• In 2004, a law was passed in California to encourage consumers to purchase hybrid gasoline-electric cars with combined city-highway mileage of 45 miles per gallon or greater.  Those drivers were issued a small yellow sticker for their vehicle that allows them to use carpool lanes with a single driver.

     

    The 85,000 yellow stickers issued since 2004 are set to expire on January 1, 2011.  Many California lawmakers have proposed legislation that would extend the life of the incentive program, but all have new qualification standards that would exclude many of the vehicles that originally qualified for the program, including the Toyota PriusHonda Insight, and Honda Civic.

     

    The yellow stickers and their white counterparts for electric and natural gas-fueled vehicles were originally planned to expire in 2008, but state legislators felt it necessary to extend the program until 2011.

     

    The bills being considered for the new reward program offer extensions only to certain vehicles. One introduced by Assemblyman Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) would extend the carpool exemption through 2016, but only for vehicles running entirely on electricity, natural gas, or any other alternative fuel.  It has been passed by the Assembly, but a competing bill in the Senate includes some hybrid vehicles provided that they have a combined city-highway fuel economy of 65 miles per gallon or better, which is well above the official ratings of most current hybrid models.

     

    “What we’re saying is that the hybrid isn’t good enough anymore,” Adam Keigwin, chief of staff for Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), told the L.A. Times. Yee sponsored the Senate bill.   It remains to be seen whether lawmakers will vote to extend the deadline for the white stickers past 2011. Many of these vehicles, such as the natural-gas-powered Honda GX, are part of commercial or government fleets.

     

    Photo courtesy of dherrera 96 under the Creative Commons License.

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  • September 30th begins the first ever Distracted Driving Summit in Washington, D.C. Among the organizations participating is telecommunications giant AT&T.

     

    In addition to a new campaign that will educate the public on the very real danger posed by texting behind the wheel, AT&T is also “in the process of revising its wireless and motor vehicle policies to expressly prohibit texting while driving,” the company announced in a recent statement.

     

     

     

    AT&T has one of the largest commercial fleets in the country, and is adding a section on the consequences of texting while driving to the defensive driving classes given to employees who drive as part of their job. All employees are required to review company policy periodically and take refresher courses on defensive driving, so the changes in policy will be easily spread throughout the company.

    AT&T said it will continue to work with CTIA – The Wireless Association, The National Safety Council, and other third parties to support their efforts to educate the public about the dangers of texting while driving.

     

    Photo courtesy of mrbill under the Creative Commons License.


     

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  • Despite ongoing efforts by the Obama administration to distribute billions of dollars in transportation infrastructure, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has stated that those programs will not distract the agency from going forward with its number one priority-improving highway safety.

     

    “Safety of our transportation system is always going to be our number priority at the DOT,” he emphasized during a speech during the Dept. of Transportation’s annual “Bring Your Child to Work Day” activities. “That safety focus is across all modes of transportation – trains, buses, airplanes and trucks.”

     

    LaHood said that he remains focused on getting $28 billion in highway infrastructure funding, $12 billion for transit systems and $8 billion to develop a national high speed rail system as soon as possible.  He noted that efforts made by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) over the last nine years “should serve as an inspiring example” of how to improve highway safety where commercial vehicles are concerned.

     

    “Since 2000, fatalities resulting from truck-car collisions decreased 13% to the lowest on record,” he said. “Today 72% of truck drivers wear their seat belts, up from 50% just five years ago, And last year FMCSA conducted 3.5-million roadside inspections – an all-time record.”

     

    “More than 50% of the time in truck-car accidents, the passenger vehicle is the primary cause of the crash,” said Rose McMurray, FMCSA Acting Deputy Administrator, referencing FMCSA‘s own crash analysis studies that found 56% of crashes involving a large truck and a passenger vehicle are caused by to the passenger vehicle driver, with the remaining 44% the fault of the truck driver. “That’s why it’s important that we continue to highlight to the public how to drive safely around these big rigs,” she stressed.

     

    Barbara Windsor, vice chair of ATA and chair of its safety task force, said the trucking industry is as safe as it’s ever been. She noted the large truck fatal crash rate dropped by 23% over the last decade despite a huge increase in the number of vehicle miles traveled. She also stated that more could be accomplished if motorists would simply learn to operate their vehicles in a safer manner around tractor-trailers.

     

    “People just don’t realize how many blind spots there are around tractor-trailers, nor do they realize they can’t stop on a dime like cars – in fact, they need twice as much space and time to stop,” Windsor told FleetOwner“Everyone knows it’s not always the truck’s fault – and the statistics back that up,” she said.  “But we can’t take trucks off the highway, either. So we need to work more closely together – government and the trucking industry – to help educate the public about how to drive more safely around trucks.”


    Photo courtesy of Kerosene Photography under the Creative Commons License.
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  • A few posts back, we talked about implementing breathalyzer systems in commercial vehicles.  Now, a new survey shows that people are ready to stop anyone who gets behind the wheel under the influence of alcohol from driving, even though the technology to do it is not yet available.

