New database has info on auto deaths, injuries

0 comments

Posted on 23rd September 2008 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , , , , , , , , , ,

Date: 9/10/2008 6:59 PM

By KEN THOMAS
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The government unveiled a new public database Wednesday that will enable consumers to look up the number of alleged deaths, injuries and cases of property damage involving passenger vehicles.

Consumer groups have sought the information, which was part of legislation passed by Congress after the massive recall of Firestone tires in 2000. The law required manufacturers to provide data on numerous safety complaints and was devised to help the government quickly detect potential problems.

The so-called “early warning” data was released because of a ruling by a federal appeals court in July that barred the government from withholding key data reported by manufacturers. Some data was allowed to remain confidential, including warranty claims and field reports submitted by the manufacturer.

The data, which goes back to 2003, is reported to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration by automakers, tire makers, motorcycle companies and child seat manufacturers on a quarterly basis. The public database now provides information from 21 automakers.

During the first three months of 2008, the most recent data available, General Motors Corp. reported receiving complaints of 52 deaths and 610 injuries, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. Ford Motor Co. said it had received reports of 40 deaths and 340 injuries and Chrysler LLC reported receiving complaints of 23 deaths and 149 injuries during the span.

In the same period, Toyota Motor Corp. advised NHTSA of 8 deaths and 106 injuries, Nissan Motor Corp. said it had allegations of 7 deaths and 34 injuries and Honda Motor Co. reported 3 deaths and 22 injuries.

Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, cautioned that the data often includes unsubstantiated claims and could not be used to confirm a safety problem.

He said a company with a large global presence reports data from foreign countries in addition to the United States and a manufacturer’s size and vehicle sales would play a large role in the data set.

Consumer groups said it would be useful information to car buyers. Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen, a consumer watchdog group that sued to have the data made available, called it a “smashing success for consumers.”

She recommended that owners and car shoppers use the database to learn more about specific vehicles.

NHTSA said they had been using the data since December 2003 as a supplement to the estimated 40,000 consumer complaints they receive each year. Through the end of August, NHTSA said it had used the early warning data in 84 defect investigations, which can sometimes lead to vehicle recalls.

About 100 manufacturers, mostly tire companies, have asked NHTSA to keep their data private because they contend it includes confidential business information.

Dan Zielinski, a spokesman for the Rubber Manufacturers Association, which represents tire makers, said the data included “accusations and people who review this database should keep that in mind.”

___

On the Net:

The early warning reports can be found at: http://www.safercar.gov

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
g@gordonjohnson.com :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.

Salt shortage, high prices may mean slippery roads

0 comments

Posted on 22nd September 2008 by gjohnson in Uncategorized

, , , , , , , , , ,

Date: 9/22/2008 3:38 PM

By CHARLES WILSON
Associated Press Writer

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ A shortage of road salt and skyrocketing salt prices could mean slippery roads this winter in communities across the nation as officials struggle to keep pavement clear of snow and ice without breaking their budgets.

Heavy snow last year heightened demand for salt, and now many towns can’t find enough of it. The shortage could force many cities to salt fewer roads, increasing the risk of accidents. Other communities are abandoning road salt for less expensive but also less effective sand or sand-salt blends.

“The driving public may be the ones who suffer on this,” said Robert Young, highway superintendent for northwestern Indiana’s LaPorte County, which has 20,000 tons of salt on hand — only half as much as needed to last a normal winter. Because of the shortage, three companies refused to bid on the county’s request for more.

Prices have also tripled from a year ago. The salt industry says the increased demand and higher fuel costs are to blame. But some officials insist salt prices have spiked more dramatically than fuel.

“That explanation doesn’t wash,” said Tom Barwin, city manager in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Ill., one of several officials who have asked the Illinois attorney general to investigate the price increases. The office said it doesn’t have jurisdiction.

The United States used a near-record 20.3 million tons of road salt last year, largely because areas from the Northeast to the Midwest had heavier-than-average snowfall. Parts of Iowa and Wisconsin, for instance, got four to six times their typical amounts. Vermont, New Hampshire and other areas set records.

The harsh winter left salt storage barns virtually empty. Communities that needed additional salt late in the season had trouble finding it because supplier stockpiles had also been depleted, according to Dick Hanneman, president of the Salt Institute, a trade group.

This year, many states, including Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois, requested bids early, Hanneman said, and salt orders grew significantly. Five states increased their orders by a total of 2 million tons over last year.

Suppliers quickly realized that at that pace, they would not have enough salt to bid on other contracts, he said.

The rising cost of gasoline and diesel compounded the situation, Hanneman said. Road salt — which, unlike table salt, is sold in large crystals — is transported by barge and truck from mines in Kansas, Louisiana and Texas. Some is shipped from as far away as Chile in South America.

State agencies that maintain interstate highways are supplied first, leaving smaller communities the hardest hit by the shortage, Hanneman said.

In Chesterton, Ind., about 135 miles northwest of Indianapolis, salt suppliers allotted the town only the 800 tons it uses in an average year — even though last year’s snowfall was double the normal amount.

“Between safety and politics, we’re going to have to salt the roads,” Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg said.

Last year, Chesterton paid Chicago-based Morton Salt $41.23 a ton for road salt. This year’s quote came in at $103.63.

Morton spokesman Joe Wojtonik said the company increased production at its mines after orders rose between 8 and 28 percent.

“We’re producing at the highest practical safe level we can,” he said.

Schnadenberg plans to conserve salt when winter begins. “I think all the communities are going to replan on how much they salt and where,” he said.

Other communities expect to use more sand or to adopt a cheaper sand-salt mixture. Neshannock Township in New Castle, Pa., plans to use a special pretreated salt mixture that isn’t as expensive as regular road salt.

Livingston County, Mich., is turning to a slurry made from sugar beet pulp mixed with salt brine that could trim 25 percent from the county’s $4 million snow-and-ice removal budget.

Still, this year’s salt shortage could pose risks for motorists, who may need to learn to drive on slippery roads or stay home.

Said Neshannock Township Supervisor John DiCola Jr.: “Some of the services we’ve been receiving … maybe we just aren’t going to be able to do that anymore.”

___

Associated Press Writer Don Babwin in Chicago contributed to this report.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press.

Attorney Gordon Johnson
Past Chair Traumatic Brain Injury Litigation Group, American Association of Justice
g@gordonjohnson.com :: 800-992-9447 :: Attorney Gordon S. Johnson, Jr.