.

Who it was that finally made airbags practicable were two men, Allen Breed, a former RCA engineer and chemist John Pietz. Breed’s contribution was twofold. Around 1967 he developed a reliable collision sensor that cost only $5 to manufacture. Then he was granted a patent on an airbag using two layers of fabric that were folded to allow the inflating gas to escape, absorbing even more energy and reducing the impact of the passengers on the airbag. Breed marketed his system to the automakers, eventually making a deal with Chrysler. Pietz was working as a chemist for Talley Defense Systems when they were approached by General Motors looking for something that could be used to inflate the restraints quicker than compressed air. In 1968, Pietz started working with sodium azide, which when combined with a metallic oxide would release nitrogen gas explosively. It worked satisfactorily, and didn’t pose any practical danger to drivers and passengers but Pietz had a hard time getting the auto industry to accept it because sodium azide is toxic when ingested in large amounts. For a long time, though, it was the only practical solution. Since then, nitroguanidine has been substituted as a propellant.

By then, Ford had approached automotive supplier Eaton, Yale, and Towne, Inc. about working on an airbag system. Eaton executive William Carey had sold the company on doing airbag research in the mid-1960s in order to develop a safety system to protect children on school buses. He was initially budgeted $100,000 for the project, which was assigned to scientist Charles Simon. Carey’s team looks at things as diverse as diverse as popping popcorn and how party balloons were inflated. They even experimented with blasting caps supplied by a Detroit area demolition company, though the parts to that experimental bag were never all found. In time the team would grow to 100 people, funded with $35 million from Eaton and another $100 million from all three domestic and several overseas automakers.

They developed what was eventually marketed as Eaton’s “Auto-Ceptor” restraints. A sensor was mounted on the firewall which activated a detonator that released pressurized nitrogen into urethane coated nylon bags. Everything worked quickly enough to be practical but the project was not an immediate success. In 1969, Ford sent a team of engineers to Washington D.C. to demonstrate the prototype to the Dept. of Transportaion but the system failed to activate when the button was pushed. Henry Ford II was so angry when he heard about the failed demo that he temporarily cancelled the program, saying he didn’t want any “Rube Goldberg device” in “his” cars.

Eaton carried on with the research and it was decided by Ford to proceed with offering the safety system on its full-sized Ford and Mercury sedans. However, FoMoCo’s chief body engineer, Stuart Frey, sent Eaton back to the drawing board to resolve a number of issues that he felt had to be addressed before airbags went into production cars. To begin with, there were reliability and performance issues with the components. Of even greater concern was child safety. As then designed, the airbags were giving child-sized crash test dummies what would have been fatal blows. The bags were also not effective for angled crashes and Ford discovered that the deployment of airbags often resulted in broken or blown out windshields.


Years later, in the mid-1990s, when concerns over the deaths of 52 children and petite women caused by airbags were prompting regulators to consider warning stickers or even eliminating mandated airbags, Carey, by then retired, mounted his own personal public relations campaign to defend Eaton’s invention. He said that their earliest research showed that unbelted or out of position children could be at risk, something they didn’t hide from automakers or regulators. Carey would eventually be honored by the Automotive Hall of Fame for his team’s development of the first practical airbags.

Much of that development took place at a small test site just south of Eaton’s Southfield, Michigan research center. I found out about it from my brother, who worked as a technician for the company many years ago. He told me that they had a big concrete barrier, mounted on it’s own reinforced foundation that was buried many feet into the ground, and that occasionally they’d hire professional drivers to crash into the barriers to prove their airbags’ effectiveness. That sounded a bit urban legendish, but I learned to trust my big brother a long time ago.

Since the location is just 3 or 4 miles from my house I took the Toyota Tundra Platinum Crew Max I was reviewing for the short drive over there. I found a parking lot with Eaton trucks and my first impression was that the crash facility had been disassembled. There was a concrete pad, but no barrier. Then as I was leaving, I noticed a driveway at the back of the parking lot. My original thought was that it was a private driveway, but as I drove down the ~500 foot straightaway, I spotted the large concrete barrier at the far end of the drive, and I noticed that I was driving directly over two steel tracks embedded in a concrete strip that runs down the length of the otherwise asphalt driveway.

When I got near the barrier and parked the truck, I noticed a second barrier off to the side that was apparently used for testing impacts into poles and the like. The concrete in that second barrier is shaped like a triangle so perhaps it was also used to test offset and angled crashes as Ford body engineer Stuart Frey suggested. Assorted supplemental weights were piled on the main barrier, which I’d estimate was abut 16 feet wide, 4 feet deep and about 4 feet tall, made of reinforced concrete. My guess is that the supplemental weights were used to alter the weight of test sleds. The concrete pad upon which the barrier block stands has some wide fractures, perhaps from all the impacts.

On the cinderblock wall behind the barrier were some no-longer-used electrical utility boxes, with signs of other electrical equipment being formerly located along the path of the track. It’s quite silent and peaceful there now, quite a contrast, I’m sure, to the violent collisions that took place time and again in that location more than four decades ago. In time perhaps the vegetation will encroach on the asphalt track. Some plants are already starting to grow up through the rack at the start of the embedded guides.

I took a few photographs and just for grins I shot some video from the truck as it approached the barrier. Then I went home and sent my brother, who now lives in Jerusalem, an email thanking him for such a cool tip. I’m still not sure about the story about the race drivers driving cars into the barrier. The presence of guide tracks and a small hole through the barrier lead me to believe they used sleds and cables, as are still used in crash test facilities today. Human drivers aren’t very good at uniform speeds and reproducible results. Also, as mentioned before, crash test dummies were already in use when Eaton was working on their airbags.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Click on the settings icon to watch in 2D or your choice of 3D formats. Sorry for the shaky camera work, I wasn’t expecting to shoot video and left my steadycam gizmo at home.

While Carey and Simon may have developed the first practical airbags and can be given credit for saving many lives, their employer didn’t benefit much from the way that the industry and consumers have embraced the technology. Eaton stopped selling airbags in 1975, not being able to justify development costs for the then minimal market demand.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Open Thread: Valukas Report Released By NHTSA Thu, 05 Jun 2014 16:21:32 +0000 Valukascover

Today, GM held a press conference regarding the Valukas Report on GM’s Ignition Switch Recalls, featuring CEO Mary Barra, as well as top execs like Mark Reuss and Dan Amman. The only problem was that the report had yet to be released, denying journalists the chance to question GM brass on its findings.

Just minutes ago, the report surfaced online, and we are in the process of reading and analyzing the report. For now, you can download a copy here. Feel free to discuss your own findings in the comments thread. At the press conference, GM also announced the dismissal of 15 unnamed executives, as well as a soon-to-be-detailed compensation program for victims.

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Too Big To Fail, Too Confused To Operate: Analysis Of 619 Pages Of Cobalt Engineering Documents [w/ Full Text] Thu, 17 Apr 2014 14:00:20 +0000  

The House Energy & Commerce Committee recently released the documents GM submitted for investigation, which includes emails and internal reports documenting GM’s response to reports of their early Chevrolet Cobalt and Saturn Ion models inadvertently shutting the car “off” while driving due to an ignition cylinder that was, simply, too easy to turn out of the “run” position; and in the case of several accidents, allowed the ignition cylinder to rotate out of the run condition before or during accidents, causing the airbags to not deploy when required.

The documents, totaling 619 pages (some with repeat info), reveal just how deep seated “old GM” was in their cost cutting ways (Driving down supplier costs to the point of sacrificing quality, admittedly poorly designed ignition cylinder, and removing internal quality control on the parts), and just how blind sided “new GM” was during their investigations. It also confirms how suspended engineers Ray DeGiorgio and Gary Altman were involved in the ignition switch response, and fuzzy problem solving. Full text and an analysis of key documents below.

We already know the basics of how this happened, but it’s still surprising just how ingrained GM was in putting the issue aside. The key issues are these:

  • GM became aware of the ignition issue in the 2001 preproduction Saturn Ion and the 2005 preproduction Chevrolet Cobalt.
  • Gary Altman initiated the report that lead to the insert, and Ray DeGiorgio consulted on the fix and argued against ignition switch changes.
  • Many different options were proposed, including suggestions from Delphi.
  • Cost played a major role in the decision to not recall the ignition switch early on.
  • The later key insert was the result, and was seen not as a fix, but as a “containment.”
  • GM also had very little oversight on parts from Delphi, only relying on Delphi’s incomplete testing.
  • GM’s engineers knowingly put the cars to market with a defective ignition switch.
  • This lead to ISB #05-02-35-007.
  • In 2006, DeGiorgio eventually signed off on design changes for Delphi, that included a stronger spring and plunger for the detent mechanism in the ignition cylinder, which provides a physical resistance between the different key positions.
  • When implemented in 2007, the new ignition cylinders cost less than a dollar per unit more than the original design; $400,000 to retool the production lines. These are the same changes that were deemed “not an acceptable business case” in 2005
  • As company, however, no one knew who signed off on the change until the Melton family lawsuit.
  • In court, DeGiorgio testified that he was unaware of changes to the ignition cylinder that would have effected the detents, only mentioning the key change..
  • Later investigations showed that the Cobalt had a substantial number of airbag warranty claims.
  • Higher level GM representatives broadsided by NHTSA’s investigations and disapproval of their slow reaction to other recent recalls.