     

    According to the survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a majority of respondents (2 out of every 3 surveyed) said that using advanced technology to prevent impaired drivers from operating their vehicles was a good idea.  More than 40% said they would like the technology in their own car if it were offered as an option.  Both drinkers and non-drinkers were in favor of the technology.

     

    The technology being discussed in the study goes beyond the level of sophistication in the current generation of ignition interlocks.  Anne McCartt, the Institute’s senior vice president for research, says that the current technology is not suitable for average drivers.  Installed in the vehicles of drivers with DWI convictions, the interlock systems are too unwieldy and obtrusive for day-to-day use. “This is okay for convicted offenders but not for every driver on every trip,” said McCartt. “An alcohol detector that’s suitable for all drivers would have to be all but invisible and require virtually no upkeep. It would have to be quick and easy to use and provide accurate readings. No such device exists yet, but it’s being worked on.”

     

    About 180,000 interlocks are in use nationwide. They’re successfully reducing the risk that prior offenders will commit repeat violations. However, most fatal-crashes-involved drivers with illegal BACs haven’t had a DWI conviction in the past 3 years. If interlocks had been in all vehicles, not just those of prior offenders, to prevent driving above the legal limit, more than 8,000 lives could have been saved last year, the Institute estimates.

     

    The Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety program, a partnership between the NHTSA and Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, is exploring new technologies that could one day make their way into cars as a standard feature.  64% of respondents said the devices would be a good idea in all cars if the technology proves reliable.  Only 30% said it would be a bad idea. The idea is much more heavily supported by those with previous drunk driving convictions.  Of that group, 84% of people were in favor of widespread implementation.

     

    Alcohol-impaired driving is a big contributor to fatal crashes, and most impaired drivers are never arrested. A total of 11,773 people died in crashes involving drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent in 2008. This represents 32% of all traffic-related deaths.

     

    Do you think everyone should be subjected to alcohol testing before driving?  Would you want the technology in your vehicle?  Leave us a comment and let us know what you think.

     

    Photo courtesy of BarelyFitz under the Creative Commons License.


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  • Peterbilt Motors Company delivered a Peterbilt Model 330 hybrid electric truck to the United States House of Representatives on September 23, the legislative body’s first hybrid vehicle ever.

     

    “It makes sense, both for the environment and for the bottom line, to replace our aging vehicle fleet with low-emissions trucks,” said Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Beard, in a statement.  “It means that the House will be driving into the future leaner and greener.”

     

    The new, greener truck is currently being used to carry thousands of pounds of office furniture and other equipment on the Capitol Campus and throughout the greater Washington, D.C. area.  The Model 330 was chosen by the House because it provides a 30% increase in fuel efficiency while also reducing tailpipe emissions of hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen.

     

    “The House of Representatives made a very wise decision in selecting a Peterbilt truck to add to their fleet, and I am proud to represent Peterbilt in Texas’ 26th Congressional District,” said Congressman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (TX-26). “Peterbilt is honored to have been chosen by the House of Representatives to supply their first hybrid electric vehicle,” said Bill Jackson, Peterbilt general manager and PACCAR vice president.

     

    According to the manufacturer, the model 330 can also be configured for non-CDL drivers, so perhaps we will see more of these efficient carrier vehicles making their way into fleets everywhere.

     

    Photo courtesy of Rich Man under the Creative Commons License.


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  • Many of the nation’s diesel engine mechanics are baby boomers who are now approaching retirement.  Once that happens, there is likely to be a severe shortage of mechanics in the near future, according to Transport Topics.

     

    In 2004, the Department of Labor released a report estimating that by 2014, mechanic shops would need to hire 205,000 more mechanics to fill new positions that would be open up when workers left or retired.

     

    A representative for the National Institute for Auto Service Excellence said that only 10% of graduating technicians every year are diesel and truck-certified. “That means a significant shortfall,” said the Institute’s vice president of communications Tony Molla.

     

    Dick Fazzio, a service manager for Mountain West Truck Center, said that good diesel mechanics are becoming “dinosaurs.”  He said that many graduates are choosing to become computer or game technicians and “don’t want to get dirty.”

     

    In addition to simply ageing to retirement, many technician graduates end up leaving the industry for other jobs. George Arrants, business development manager at Cengage Learning Inc. in Florence, Ky. said “They wash out or decide to take another trade.” He added that a result of the auto and diesel technician shortage will be higher cost of repairs.  “The only thing education can’t teach is experience,” Arrants said.

     

    Photo courtesy of Kerri 2009 under the Creative Commons License.


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  • There’s been a lot of talklately about the dangers of distracted driving, most notably thedisturbing trend in accidents caused by text messaging behind thewheel.  Legislation is being passed to make the penalty for textingwhile driving steeper, but one Arizona highway safety official doubtsthat the stricter laws will provide a real solution to the problem.

    “Texting and driving is a horrendous practice,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “But we also need to look at the whole issue. It’s not text messaging only; it’s all distracted driving.”

    Gutier said that the city of Phoenixhas only issued a handful of tickets since issuing a citywide ban ontexting while driving in 2007.  “I’ll support anything that saveslives, but it’s almost impossible to enforce and even less easy to prove,” he said.