First up, Gary Altman’s and Ray Giorgio’s role in the ignition cylinder issue is a problem. In court, Altman claimed that he did not feel that the Melton’s car was “unsafe.” This coming after submitting the initial mechanical complaint about the ignition falling out of run, in 2004: meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf
During the investigation, several different approaches to modify the ignition cylinder were brought up to DeGiorgio. All of which were quickly dismissed by DeGiorgio, because the switch was already “very fragile,” meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (1)
Later on, all fixes were dropped, as it wasn’t deemed necessary. With a tight deadline and budget, the engineers could not justify any of the fixes at the time, as it wasn’t an “acceptable business case.” meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (2) meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (3) meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD017.pdf (4)

In 2006, DeGiorgio finally signed off on a design change for Delphi. The design change included  a stronger spring and longer detent plunger to increase the force needed to switch the key between different positions, along with an unrelated electrical upgrade. In an unexplained move, DeGiorgio did not assign a new part number to the improved switch design. The design change added 90 cents to the parts cost, and about $400,000 in tooling costs.


cobalt report 3 meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD047.pdf (1)

But, with this large of a role in the decision to delay the redesigned ignition switch, DeGiorgio claimed that he was not aware of any mechanical changes to the switches during his testimony in the Melton family suit against GM: meetings IF IF02 20140401 102033 HHRG-113-IF02-20140401-SD056.pdf
Though, he did sign off on the changes, and worked with Delphi to test batches of ignition cylinders that contained an upgraded PCB (Printed Circuit Board), and detent plunger:

cobalt report 14 sites default files documents GM-Commodity-Validation-Sign-Off-2006-4-26.pdf


Curiously enough, though, is that GM had very little oversight on Delphi’s quality control, and Delphi did not check the rotational torque needed to turn past the switches detents. GM simply accepted Delphi’s parts and trusted their QC. But with rumored tensions between GM and Delphi, it’s said that cost cutting measures might be to blame as GM forced Delphi to push prices down, sacrificing parts quality. If this were true, GM’s choice to outsource QC to the supplier left them in the dark for too long, preventing them from seeing the immediate effects of their problems with Delphi:

cobalt report 4cobalt report 18

While this was going on, GM released the key insert as a “containment solution;” it would be the minimum needed to alleviate the problem for effected customers. This was chosen over two other modifications to the ignition cylinder, which were seen as a “partial solution” in the case of adding an additional detent mechanism to add more resistance to rotating the key out of “run,” and a “sure solution” involving moving the ignition switch higher up on the column, using a gear drive system to reach the rotary switch responsible for selecting which electrical circuit to run on. The added gearing would also increase rotational torque, the design stated.
cobalt report 11
cobalt report 12cobalt report 13
In 2007, the NHTSA began to probe into the surprising number of airbag-related complaints, despite “GM’s indications that they see no specific pattern.”
cobalt report 15

The issue was set aside, for the most part, until GM was informed by the Melton suit that there was a possible design change in the switch, based on an investigation into junkyard-found switches from the effected models. The testing showed that there was a noticeable change in detent torque, but no documentation from GM to show the changes. The GM engineers and representatives in the case were caught off guard by this design change, and began an internal investigation. This investigation lead GM engineer Brian Stouffer to find the documents that showed DeGiorgio signing off on design changes with no part number change.

cobalt report 5cobalt report 16
Finally, the most impressive point of this story comes from GM’s reactions to the NHTSA’s investigations. The NHTSA emailed GM asking for clarification on several other recalls, documenting GM’s reactions to other product issues with a disdain for GM’s penchant for doing the least amout possible to avoid full recalls; ie: regional recalls for parts failures in the rust-belt states. Saying that some were broadsided by this information would be an understatement:

cobalt report 19[...]
cobalt report 19

The response by Mike Robinson, VP for environment, energy and safety policy, sums up GM’s perception and confusion over their responses to the Cobalt issue, and several other poor recall responses in the past. “This note from NHTsA, both the content and tone, comes like a bolt out of the blue,” he states, “We worked way too hard to earn a reputation as the best and we are not going to let this slide.”

cobalt report 19
To summarize, GM is its own worst enemy. They responded poorly to incredibly early reports, dismissing the issue too quickly as a casual problem. With reports going back to 2001, during the Saturn Ion development, there is no reason why the switch should have come unmodified to the Cobalt development; never mind the dismissal of the problem before the car was produced. Ray DeGiorgio’s role in this problem is larger than he initially lead on in the Melton case, though his motive in this discrepancy is unknown at this time.

Full text to all 619 pages can be find here.

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Tesla Leads Charge To Replace Side Mirrors With Cameras Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:08:01 +0000 Tesla Model X Concept

Should Tesla and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers — including General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen — be successful in their petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, new cars could soon have cameras instead of side mirrors.

Automotive News reports the petition — on the heels of the agency mandating rearview cameras by 2018 in all light-duty vehicles — explains cameras could do the same job as mirrors while allowing for increased aerodynamics:

In light of future greenhouse gas and corporate average fuel economy requirements beginning in 2017, camera-based systems represent an opportunity to increase vehicle fuel efficiency through improved aerodynamics by eliminating externally mounted mirrors.

Current regulations place cameras as a supplement to side mirrors, with Nissan, Honda and Mercedes-Benz offering such systems, while Volkswagen’s XL1 is one of a few vehicles to do away with mirrors by using cameras in their stead.

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GM Recalls 1.3 Million Additional Vehicles As Barra Heads To D.C. Tue, 01 Apr 2014 10:07:19 +0000 GM

The Detroit News reports General Motors CEO Mary Barra boarded a commercial flight from Detroit to Washington, D.C. Sunday in order to prepare for two separate hearings before Congress regarding her company’s handling of the ongoing 2014 recall crisis. While in the nation’s capital, she also met with 25 family members whose relatives were killed in crashes linked to the ignition switch behind the recall.

CNN Money adds GM is about to reveal the names of the 13 people who lost their lives due to catastrophic failure linked to the defective part. The information will be made available to the public, with sensitive information — corporate secrets and personal data — redacted prior to publication. The information is part of a request by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration due April 3.

As for what Barra and NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman plan to say before the House and Senate hearings, Automotive News reports Friedman is standing firm on his agency’s effort to “properly carry out its safety mission based on the data available to it and the process it followed” in prepared remarks to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, while Barra reiterates her position on the events leading up to the recall and subsequent actions moving forward:

When we have answers, we will be fully transparent with you, with our regulators and with our customers.

Automotive News also put forth four key issues Barra and Friedman will have to explain before Congress and the general public:

  • How GM’s multiple internal investigations failed to lead to a recall sooner
  • Why NHTSA failed to launch an investigation, despite signs that a faulty switch might be causing airbags not to deploy
  • Whether and how GM’s vehicle-safety protocols have changed
  • Whether GM’s internal processes were violated or laws were broken

Tying into the fourth issue, House Democrats have found and named the engineer behind the 2006 ignition redesign as Ray DeGiorgio, who denied in a 2013 court deposition having knowledge that the part was changed. They also penned a letter to Barra stating the redesigned switch still didn’t meet spec, based on information provided by supplier Delphi confirming the switches meant for 2008 – 2011 models tested poorly alongside the switch approved in 2002 now linked to 13 fatalities and 33 crashes.

Automotive News also posits the reason behind the NHTSA not pushing forward on a recall sooner was due to a heavy focus on child deaths linked to airbags. When GM introduced a smart airbag system in their vehicles in the 2000s, the agency focused on whether or not the airbags were doing their job to protect children placed in the front seat, with the goal of assessing “real world” performance while spotting “unusual circumstances” — such as the flawed ignition switch behind the recall — that would allow for “early identification of potential problems,” according to a 2004 statement by former agency boss Chip Chidester.

In new recall news, GM recalled 1.3 million vehicles made between 2004 and 2010 whose power steering could suddenly lose electric power, with the automaker aware of “some crashes and injuries” tied to the steering. Vehicles affected include: Chevrolet Malibu, Malibu Maxx, non-turbo HHR and Cobalt; Saturn Aura and Ion; and Pontiac G6.

As for reporting issues that could lead to a recall, GM leads the way in filing early-warning reports to the NHTSA with 6,493 reports between 2005 and 2007; Chrysler and Toyota filed around 1,300 in the same period, while Honda filed 290. However, the cause behind the numbers is in how each automaker follows the 2000 TREAD Act, with GM setting an extremely low threshold for reporting in comparison to other automakers.

Finally, a number of lawsuits are being aimed directly at dismantling the liability protection GM’s 2009 bankruptcy provided to “New GM.” The tactics range from securities fraud and loss of resale value, to wrongful death.

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BlackBerry Fights Google, Apple To Maintain Connected-Car Lead Fri, 28 Mar 2014 12:44:33 +0000 Blackberry-QNX-Car-Entertainment-and-Telematics

Though BlackBerry owns a sliver of the smartphone market they once dominated, its QNX-based connected-car systems may be the best weapon they have in maintaining its lead over the companies that drove the Canadian company nearly out of the smartphone business.

Bloomberg reports QNX — the choice for connected-car systems by Ford, Porsche and BMW among others — is now facing competition from both Apple and Google for market and mind share of an industry expected to be worth $53 billion in 2018.

According to IHS Automotive analyst Mark Boyadjis, the bigger challenge will come from Google, whose Android operating system helped finish the job Apple’s iPhone began in 2007 in pushing out BlackBerry from the global smartphone market. Google — who also collaborates with the QNX division on occasion — has already put its mark on the Kia Soul and Mercedes-AMG SLS, and established the Open Automotive Alliance with Audi, General Motors, Honda and Hyundai.

Meanwhile, BlackBerry and Apple are on more equal footing with the latter’s CarPlay platform, bringing the connect-car/iPhone experience to Ferrari at the 2014 Geneva Auto Show this month.

As for QNX itself, the BlackBerry-owned division continues to expand further into the connected-car market, with Ford dropping Microsoft for the micro-kernel OS in its maligned Sync/MyFord Touch system last month. The Blue Oval’s action would place the automaker in good company, as QNX also powers systems used by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Hyundai, and Jaguar.

The biggest advantage QNX has over Google and Apple is its proven track record in running safety systems, where a software issue could mean the difference between life and death, which Boyadjis believes will carry BlackBerry and QNX into the future against the two technology titans from California.

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GM Offers Cash Allowance, NHTSA Cites Lack Of Sufficient Data Amid Recall Fallout Thu, 13 Mar 2014 11:39:58 +0000 2007 Pontiac G5

1.37 million owners in the United States affected by the ignition switch recall issued by General Motors last month will be offered $500 toward the purchase or lease of a new vehicle just as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites a lack of sufficient data as the reason said recall wasn’t issued sooner.

Automotive News and Bloomberg report the cash allowance offer will apply to 2013 through 2015 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac models, with the following explanation issued to dealers in a notice delivered March 4:

GM will not market or solicit owners using this allowance. We ask that you not market to or solicit these customers either. This allowance is not a sales tool; it is to be used to help customers in need of assistance.

For owners opting to have their affected vehicles repaired, a free loaner will be made available for the duration of the repair, as well as free towing to the dealership if so requested. Said repair work is scheduled to begin early next month.

Meanwhile, NHTSA acting administrator David Friedman explained that a lack of sufficient data regarding the ignition switch behind the recall prevented his organization from forcing such a recall out of GM sooner than last month:

If we had that information, if GM had provided us with timely information, we would have been able to take a different course with this. We took several efforts to look into this data.

At the end of the day, with the data we had at that time, we didn’t think that was sufficient to open up a formal investigation.

The NHTSA is facing criticism over their lack of action as of late from both Congress — who are launching their own investigation over the recall — and former employees, such as former administrator Joan Claybrook. Claybrook asked the Transportation Department’s inspector general to look into why “no one [was] evaluating why NHTSA failed to carry out the law” in regards to the issue, which had been known in some capacity to the organization since 2006 when investigators were sent to document a high-speed fatal crash in Wisconsin involving a Chevrolet Cobalt and two women resulting from the switch cutting off engine power while preventing air-bag deployment.

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General Motors Expanding Ignition Cylinder Recall To Other Models, Releases Timeline On Failure [w/ Full Text] Thu, 27 Feb 2014 22:19:31 +0000 2010-chevrolet-cobalt-pic-25714

“The process employed to examine this phenomenon was not as robust as it should have been. We are deeply sorry and we are working to address this issue as quickly as we can.” – Alan Batey,  president of General Motors North America

Yesterday, GM expanded their ignition switch recall to include the other models mentioned in the #05-02-35-007A Technical Information Service Bulletin (“ISB”). These include:

  • 2005 – 2007 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2006 – 2007 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2003 – 2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2007  Saturn Sky

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also launching a probe into why GM took so long to issue a recall. GM also released their chronology of the ignition cylinder issue and years of investigation to TTAC, which we will break down for your digestion along with the full text, after the jump.

You can read the full text here. Be warned, it’s over 2,300 words long. Here’s a detailed summary of the events:


GM became aware of the issue around the time of the Cobalt launch, when GM learned of one incident where a Cobalt was turn off when the key was inadvertently knocked out of run. GM was able to replicate the issue, and an engineering query was started. Known as the Problem Resolution Tracking System inquiry (“PRTS”), it’s GM’s process for studying defects, finding a solution to the defect, and deciding whether or not the solution should be implemented.

“Engineers believed that low key cylinder torque effort was an issue and considered a number of potential solutions. After consideration of the lead time required, cost, and effectiveness of each of these solutions, the PRTS was closed with no action.”


More incidents were reported to GM of the Cobalt’s ignition cylinder being easily knocked out of “run.” In a PRTS opened in May of 2005, an engineer suggested that the Cobalt’s key slot be changed into a holeThough the initial proposal was approved, the change was later canceled. This lead to the first ISB  #05-02-35-007 in December 2005, which included all of the models (Except for the Saturn Sky, which had not been released just yet) listed above in the current recall , but only up to the 2006 Model Year (“MY”). GM was aware of accidents that had occured before the ISB was issued, and responded to them in the New York Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and The Daily Item (Sunbury, PA) according to the report.

The ISB was later updated to include MY 2007, and the MY 2007 Saturn Sky, which is the copy TTAC obtained last week.

“GM concluded in December 2005 that the Service Bulletin and field service campaign was the appropriate response to the reported incidents, given that the car’s steering and braking systems remained operational even after a loss of engine power, and the car’s engine could be restarted by shifting the car into either neutral or park.”


The engineer responsible for the original ignition switch design signed off on the approval of design changes suggested by GM’s supplier, Delphi Mechatronics. The changes include, among other things, a new detent plunger design and stronger spring to increase the level of effort needed to twist the key between positions. The design was implemented by Delphi with out a change in part number, so GM did not have a hard date in which the design change made it to the effected models, but they believe it was for MY 2007. This is why ISB  #05-02-35-007 was amended to the  #05-02-35-007A in 2006 to include MY2007 models.

On August 1, 2006, GM opened a new PRTS when a Cobalt customer complained of stalling issues after receiving a new ignition cylinder. The PRTS was closed after the condition could not be replicated with 100 miles of driving.


On March 29, 2007, GM employees met with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) to discuss occupant safety. In the meeting, the NHTSA informed the GM employees of a fatal accident that happened on July 29, 2005, where a 2005 Cobalt was involved in a front-end collision, and the vehicle’s sensing and diagnostic module (“SDM”) detected that the car was in the “accessory” position. Though GM’s legal department had opened a case in 2005, the GM employees at the NHTSA meeting were not aware of the incident.

GM tasked an investigating engineer to look into Cobalt crashes. By the end of 2007, GM found ten incidents where the car was claimed to have shut down prior to the accident. SDM was available for nine out of the ten crashes. In five of those crashes, the SDM reported that the ignition was in the “run” position, and four where in the “accessory” position.


In Febuary 2009, a new PRTS was opened, and finally concluded with the design change in the Cobalt key suggested earlier. GM also met with Continental, the supplier of the SDM’s used in the Cobalt, in May. By this point, GM was aware of fourteen crashes, seven with the SDM reporting the key in the “run” position, and seven reporting the key in the “accessory” position. GM sent two Cobalt SDM’s that reported the ignition in the “run” position at the time of the accident to Continental for further testing. Continental revealed in the meeting that they had access to data that GM engineers did not, and found that in both SDM’s the sensing algorithm had been stopped while reporting the key in the “run” position. GM and Contentental discussed possible causes, but it is not known by TTAC at this time as to what those possible causes were.


The Cobalt’s production was phased out as previously planned.


GM launched an alphabet soup investigation using their Field Performance Evaluation (“FPE”) process, and assigned a  Field Performance Assessment Engineer (“FPAE”) to investigate a group of 2005-2007 Cobalt and 2007 Pontiac G5 crashes where the airbags had no deployed in a frontal crash.

The results were inconclusive at first, with several other driver-factors that came into play with some of the accidents (Gravel roads, high speeds, etc). The only thing confirmed in the FPE investigation was that “some of the ignitions were recorded as having been in the ‘run’ position, while others were recorded as having been in either the “accessory” or “off” positions, at the time of the crash.”

The FPAE was asked to investigate if other known issues, namely the known ignition cylinder issues, were to explain the airbag non-deployment in the 2007 and earlier vehicles.


In May of 2012, the FPAE tested the ignition cylinders of Chevrolet Cobalts, Chevrolet HHRs, Pontiac G5s, and Saturn Ions, in model years ranging from 2003 through 2010, according to the report. The cars were sampled at a salvage yard, and tested for their “torque performance,” or how much torque it takes to rotate the key though its detents. They found in vehicles made from MY 2007 and before that several switches showed torque performance below what GM had originally specified.

GM also looked to see if changes to the Cobalt’s anti-theft system in 2008 had any effect on the design of ignition cylinder, but results were inconclusive. GM opened two studies using their “Red X” and “Design for Six Sigma” problem-solving methodologies to look at why the tested ignition cylinders’ torque performance differed so greatly between one another. The Red X investigation was closed in November of 2012. The Design for Six Sigma investigation closed in January 2013. Both were inconclusive.


In April of 2013, the FPAE discovered that the torque performance of a new GM ignition switch purchased after 2010 differed greatly from one in a 2005 Cobalt. The FPAE also learned that the plunger and spring differed greatly, as well.

Shortly after that assessment, GM consulted an outside engineering resource to investigate all of their findings. It was confirmed that the MY2007 and older cars regularly failed to meet the torque performance that GM had specified; that there was a change in the ignition cylinder design in late-2006 by Delphi, the part supplier; and that those changes were responsible for the different torque performance difference in the MY2007 and older cars when compared to the later model cars.

With all analysis complete, the results were brought to GM’s Field Performance Evaluation Review Committee (“FPERC”) and the Executive Field Action Decision Committee (“EFADC”) on December 17th, 2013, and a second EFADC meeting on January 31, 2014, when the EFADC directed a safety recall.


GM’s report summarizes it best:

Between 2005 and the date of this submission, GM is currently aware of 23 frontal-impact crashes involving 2005 to 2007 Chevrolet Cobalts and 2007 Pontiac G5s in which the recall condition may have caused or contributed to the airbags’ non-deployment. During that same timeframe, of these crashes, GM is currently aware of six that resulted in eight fatalities of frontal occupants. GM employees became aware of many of these crashes within a month of the dates on which they occurred. As GM learned of these crashes, employees undertook to investigate the underlying facts and circumstances to determine, among other things, why the airbags had not deployed. With respect to 22 of the 23 frontal-impact crashes referenced above, the data retrieved from the vehicles’ SDMs indicated that the ignition switches were in the “run” position in nine of the crashes, in the “accessory” position in twelve of the crashes, and in the “off” position in one of the crashes. Throughout this period, GM was involved in claims and lawsuits in which allegations were made regarding the ignition switch issue that is the subject of the recall. These 23 crashes are out of a total U.S. population of 619,122 vehicles subject to the pending recall.


What’s clear to me is this: GM was neglectful in dismissing the issue so early on. While the design was repaired by Delphi in a reasonable amount of time, the implementation into the older models should not have been ignored for so long. This is where GM dropped the ball, in my opinion. The key design change was not enough, only bandaiding the fault of the ignition cylinder.

So, here is the question for you, B&B. Where is GM irresponsible?

Were they justified in delaying their full investigation with the FPAE until 2011, 7 years after finding the issue? And was their investigation timely? Delphi solved the problem in late-2006, why did it take GM until 2013 to confirm the changes and move forward with the recall?

[Ed. Note: Title updated with full text mention]

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Analysts: Peak Car To Arrive By 2020s Thu, 27 Feb 2014 13:54:56 +0000 Ferrari 550 Pininfarina Barchetta

After a century of motoring, and with several factors rapidly changing the landscape, analysts are forecasting the peak of global automotive growth to come sometime in the 2020s.

The Detroit News reports that as more people join the exodus out of suburbia into major cities, along with other factors such as pollution, gridlock, build quality and the adoption of alternative modes of transportation — particularly among younger generations who cannot afford a car of their own — auto sales around the globe will peak somewhere around 100 million in the next decade, according to several analysts such as IHS Automotive.

Further, 44 percent of Americans surveyed by Intel said they would prefer to live in big cities with driverless cars able to keep traffic flowing smoothly, while one out of 10 households have no car at all.

The coming upheaval is prompting automakers to consider their place in the new scene, where red barchetta owners outrun silver bubble cars, and where car ownership gives way to car sharing. Tim Ryan, vice chairman of markets and strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, puts the future of motoring into perspective:

The key question is: Do you sell cars or do you sell mobility? If you ignore these megatrends, you run the risk of becoming irrelevant.

With an expected 25 percent to 50 percent increase urban dwelling over the next decade, and 9 billion expected to live in urban areas 25 years from now, the groundwork is being prepared to meet this coming challenge. Gartner Inc. auto analyst Thilo Koslowski predicts urbanites to use ride- and car-sharing services such as Lyft and Car2Go to commute to their destination, with autonomous cars picking up their passengers, and using GPS and other communication technologies to deliver them safely.

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GM Knew About Deadly Defect For Nearly A Decade, Dismissed It In Technical Service Bulletin Fri, 21 Feb 2014 02:00:48 +0000 cobalt TSB1
GM is recalling 778,000 units of the 2005 through 2007 Chevrolet Cobalt and Pontiac G5 over an issue where the ignition cylinder inadvertently turns out of the “Run” position, there by turning the car’s main electrical systems “off”. These systems include the engine, anti-lock brakes, and airbag systems. According to USA Today, GM knew of six deaths, and twenty-two other wrecks related to the ignition failure, and was aware of the defect since 2004.

The recall was issued last week to replace the ignition cylinder on effected models, but the problem is, GM knew about this failure early in 2006 in a Technical Service Bulletin, or TSB for short. In fact, the Cobalt and G5 have had two more ignition related service bulletins in the last few years, which TTAC has obtained.

Upon examining the full text of the 2006 TSB #05-02-35-007A, which dismisses the issue as a mechanical fault almost immediately, TTAC learned that dealers are instructed to adjust customer’s habits before carrying out the apparent fix, which involves changing the shape of the key ring design on the factory key.

According to court documents sourced by USA Today, GM is being sued by the estate of Brooke Melton, who died on March 10, 2010 when her Cobalt lost electrical power and she lost control of the car. This happened despite Melton’s car being returned to her from the dealer after ignition switch repairs, according to the Melton estate’s lawyer, Lance Cooper.

Lance Cooper also added that Melton’s car was not equipped with the modified key GM used for the TSB #05-02-35-007A repair, despite having just left the dealership for ignition cylinder repair.

Full text of TSB#05-02-35-007A and a full understanding of TSBs below:

#05-02-35-007A : Information on Inadvertent Turning of Key Cylinder, Loss of Electrical System and No DTCs – (Oct 25, 2006)

Subject: Information on Inadvertent Turning of Key Cylinder, Loss of Electrical Systems and No DTCs [DTC stands for Diagnostic Trouble Codes]


  • 2005–2007 Chevrolet Cobalt
  • 2005–2007 Chevrolet HHR
  • 2005–2006 Pontiac Pursuit (Canada Only)
  • 2007 Pontiac G5
  • 2006–2007 Pontiac Solstice
  • 2003–2007 Saturn Ion
  • 2007 Saturn Sky

This bulletin is being revised to add a model year. Please discard Corporate Bulletin Number 05-02-35-007 (Section 02 — Steering).

There is potential for the driver to inadvertently turn off the ignition due to low ignition key torque/effort.

The concern is more likely to occur if the driver is short and has a large and/or heavy key chain. In these cases, this condition was documented and the driver’s knee would contact the key chain while the vehicle was turning and the steering column was adjusted all the way down. This is more likely to happen to a person who is short, as they will have the seat positioned closer to the the steering column.

In cases that fit this profile, question the customer thoroughly to determine if this may [be] the cause. The customer should be advised of this potential and should take steps to prevent it — such as removing unessential items from their key chain.

Engineering has come up with an insert for the key ring so that it goes from a “slot” design to a hole design. As a result, the key ring cannot move up and down in the slot any longer – it can only rotate on the hole. In addition, the previous key ring has been replaced with a smaller, 13 mm (0.5 in) design. This will result in the keys not hanging as low as in the past.

Part Number: 15842334
Description: Cover, Dr Lk & Ign Lk Key

This is one of many TSBs related to ignition problems with the Cobalt, among other GM models. Most of the issues were lesser related to the ignition cylinder itself, and more to do with the key being locked into the ignition cylinder when the shifter’s neutral safety switch failed, locking the key in.

But the first line in the TSB description states that there is a fault with the low amount of effort or torque needed to twist the key out of the “Run” position. The method advises by the TSB is to tell the driver to reduce the number of items on the key chain, and presumably adjust their driver position to avoid contact. It’s a fair mention, since having an excess amount of keys on a key chain can wear out the key and tumblers, which would mean it would be harder to ‘unlock’ the cylinder.

But in this case, it sounds more like the weight or size of the key chain can allow the key to back out of the “Run” position, thereby powering down all major driving systems. With the engine down, power steering is gone, and power brakes now only have a short reservoir of vacuum left — enough for one, maybe two pumps of the pedal. With the key out of the “Run” position, safety systems like the anti-lock brakes and airbags are no longer powered up.

In the worst circumstances, such as what was documented in the TSB, it’s easy to see how this would cause an accident. No matter who you are, or what kind of driver you suspect you are, the situation is very dangerous. Even with engine stalling issues for other vehicles, at least the anti-lock brakes and airbag system likely would be powered if there was an accident.

There’s different methods in which suggested repairs are sent to a customer, there are TSB’s (GM calls them Interstate Bulletins, specifically), and there are “Campaigns,” otherwise known as voluntary recalls. When a vehicle comes into a GM dealer, they check the General Motors Vehicle Information System, or GMVIS, for Campaigns.

Now, here’s the kicker, Techincal Service Bulletins are not displayed in the GMVIS report. TSBs are not required repairs. These are not recalls, and customers are not informed of TSBs, and they are only checked for by a service tech when there is a related repair. In this case, the customer would have to bring a car in with ignition problems for a tech to find the TSB.

This is standard practice for the industry, and it works this way for almost every manufacturer. But, whether or not something of this nature should have been left to a TSB and not a Campaign is another issue.

cobalt tsb key

Poorly Photoshopped representation of the suggested 2006 key fix.

The hard solution in 2006 was to change the shape of the key ring hole in the key, from a slot to a hole. This would give the key chain less leverage on the edge of the key, reducing the key chains ability to rotate the key in the cylinder. 

Below is a photo gallery of related TSBs with the initial problem description, along with the full description of the NHTSA Campaign issued last week.. The ignition interlock issues were repaired by diagnosing and repairing the shifter assembly. It is unknown at this time what ignition cylinder issue Melton had when she brought in her Cobalt for repair.

cobalt TSB 3 cobalt TSB 2 cobalt TSB1 2006 CHEVROLET COBALT   Safercar   National Highway Traffic Safety Administration  NHTSA  (1)


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Testing The Limits Of Civil Obedience: An Experiment Thu, 13 Feb 2014 11:00:04 +0000 2013 Taurus Police Interceptor -02- Picture courtesy David Hester

Yesterday, while folks in the Southeast were getting hammered with their second severe winter storm in two weeks, the skies over Buffalo were wonderfully bright and sunny. Of course, when you count the wind chill factor, the temperature barely climbed into the double digits but as a result of the sun and a whole lot of road salt, the highways here were mostly bare and dry. That means my evening commute was a breeze. I hit Route 33 and ran my little CUV up to just over the 55 mph limit and sailed right out of town. Things were going great, but then, unexpectedly, traffic began to slow.

I shifted left into a place I really don’t run that much these days and wicked the speed up to a smidge over 60 in order to keep up the pace. I found myself fourth or fifth back in a line of cars that was whizzing up the fast lane overtaking car after car and, as a student of the road, I began to wonder just what the hell was holding all these people up. I found the reason at the head of the line, a Buffalo City Police cruiser running right at the limit and, like all the good people of the Earth who don’t want a senseless speeding ticket, I found myself easing off the gas. But as I noted his lack of response to all of the cars ahead of me that were simply accelerating away into the wide open space the officer had created, I decided that for whatever reason he simply wasn’t interested in writing tickets and so I continued on, barely adjusting my pace.

Always on the lookout for something that will make a meatier TTAC article than my usual shtick of old time reminiscences, I came home and spent some time on the computer looking at traffic patterns and wondering just how these rolling roadblocks affect the flow of traffic. What, I asked myself, is the point of setting a speed limit that is so low that people simply disobey it as a matter of course? Virtually everyone, I found, pushes the limit and. unless an officer is looking for an excuse to stop a suspicious vehicle, the least of these transgressions are simply ignored and so we receive a sort of tacit approval to speed. Knowing how fast to go can be a problem, however, but most people are pretty good at judging the speeds of the cars around us and we usually just fall into line and run with the crowd. When that happens, people who follow the strict letter of the law become road hazards.

Click here to view the embedded video.

In 2006, a group of Georgia college students decided to point out the absurdity of the 55 mph speed limit by getting in their cars, lining up next to one another on the interstate and then actually following the rules as they drove around the city of Atlanta. Their Youtube video “A Meditation on the Speed Limit” explains the genesis of their plan and gives us the opportunity to observe first hand as we ride along during their daring act of “civil obedience.” It’s like most amateur videos, shaky, poorly framed and without enough shots of the girls, but its an interesting watch. If you are in a place where you can’t actually view the video now, just know that the beginning has several young people railing about the speed limit and talking about their plan, the middle cuts to the car where we see the kids annoying a whole lot of people and nearly causing an accident as they proceed to back up traffic for miles and miles and then ends with them talking about how great their plan was and how they proved the absurdity of the speed limit.

What grabbed my attention were the reactions of the other drivers around them. We all know the law, American roads generally have signs telling us the limit every few miles, but every driver also understands the unwritten rules of the road that tell us we can exceed that limit in a reasonable way so long as everyone else on the road is running somewhere around that same speed. It is a social norm and, when faced with the rolling road block, the social contract we have with other drivers broke down. People were outraged and they started doing anything they could to break through. They even got downright dangerous at times, a couple of people going so far as to use the breakdown lane to make high speed passes!

Writing this now, had I been driving one of the cars stuck behind them, I’m not sure how I would have responded . I would like to think that I would have enough sense not to make a dangerous and illegal pass, but I probably would have followed too closely, hit the headlights, blared the horn and eventually made some pretty threatening gestures after the blockade ended and the kids were busy patting themselves on the back. This kind of thing really makes me angry. We may be a nation of laws but we are a society of norms and whenever the two clash people can get seriously hurt. It is generally accepted that we get at least 5 to 10 mph over in most cases and we damn well better get it.

The strange thing is that I could find no proof that anyone involved in this stunt was ever punished. I found contradictory statements in the press from Georgia State Police officials who said that it was against the law to block the fast lanes, but that the kids did nothing wrong because they were running at the posted speed limit. I expect similar confusion when we hit the point where our in-car technology is used to report speeding violations or to assess us fines. It will be interesting to see if the government continues to allow us the traditional few over or whether they decide to turn this into a cash-cow and get people for every little infraction. The lure of easy money is there and if the whole traffic camera fight is any indication, some municipalities will take the bait. If people react to that intrusion into their daily lives the way they acted towards these kids’ silly experiment, you can expect a revolution. Let’s just hope it happens in the voting booth.

Obama angry.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Dispatches do Brasil: A Five Star Brazilian-Built Ford Thu, 28 Nov 2013 17:08:24 +0000 Latin-NCap-Ford-Ecosport-01-560x373

On the off chance that someday you might walk into your local Ford dealership in Kalamazoo and buy a Brazilian-built Ford EcoSport, at least you now get the ease of mind that it got five stars from Latin NCAP, the institution that tests cars sold in Latin America, in Germany, using pretty much Euro NCAP standards. So it would seem that, as TTAC has previously reported, Brazilian cars may not all be deathtraps.

In its latest round of testing, Latin NCAP tested the aforementioned EcoSport, a new Ford Focus, a VW Jetta, a Brazilian built and for local consumption only Hyundai HB20 sedan, and a Chevy Malibu. For front seat occupants, all cars got 5 stars with the exception of the Hyundai and Chevy that got only 4. Latin NCAP also tests for child safety in the back seats. In the tests, the institute straps the kid into an appropriate seat and whacks the car. In this instance the Brazilian EcoSport and HB20 sedan didn’t do all that well. While the Focus and Jetta managed 5 stars in that test, the Brazilian cars only got 3. Oddly, the Malibu only got 1.

My take on all of this is that modern Brazilian cars are as safe as their projects allow. There is no difference in quality of construction. What really made the previous poor showing was that Brazilian cars have always been low on active safety systems. However, passive safety systems are all built into the cars. This kind of test sets a standard and those who play the game are rewarded. In the case of the EcoSport and HB20 for instance, it’s the second time the institute tests them. In its first test, the cars didn’t manage 5 cars. What was the difference this time around?

As reported by Brazilian enthusiast site a simple sticker sufficed. Yes, you read that right. On the car tested before there was no warning sticker for the passenger to remember to buckle up. On the new car there is, and Latin NCAP graded the EcoSport accordingly. The Hyundai HB20 sedan in the previous test had gotten a low score for child protection. Now it got an acceptable rating. The difference in Hyundai’s case is that now the car was built with an Isofix-type latch. Arguably, safety then has been improved.

Such institutions as the Latin NCAP do provide an invaluable tool for consumers and industry. For consumers, they provide a comparison tool. For industry, they provide goalposts. It seems that the Brazilian car industry has gotten a little smarter and consumers will be a little safer because of it. How much so is, however, an open question.

En passant, I am proud to say that this is the first time a Brazilian built car got the maximum number of stars. I have no doubt Ford will market this to no end and, in the end, this might be a good thing as it will get more Brazilians interested in just how safe the cars they drive everyday are.

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Toyed With From Behind: Hitting Back Fri, 08 Nov 2013 15:12:43 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

A tailgater is a bully par excellence and his weapon is the “I’m not touching you” game. You remember that game, don’t you? It’s the one where your older brother tries to hit you as hard as he can but always manages to miss by a fraction of an inch. When you flinch or complain to your mom the refrain is always the same: “I never even touched you.” Of course, to keep things interesting, sometimes he does actually hit you – if he always missed you’d have nothing to fear, right? On the road the game is almost exactly the same and nine times out of ten the bully never hits you. But once in a while – once in a great while – it’s “metal up your ass.”

We all know how it feels when a tailgater slides up behind. It starts innocently enough when he is just another car running with traffic but soon he has eased up onto your bumper until he is mere inches away. Your heart begins to beat faster as you look in the rearview and see him sitting back there, his unblinking, angry eyes boring into your own via the mirror. You look away and accelerate slightly to add some distance but he matches your move and slips slightly to the left where he fills your side-view mirror with light from his driver’s side headlight. The pressure builds.

Photo courtesy of

As it is with physical bullying, being the victim of a tailgater can cause you a great deal of mental stress. No matter how strong or self-assured you might be in real life, you feel the powerless before a tailgater and short of pulling over and challenging them to a fist fight you have few real options other than surrender. Hitting your brakes might lead to an accident. Gradually dropping your speed might net you a pass on the right and a close call when the other driver purposefully cuts you off as he swerves back into your lane.

My favorite tactics are more passive aggressive. If it is raining, I slide over onto the wettest part of the road and kick up as much spray as possible. It helps if there are pebbles and small debris there as well and anything my tires can kick up becomes a weapon in my private little war, tiny missiles that stick to his windshield or impinge upon his paint. Eventually I will tire of the game and move right but if the tailgater has been especially annoying I do it as slowly as possible. I may even let off the gas to drop my speed as I change lanes, causing the other driver some discomfort as I unexpectedly slow mid-lane change.

Of course all these kinds of things are quite petty, aren’t they? How much more simple life would be if people stayed right except to pass or to allow others onto the freeway. How much more simple things would be if our egos weren’t all wrapped up in huge pieces of steel running down the highway at speeds exceeding a mile a minute. We should all live and let live and love our neighbors as ourselves, right? Riiight…

Image courtesy of

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?: When Did We Get This Stupid? Fri, 08 Nov 2013 10:00:27 +0000 IMG_20131107_133152

I’m not sure why a generation or two ago municipalities replaced the old Walk / Don’t Walk crossing signals with lights using pictograms instead. Perhaps someone thought they were more easily understood, or perhaps it was part of general trend towards using international symbols, like the little fuel pump by your gas gauge instead of the word “Fuel”. Either way, Walk / Don’t Walk was considered obsolete. Now, it seems as though the pictograms just weren’t that easily understood, as we apparently have to explain to people that a red hand means “don’t walk” and that a white pictogram of a person walking means “walk”.


The notion of a countdown is also apparently considered très difficile for the average pedestrian, or at least it’s considered so by the people who buy crossing signals for cities and counties, since we also have to be told that the numerals represent how many seconds we have left to cross the street. The company that makes these signs and the municipalities that buy them are trying to clarify things, I’m sure, but am I the only person who finds the instructions at the bottom of the sign, “To Cross Push Button” with an arrow pointing to the side, a little confusing? It took me a second to realize that the arrow indicates which street crossing that signal controls, not where the button is. Discuss amongst yourselves.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If you think 3D is a plot to get you to buy yet another new TV set, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Threat Level 11: How Do We Mitigate The Danger? Fri, 25 Oct 2013 14:25:05 +0000 Image Courtesy of:

Image Courtesy of:

My dad freaked out. We weren’t going that fast when the old dump truck struggled out onto the road some distance ahead of us and it was a simple matter to just let off the gas and coast for a bit while the old truck worked its way up through the gears to the posted 35mph limit. The road in front of the construction site was a mess of mud and gravel and although I am sure my father didn’t appreciate the muddy spray on the otherwise clean flanks of his Delta 88, he seemed rather unbothered about the whole event – at least until we finally closed the distance and drew up behind the big truck. It was then he read the scene in front of him and jumped hard on the brakes. As the old truck rumbled away he turned to me and asked “Did you see that?”

At fourteen years of age, I was already getting some wheel time. It had started a year or so earlier when, on the way home from church, I had asked to drive. There was a pull-out about a mile from our house and my father had stopped there and allowed me to take the wheel. I had required a lot of help at first, but week after week we stopped at the same point, then at another a little further away, then at another place even further from home and eventually I was allowed to drive the entire 9 miles with minimal assistance. Naturally, I didn’t get to drive everywhere, and so I wasn’t behind the wheel that fateful day, but even so it became a learning opportunity.

Photo Courtesy of:

I had seen the truck lumber out onto the road, it was an old dump truck from the 1950s that looked to be in poor shape and saw the muddy tracks and gravel it dragged out onto the roadway, but other than the mud, which my father had been bothered little by, I did not see any other danger. My dad, however, had. As we had pulled up behind the old truck he had made note of any loose dirt and gravel that might fall from the truck onto the road, but pebbles and sticks falling off old trucks was par for the course in our neck of the woods. It was the other thing he saw that was the real cause of his alarm – a large rock wedged into the space between the old truck’s dual tires.

David, they say, slew the mighty Goliath with just a few small rocks flung from a simple leather sling. The threat we faced that day relies upon the same principle, only replace “small rocks” with “15 pound stone cannonball” and “leather sling” with “high speed centrifuge.” At just thirty five miles an hour, the forces on that stone must have been tremendous. There was no way it would just plop out onto the road, it was going to come out with real velocity and Lord help anyone unlucky enough to be in its way. At the end of the road, the old truck pulled into a gravel pit and my father followed it in and apprised the driver of the situation. I watched as the driver knocked it loose with a hammer and we went on our way.

Photo courtesy of:

Photo courtesy of:

For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about safety this week. The road is a busy place and the situation changes from minute to minute. Even a bare and dry road has flaws, dips and bumps, pavement patches and tar snakes, ruts, ridges and rills. Add to this, any number of other obstacles: flying litter, the squashed bodies of dead animals, broken bits of cars, construction debris and even tools – virtually anything that a person who works out of their truck may have forgotten to secure, and the threat factor gets turned up to 11.

In my last article, I talked a little about the changes I need to make in order to become a better driver and I was happy to see that some of you took that as a challenge to be honest with yourselves about your own self improvement as well. This time, I want to talk about the tricks of the trade – the “life hacks” as the kids call them these days – that we rely upon every time we slide behind the wheel. I know you have them. So, show us what you are made of TTAC, share your tricks and help us all be safer out there.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Driving Ability: Have I Lost The “Eye Of The Tiger?” Wed, 23 Oct 2013 15:39:43 +0000 Click here to view the embedded video.

I’ve let myself go over the years. No, I’m not talking about the almost 100 pounds I have gained since I left hallowed halls of Snohomish High School almost 30 years ago, I’m talking about my driving habits. 10 and 2 has slipped to 7 and crotch, with crotch occasionally slipping to 6 to steady the wheel while 7 moves around for added leverage. Know what I mean? I know you do…

Like most of the people who read TTAC, I would like to think I am an above average driver – knock on wood. I bolster that claim by citing the low number of accidents I have been involved in over the years. I can think of just three – one when I was 17 and put my Nova in the ditch, one when I was 18 and put my Nova in yet a different ditch and another in my late 20s when I slid my Geo Metro off of Interstate 90. In the first case, I ran off the road because I was doing doughnuts in the gravel (oops!), the second was on a dark snowy night when I came up over a hill and found the road full of little kids sledding and the third, which should have been the worst, was when I got crossed up on black ice and blew of the Interstate going full speed. In every case, I was able to fish the car back onto the road and go home without a single bit of damage. I have never struck another car (unless you count the times I may or may not have bumped someone parallel parking) nor have I ever caused anyone the slightest injury. Considering that I have been a licensed driver for more than 30 years and have probably driven somewhere north of a million miles in my life, I think that’s a pretty good record.

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

In the twisties I have a good sense of my cars’ abilities. I know how to corner, understand how the car’s weight shifts around when you brake and turn, and how traction varies in different situations. When I want to, I can make a car hustle and although I have never driven on a track feel like I would do that pretty well, too. Of course real racers will jump on me now, accuse me of hubris and say that my supposed street skills don’t count for anything on the track – to which I reply, “Give me a race car and some track time and we’ll see..” but I digress.

I’m not saying any of this to puff myself up or get a ride in a race car, I’m saying it because I think most people who read TTAC feel like I do. As enthusiasts, we know we are above average drivers, right? But how do we know? So, in the interest of science, on my way home from work yesterday, I took a good hard look at the reality of my driving habits.

I did some things right. I wore my seatbelt and made sure my mirrors were adjusted before I set out. I looked far down the road to read traffic as far out as possible, used my signal religiously and checked my blind spots before I changed lanes just like I was taught way back in driver’s ed. I didn’t linger in people’s blind spots either, something I learned from a lifetime as a motorcyclist, and whenever possible I used my vantage point on freeway overpasses to look down on the roads I would be merging into before I looped back around to them on the backside of the cloverleaf. Not bad, right? This old dog, I think, has some good tricks.

Click here to view the embedded video.

But I did some things wrong, too. I didn’t grip the wheel in the right places – not even close – I held the wheel at the bottom, with my hands in my lap and only moved them up when I needed to negotiate a turn. There were times I followed too close because I was worried someone would merge between me and the car in front of me and, because of that, there were times I had to get on the brakes harder than I would have liked. I passed on the right, something I have heard referred to as “undertaking” and for much of the journey stayed above the posted speed limit. There were probably other things too, and I will keep looking for them as I go along. Hopefully, I’ll catch all of these small mistakes and be an even better driver for my efforts.

There it is, my own honest assessment of my own abilities. Despite all the puffing myself up at the top of this article, the truth is I have some things I need to focus on to ensure that I stay ahead of the curve. I wonder, however, if there might be other things I should be working on and so I want to ask you to set aside your egos, and check your desire to criticize the people who share, in order to really discuss our bad driving habits. What are they? How serious do you think they are and how can we fix them?

We can all do better. What’s it gonna take to get back our “eye of the tiger?” Probably at least one more montage….

Click here to view the embedded video.

Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Driving While Stoned (Slight Return). Nine Times the Legal Limit, Cop: “It’s Doubtful That I Would Have Pulled Him Over” Sun, 20 Oct 2013 15:10:31 +0000

Some time ago, TTAC published a guest post on the topic of driving under the influence of cannabis that more or less discounted the dangers of puffing while puttering around, at least for experienced potheads. Needless to say that post provoked some heated discussion. Now that Colorado has legalized marijuana for general use, the legislature there has decided that it was necessary to officially define “too high to drive”. It’s not clear if the reason was traffic safety or revenue since instead of using a behavioral standard for impairment, the new law creates an arbitrary blood level of THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, that would define a driver as illegally impaired, whether or not they were measurably impaired in their driving. Critics of the way impaired driving is enforced already say that the drive to lower legal blood alcohol content limits was intended to catch people who weren’t actually impaired, driving safely but drunk according to the law, a classic case of malum prohibitum rather than malum in se. Setting an arbitrary limit for THC would allow DUID, driving under the influence of drugs, to join DUI as a cash cow for city, county and state governments.

The new law in Colorado allows juries to convict someone of DUID if blood tests show a THC level of at least 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood. That level is the same as enacted in Washington following that state’s marijuana legalization initiative. It’s not entirely clear why the five nanogram limit was chosen. While some novice pot smokers may actually be impaired enough to affect their driving with 5ng/mL of THC in their blood, Reason, the libertarian publication, reports that many drivers are perfectly competent at many times that level of cannabinoids in their system.

One reason for establishing some kind of limit, as opposed to zero tolerance, is that in Washington and Colorado marijuana is no longer illegal for regular use. If a drug is illegal, any use should put you in a jackpot if you’re nabbed driving with it in your system. If it’s legal to use marijuana, however, the state has no compelling interest to prosecute drivers who do have some level of THC in their systems but aren’t actually impaired. KIRO, the CBS television affiliate in Seattle, decided to test both medical marijuana users and recreational pot smokers to see just how much pot they could smoke before being impaired.

Addy Norton is a 27-year-old woman who smokes medical marijuana every day. When she arrived at the KIRO test, she was already legally impaired per Washington state law, 16 ng/mL, more than three times the legal limit. According to the professional driving instructor who rode along (with a foot over the dual control brakes), she completed the baseline test on a driving course satisfactorily, though way over the legal THC limit. Then they proceeded to get Addy really high. After smoking 3/10 of a gram (% THC wasn’t specified but medical marijuana is typically over 20% THC), she tested at 36.7 ng/mL. At over 7 times the legal limit her driving was still not impaired. Smoking another 6/10ths of a gram only put her at “borderline” impairment, according to a drug recognition expert from the Thurston County, Washington Sheriff’s Office. To find out how much 0.9 gm of medical marijuana is, I checked with one of my own experts on marijuana, let’s call him Sativa Bongstein. Bongstein said that while he never measured how many joints he gets out of an eighth of an ounce of medical marijuana, an eighth will keep him continuously high for most of his waking hours over two days. So yeah, smoking about a fourth of that, almost a gram of medical marijuana, in one sitting should get you pretty high, however, according to the tests, it may barely impair your driving. It was only after Norton smoked a total of 1.4 grams and reached a THC titer of 58.8 ng/mL, more than eleven times the legal 5 nanogram limit, that she clearly failed the driving test.

The test results were reproduced by KIRO with people who used marijuana less frequently than Addy but still drove without noticeable impairment at levels far above the 5 nanogram limit. KDVR, a Fox affiliate in Denver, performed similar tests with a medical marijuana user who arrived with a 21 nanogram THC level, though he hadn’t yet smoked anything that day. Not only did he pass his driving test on a simulator as stoned as he likely already was when he walked in the door, raising his level to 47 ng/mL did not impair his simulated driving either. A drug recognition expert from the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office said his driving was fine. “[He] is doing pretty well,” the police officer said as he watched the driver being tested at the higher THC level, more than 9 times the legal limit. “He’s being a safe driver. It’s doubtful that I would have pulled him over. He hasn’t shown any degree of impairment.”

While some people may indeed be impaired at 5 ng/mL, the tests show that obviously some people are not. There is some habituation and tolerance involved so regular pot smokers might learn to adapt and drive at a THC level that would impair novice users of marijuana.

THC is stored in fatty tissue so it can remain in the blood system of regular users long after the effects of the drug have worn off. Even someone who hasn’t smoked marijuana in years can test above 0.0 ng/mL and daily smokers may never fall below the 5 ng legal limit.

The Colorado General Assembly rejected the current standard five times, aware of the fact that it was an arbitrary standard and not a good indicator of impairment, but it finally passed the same week that the legislature passed a law regulating retail marijuana stores.

Though police still need “reasonable suspicion” to pull you over and request a blood test, that could mean seeing you with a hand rolled cigarette in your hand, not necessarily driving in an impaired manner. Once cited, the chances of being acquitted seem to be slim. While Colorado’s new law does not make people automatically guilty of driving under the influence of drugs if they are measured to be at or above the 5 ng limit, it still creates a presumption of impairment. Defendants can attempt to rebut the presumption, but Denver defense attorney Rob Corry, who specializes in DUID cases, says that in reality, with a “permissible inference” of impairment at 5 ng, of DUID if they test above that level. Instead it creates a presumption that defendants can try to rebut by presenting evidence that they were not in fact impaired. But Denver attorney Rob Corry, who frequently represents DUID defendants, thinks that opportunity will not make much difference in practice. With a “permissible inference” of DUID at five nanograms, he says, “A person coming into court is guilty until proven innocent. If you put a number on it, juries are going to latch onto that five-nanogram number, whether it’s a permissible inference or a per se [standard], and the effect will be that innocent people are convicted.”

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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Toyota Recalls 870,000 Units Due To Arachnophobia Sat, 19 Oct 2013 16:07:23 +0000 2012 Toyota Camry

One blah Monday morning, you’re commuting to the anonymous office park some 90 minutes away from the bedroom community you call a home in your equally anonymous Toyota Camry Hybrid, listening to yet another story about Congress kicking cans down roads and/or some wacky antics your favorite DJs had the past weekend while you take another swig of that mermaid-branded caffeinated goodness.


You’re not ready to deal with the myriad of reports you have to work on when you arrive at the office, and you’re certainly not ready for your colleague to rant about how his fantasy football team lost because one of his players sustained a career-ending injury on the first snap, but at least the piling traffic ahead of you seems to be delaying the inevitable, much to your mix of relief and chagrin.

Tired of being stuck behind the Dunkin’ Donuts truck (reminding you that you really need to hit the gym someday), you edge over to the (not really) faster moving lane on your left while wishing you could use the HOV lane at times like this when suddenly your airbag explodes, causing you to bash your alleged green machine into a Greyhound bus, kicking off a chain reaction that will take hours by the state police and first responders to sort out. You also make the news when the strangely chipper real-time traffic reporter chimes in about the wreck, which then leads to how Rockin’ Robin DeCradle “got totally wrecked” at the Waffle House of Blues this weekend.

Turns out the cause of your airbag going off was spiders, which you find out later that day when the local news reports that Toyota has issued a recall (again), affecting 870,000 vehicles including the one now residing in an insurance salvage yard that you, no doubt, are going to have a hard time collecting anything upon.

According to CNN Money, the 870,000 Toyotas are Camrys, Venzas and Avalons screwed together and sold for the 2012 and 2013 model years, hybrids included. The recall notice states that the webs spiders make within the confines of a drainage tube attached to the car’s AC unit could force water to drip onto the airbag’s control module, creating a short circuit followed by the airbag warning light (and the driver’s side airbag itself) going off. To make matters worse, the same issue can lead to loss of power steering, as well.

Toyota spokesperson Cindy Knight said that the company was aware of the spider issue, noting that 35 cases of the lights coming on and 3 airbag deployments have come to pass thus far, and the consistent cause of the problem were the eight-legged freaks who, for some reason, love making webs in AC drainage tubes.

The recall recommends owners take their cars in to their nearest dealer, who will then make the necessary repairs (and calls to the Orkin Man) to prevent water from causing unintended airbag deployments. The notice will be sent by mail, and the repairs will be on the house.

A similar issue affected Mazda back in 2011, when spiders set up shop in the vent lines of many a Mazda6′s gasoline tank, proving once again that nature is so fascinating.

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Peer-to-peer car sharing services found lacking in substantial liability coverage Thu, 17 Oct 2013 11:00:45 +0000 Car2Go in Seattle

In cities where owning a car can be a pain (New York, Boston, Seattle), drivers are opting instead to share vehicles with other drivers, with companies such as ZipCar, Car2Go, RelayRides et al offering their services to help the public get around. All anyone needs beyond the basics is a subscription to the car-sharing service, a reservation, and a drop-off location when they are finished with their errands. Even big-name rental car companies like Enterprise and Hertz are jumping into the new business model for a test drive, Avis having gone the farthest by purchasing ZipCar in January of 2013.

However, the insurance offered by these peer-to-peer rental companies might not all that it’s cracked up to be, with severe consequences should anything remotely catastrophic occur.

Forbes illustrates the problem with the liability insurance offered to subscribers of car-sharing services: An accident that left one driver dead and four others injured in Boston back in early 2012 led to a lawsuit between the four survivors against the estate of the deceased driver, the car’s owner, and RelayRides; the case was eventually settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. With the exceptions of California, Oregon and Washington, automotive insurance polices have not caught up with this new industry, leading to most states offering only the barest of liability coverage, and to potential disasters such as the example given in the article.

Should you find yourself wanting to take part in peer-to-peer car sharing, in particular the kind involving renting out your own vehicle instead of one from an established car-sharing fleet (RelayRides is of the former, for example), Forbes recommends you take out supplemental coverage of $100,000 each for bodily injury and property damage, and $300,000 per accident, with high net-worth individuals taking out more to protect themselves and their assets. In fact, no matter what happens, you may end up needing to bulk up the inadequate coverage no matter the situation. Either that, or stick to the maxim “neither a lender nor a borrower be” when it comes to car sharing.

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California Jury Finds Toyota Not At Fault In Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Lawsuit Fri, 11 Oct 2013 15:48:13 +0000 Noriko-Uno-car-after-crash (1)

A Califonia jury ruled that Toyota Motor Corp was not at fault in a 2009 accident in which 66 year old Noriko Uno was killed when her 2006 Camry ran into a tree after being hit by another car. Uno’s survivors blamed the accident and her death on unintended acceleration and Toyota’s failure to incorporate a brake-override system in Uno’s car. This was the first wrongful death lawsuit over accusations that Toyota products could uncontrollably accelerate. The jury found that Uno’s Camry was not defective, instead placing full liability for her death on the driver of the car that hit Uno before she sped the wrong way down a one-way street and into the tree. Uno’s survivors were awarded $10 million.

The Uno case is seen as a bellwether for the outcomes of about 85 addition wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed in California state courts in the aftermath of millions of Toyotas in 2009 and 2010 to address reports of sudden unintended acceleration. Items addressed in those recalls included floor mats getting stuck under the gas pedal and possibly faulty pedal assemblies. 2006 Camrys, like the one Ms. Uno was driving, were not included in those recalls.

A Toyota spokesperson said that the company was pleased with the jury’s verdict. “We are gratified that the jury concluded the design of the 2006 Camry did not contribute to this unfortunate accident, affirming the same conclusion we reached after more than three years of careful investigation — that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle at issue in this case. We believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override.”

Toyota has also won personal injury cases arising from the unintended acceleration issue in New York and in Pennsylvania. Another trial is underway in Oklahoma, and cases are set for trial in Michigan early next year and in federal district court next month in California, where about 200 wrongful death and personal injury suits against Toyota are pending.

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Why Do Police Cars Use Red & Blue Lights? They’re Visually Confusing Mon, 30 Sep 2013 11:00:06 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Sorry for the tease but to get the full effect of this post you’re going to have to click on Read More. It’s not that we want the additional clicks, it’s just that I’m using a graphic to illustrate this post that is so eye-searing that the layout and graphic designer in me just couldn’t put it on the front page above the break.

Once you do make the jump, you may have trouble focusing on the text in the image below. That’s because of a phenomenon known as chromostereopsis, which the American National Standard Institute (ANSI/HFES-200, Part 5) defines  as “the perception of depth resulting from the close proximity of two colors of disparate wavelengths”. There’s a good explanation of chromostereopsis here. Because of where in our eyes the receptors for different colors are, and how our eyes focus, we perceive different colors as being at different distances. Printers and others who do graphic layout have long known that because they are at opposite ends of the spectrum, it’s not a good idea to use blue letters on red backgrounds and vice versa. Most people perceive blue as closer than red, and as a result the human eye cannot focus on both red and blue at the same time, causing the optical illusion of blurry letters in the graphic below.


I apologize for for the eye strain but I was literally trying to illustrate a point. It could have been worse, I could have made it a flashing, animated GIF.  To remove that visual abomination, click on read more.

Isn’t that better?

Back to the topic.

In addition to  chromostereopsis, as LEDs have proliferated, people have come to realize that its harder to focus on pure blue lights than on any other color. Our retinal receptors are known as rods and cones. Visual acuity comes from rods and is mostly a black and white phenomenon. Color is added by cone receptors. Rods are sensitive mostly to light in the yellow-green part of the spectrum. Pure blue light doesn’t activate rods sufficiently for clear vision.

Flashing blue lights make it hard to focus but flashing red and blue lights together is an even worse idea. To begin with it makes it hard to estimate the distance of an emergency with flashing red and blue lights. More dangerously, when your visual system is being flooded simultaneously with bright red and blue lights, the effect is almost blinding, certainly visually confusing. It’s a problem for motorists but it seems to me it would create an even more dangerous situation for police officers who have to make out shapes and distances in visually confusing lighting situations.

So why do police cars use blue lights in the first place and even worse, red and blue lights together? I suspect the reason is partly historical. In some states police used red lights and in others blue lights. It made sense for manufacturers to offer units with both colors. However, I think the main reason is exactly chromostereopsis. I think the companies selling emergency lights have to be aware of the phenomenon, and they wanted to come up with lights that would surely get your attention. Does the sign above get the attention of your visual system?

A while back I contacted a handful of companies that manufacture and supply emergency lights to police agencies abpuit chromostereopsis but none would comment. It’s not as though the phenomenon is not well known. Just about everyone who works with color knows not to do two-tone with red and blue.

So why do police cars do use red and blue flashing lights?

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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NHTSA Opens Preliminary Investigation Into Jeep Grand Cherokee Headliner Fires Fri, 23 Aug 2013 20:50:50 +0000 i2274785

Issues about fire safety continue to affect the Jeep brand as the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced today that it is opening an investigation into 146,000 2012 model year Grand Cherokees, after receiving reports from three consumers who say that the headliners of their cars caught fire near the passenger side sun visor.

“The customers reported a burning odor and visible smoke coming from the headliner while the vehicle was being driven. This was followed by flames from the headliner itself. Customers lowered the windows in an effort to clear the smoke but this increased the fire’s intensity. All three vehicles had to be extinguished with a fire extinguisher or by the fire department as they continued to burn after the vehicle was turned off . The fire also caused the sunroof to shatter in one incident, and in another, the fire spread to the passenger seat when the burning sun visor fell onto the seat. In each case, the incident resulted in the vehicle being inoperable requiring it to be towed to the dealership.”

A Chrysler spokesman said that the company is conducting its own investigation and that it is cooperating with NHTSA:

“Customer safety is paramount at Chrysler Group. Accordingly, our engineers are investigating this concern while also fully supporting the Preliminary Evaluation opened by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is among the safest vehicles on the road today. It also is the most awarded SUV ever.”

The investigation into burning headliners follows a voluntary recall of over 1.5 million 1992-98 Jeep Grand Cherokees and 2002-07 Jeep Libertys to address possible fires caused by leaking fuel tanks in the event of a collision, even though those vehicles met all applicable standards at time of manufacture. NHTSA has still not determined if it will crash test Jeep vehicles that have been recalled and retrofitted with a trailer hitch intended to protect the gas tank.

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Tesla S Sets NHTSA Crash Testing Score Record, Goes to Eleven (Well, 5.4 Stars to be Exact), Breaks Roof Testing Machine Wed, 21 Aug 2013 19:35:19 +0000 model-s-five-star-safety-rating

Chart courtesy of Tesla Motors

While General Motors is thumping its chest because the new fullsize pickups from Chevrolet and GMC are the first to earn an overall 5 star crash test rating since the standards were upgraded two years ago, Tesla is trumpeting the NHTSA crash testing results for their Model S, saying that the luxury EV achieved the best safety rating ever of any car tested by the highway safety agency. Not only did the Model S earn an overall five-star rating, but the Model S earned 5 stars in every testing category. While 5 is the maximum rating that NHTSA publishes, manufacturers are provided with the overall Vehicle Safety Score, whose scale goes higher, and Teslas says that the Model S’ VSS was 5.4 stars, the highest ever achieved.

The EV company says that score is the best of any recorded by every car sold in the United States, a new record for the lowest likelihood of injury to occupants. It also is better than all SUV and minivans as well. The company attributes the high scores in part to a more effective front crush zone made possible by the fact that there is no engine up front in the Tesla, which is driven by a fairly compact electric motor mounted near the rear axle. Another feature that the company claims makes the Tesla safer is a double bumper installed on cars ordered with an optional third row seat for children. Side impact performance, significantly better than the five star rated Volvo S60, is attributed to multiple aluminum extrusions nested in the Model S’ side rails.

The Model S performed particularly well in the rollover test because the location of the vehicle’s traction battery under the passenger compartment results in a very low center of gravity. During normal testing the Model S could not be made to roll over so the test had to be modified. The results indicate that the Model S will protect its passengers from rollover risk about 50% better than other top rated vehicles.

Should the Model S be made to roll over, the roof should protect the occupants well. During roof crush testing, the Model S broke the testing machine after withstanding more than 4 times the force of gravity. Tesla attributes that high performance to B pillar reinforcements attached with aerospace graded fasteners.

In announcing the results, Tesla said that while their initial testing showed that the Model S would achieve the 5 star rating when tested in standard locations, they verified that even if the car was tested at its weakest points, it would still earn the maximum rating. No doubt because fire safety has been an issue that was raised with the Chevy Volt and the Fisker Karma, Tesla’s press release on the Model S crash results also stressed that the car’s lithium-ion battery experienced no fires before, during or after NHTSA testing. The “after” was a reference to a fire that broke out in a Chevy Volt three weeks after it was crash tested by NHTSA in a fully charged condition.

Tesla also said that they are unaware of any fatalities that have happened in real world collisions involving either the Model S or the Tesla Roadster.

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Shooting The Gap: An Unorthodox Solution Wed, 21 Aug 2013 16:14:08 +0000 keiji-bypass_japan

As I slipped the clutch and rolled on the throttle, the big GSXR1100 bucked and growled like a wild beast between my knees. I took the little wiggle and the bucking in stride and cracked the throttle even wider to shift the bike’s weight onto the rear tire. The bike responded instantly, the sound of its anger pouring out the back as a prolonged shriek of pure rage. The toll plaza fell quickly away as I hit third gear and leaned into the gentle, sweeping left hander that would bring me up onto the Yokohama-Yokosuka Expressway and there, in the final few meters before the merge, I drove the tachometer towards redline and shot past a pair of slow moving cars before shifting into the higher gears and settling onto the highway ahead of them.

The road was wide and smooth and the south bound traffic moved quickly along above the posted speed limit. I ran along slightly faster than the traffic and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon sun on what was an otherwise cool October day. I was here, where I wanted to be, atop what had been for one brief shining moment a bike that had been on the very sharpest part of the cutting edge of technology. Fifteen years on that time was well past, but the bike’s power and attitude remained and I felt every intoxicating bit of it through the steady thrum of the engine. The power lurked there, under my right hand, waiting – demanding – to be put down onto the street and I was in the right mood to indulge it.


Ahead was my chance, two cars rumbling along side by side in a painfully protracted pass, neither willing to do what it took to clear the lane of travel for the faster vehicles stacking up behind them. I checked my six in the rearview mirror, rolled onto the white line that divided the two lanes of the freeway, dropped two gears and opened the throttle. The bike shot forward into the gap and in an instant I was out ahead of the traffic accelerating away in brazen display of sheer power. It was glorious.

Right about now, those of you who have never thrown a leg over a bike are thinking I am nuts. I’m not going to disagree with that. There was a time I didn’t have much at stake and I was willing to push right to the edge, but the truth is lane splitting, even at high speeds on the freeway, isn’t a big deal. Bikes can go all sorts of places that cars can’t and understanding that is more important than most people realize. Besides allowing you to act like Top Gun on some Japanese freeway, it can actually keep you safe when the shit hits the fan. What’s more, it’s a skill that you can use in your car.

Click here to view the embedded video.

To most of us, our place on the road is inviolate and the lines on the road might as well be two feet tall and made out of granite. Safe inside in our metal boxes, we are secure in our right to a place on the road and our confidence in the rules, and the fact that the vast majority of people will obey those rules almost all the time, means that we don’t have to think about things like exit strategies. Beginning motorcyclists need to snap out of this mentality in a big hurry if they are going to enjoy a long, injury free career in the saddle. Because bikes are smaller than cars they are often overlooked by drivers and having someone merge into their place on the road is a common occurrence. Without a steel crash cage to protect their soft flesh, a rider’s inviolate legal right to a place on the road the same as any car offers scant real-world protection and so the best answer is often to flee from trouble.

A good rider constantly scans the road for trouble and takes special note of possible escape routes. A beginner often thinks in terms of where a car can fit and so exit routes tend to be few and far between. More experienced riders think in broader terms and soon any space you can reasonably expect to fit into becomes a possible egress. The space between cars running the same direction is surprisingly wide as is, believe it or not, the space on the yellow line between opposite lanes of traffic. Motorcyclists can also go onto sidewalks, up paths and even into spaces between parked cars if necessary. If shoving your bike through some small rat hole stops you from getting squished like a bug then, when the situation calls for it, do what it takes to live.

The bike I really learned to lane split on - my CBR250R

The bike I really learned to lane split on – my CBR250R

As a driver, you should be thinking along similar lines. If you can’t stop to avoid a collision, you should seek to avoid it by going around it. Cars are bigger than bikes, of course, but they don’t require an entire lane worth of space in an emergency. They can, if the situation is right, run between cars, go up the shoulder, into a median or up onto a sidewalk as long as there are no pedestrians. No place is off limits in an emergency so long as you aren’t putting anyone else’s life in danger. So maybe you have to rebuild someone’s fence or reseed a lawn, but the cost pales in comparison to extensive repairs and a lengthy hospital stay.

Not everyone can be Top Gun, but all of us should be ready to act when our lives are at stake. Understanding that there are other options outside the norm is a trick that every driver needs to add to their bag. Sometimes the unorthodox solution is the best one, and knowing that it is there waiting to be used might just save your life one day. I’m not asking you to split lanes on your way home tonight, but just think about the possibility. Criticize my antics that sunny October day now if you like, but remember them because one day they might just save your life.

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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Total Recall Update: Rustectomy Successful But Change Is In The Wind Mon, 29 Jul 2013 13:56:16 +0000 Freestar

Saturday was a day of reckoning for my Ford Freestar. As detailed in an article I wrote last week, my Freestar required a trip to the dealer to repair rust related issues that affected the rear wheel wells and the third row seat latches and the cost of the repairs were covered by Ford under a recall issued earlier this year. I promised then that, once the repair was completed, I would report back to you on how everything turned out.

As you may remember from that earlier article, the damage to the van was fairly advanced. The area around the seat mounts was encircled with corrosion and, in some places, had rusted to the point that there were actual holes between the wheel well and the interior of the vehicle. The affected area had been concealed under a plastic panel so I had not noticed the issue earlier, but I had noticed the van felt and smelled damp. How the whole piece had stayed in place I have no clue as it seemed to me at the time I could have pulled the seat mount out with my bare hands.

rust 1

As usual, my local Ford dealer was excellent and scheduled the repair as quickly as they could. They took it in after work on Friday night, completed the repair on a Saturday and I had the vehicle back in my garage that night. Once again, Ford deserves accolades for their customer service and I came away quite satisfied with the transaction.

On Sunday morning, I went out to the garage and took a good look at the work done. From the wheel well side I could see where a new piece of sheet metal had been grafted onto the inner fender well. The edges appear to have been carefully caulked and the whole thing covered over with rubberized undercoating. To my eye it looks to be a neat and efficient repair.


Inside the van, I once again removed the plastic panel to examine the backside of the repair. The most obvious thing the Ford techs have done is to totally cut out the rusted area. It appears as though they did the work with a pair of tin snips, nibbling away at the area one bite at a time and leaving a series of sharp metal teeth along the edge of their cut. Several sheet metal screws have been used to affix the panel and a large steel band has also been added to reinforce the seat mount. Besides the sloppy cut, which would have been neater and easier had they used a dremel or a sidewheel cutter, the repair seems to be a good one. Given that it was all done on the company dime and that all the sharp bits are hidden behind a thick plastic panel where they should never come into contact with soft human skin, I am satisfied with the work. Of course, since I am not a body and fender man, I’d be interested in everyone’s comments, too.


To me, however, there is a larger issue brewing. This whole experience of finding massive quantities of hitherto unexpected rust has left me questioning whether or not hanging on to the Freestar for another year is really worth risk. I wonder now just what other parts of the vehicle are suffering similar issues and what the results may be if we have an accident. There are, I note, a few places around the body where rust bubbles are forming and I have over the past year assiduously attacked the red stuff wherever I have found it, in particular along the lower edges of the vehicle’s doors. With my eventual departure from Buffalo now less than a year away, I am thinking it may be time to replace the Gray Lady and I have a pretty good idea what we are going to end up with.

Am I wise to make a move or just worried rat trying to jump a holed ship that isn’t actually sinking? You tell me.

Photo courtesy of

Thomas M Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.

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