    The Arizona state legislate rejected a bill earlier this year thatwould have fined drivers 50 dollars for texting or talking on a mobilephone without the use of a hands-free device.  If involved in anaccident, the fine would rise to 200 dollars.

    “People do dumb things while driving,” Gutier told Cronkite News Service.“A national, local and state media campaign on the dangers of textingor using the phone is as important as a law on the books.”

    Make sure that your drivers know the dangers of texting and driving,and promote the use of hands-free devices while talking on a cell phone.

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  • After liquidating its line of minivans a few years ago, Ford has decided to introduce a vehicle that caters to the demand for a small car which can also transport a family by introducing a new “family car” on the US in 2012.

    The Grand C-Max will be available in America in two years, although the name of the car will most likely change before the final product hits your local Ford dealer.  The Grand C-Max has three rows of seating and sliding minivan-style doors, but Ford does not want consumers to think of the sporty new vehicle as a “minivan.”

    “Minivans have a stigma,” says Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Ford’s global product development team. He prefers to call the Grand C-Max a “people mover” with style. “We tried to provide that functionality but with an inspirational design.”

    The Grand C-Max will be the largest in Ford’s new line of C-Max cars.  The platform will be used to develop up to 10 new Ford vehicles, and should account for 2 million in global sales volume for Ford each year. The growing small car market in the US is making some headway, but Ford thinks that a more minivan-like car will fill a niche that is not currently being satisfied.  It is longer to accommodate more seats and has more trunk space for family items like a stroller, all while avoiding the “refrigerator on wheels” look that Kuzak says plagues most minivans.

    The price of the Grand C-Max may prove to be its weakest attribute. The C-Max goes for about $23,000 in Europe, which might be a bit too expensive for its size in the U.S. market, says Jim Hall, an analyst at 2953 Analytics.  “If you shop around, you can get a full-size minivan for under $20,000,” he says. “So they’re going to have to duke it out if they want to do high volume.”

    Photo by Ford

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  • There has been a lot of talk lately about smaller, more efficient cars being the new face of America’s roads.  Yet despite the discussion, lower gas prices are causing used car buyers to revert to bigger vehicles.

    Small used cars are taking a hit on value in the market, according to Kelley Blue Book.  Even the once hot-ticked Smart ForTwo is suffering, according to the auto pricing publication.

    “Its part of a larger trend that’s been happening all year,” says Alec Gutierrez, a senior market analyst for KBB. “Some of the weakest segments are subcompact, compact and hybrids.”

    This trend reflects a couple of important things to consider about the current market: first, it shows that gas prices have been remaining at what consumers view as a reasonable level for a prolonged period of time.  But more importantly, it shows that consumers are not thinking long-term when it comes to their vehicle purchases.  The federal government is mandating smaller, more efficient cars, but for now consumers are staying away from them due to higher costs.

    Lower demand for SUVs during 2008’s price spike led to lower prices which are now very enticing to buyers. “We do see big stuff moving,” says Steve Bussjaeger, owner of the Star SuperCenter used car lot in Glendale, Calif. “They got cheap… People are more price conscious than gas (price) conscious.”

    To those looking for a compact car, the near future will hold some deals, as demand for larger vehicles is having the inverse effect on small cars.  Value is down 15% since 2008 on small autos.

    “The entire industry has suffered this year. … The small-car segment has been affected by this as well,” says Smart USA spokesman Ken Kettenbeil. “However, we know that in time both situations will change. For this, and many other reasons, the trend will transition toward smaller vehicles.”

    Photo courtesy of wili hybrid under the Creative Commons License.

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  • With the average price of used vehicles dropping due to the current economic decline, the actual cash value of vehicles has dipped.  The price of raw materials, however, has gotten higher, which has caused a spike in repair costs that can lead to more total loss claims due to collisions.

    The most efficient way to handle the problem of higher repair costs is simple: salvage parts. The use of salvaged parts lowers the cost of repairs, creating a lower number of total loss claims across the board.  A recent research report by Frost & Sullivan entitled “A Strategic Analysis of the North American Automotive Salvage Industry” examined the real impact that higher repair costs can have on business.

    “More insurance companies are advocating the use of salvage (recycled) parts, as they try to control collision repair costs, thereby driving unit shipment of salvage parts,” says Frost & Sullivan industry manager Avijit Ghosh. “If repair costs are not controlled, the insurance premiums will amplify.”

    The salvage industry faces some tough competition from original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, which are generally considered to have better fit, form and function and provide enhanced safety and reliability.  Most collision repair shops use OEM parts because they fit more easily and have a much higher profit margin than aftermarket parts.

    “However, some insurance companies fully support and encourage repair shops’ usage of salvage parts for collision repair,” Ghosh says. “The primary objective is to reduce the cost of repair practice and maximize the value of the salvage vehicles.”

    In addition to fighting the high cost of repairs, salvage is an effective and convenient way of disposing of used vehicles.  With tax credits acting as incentives for consumers who turn in their old cars, the availability of salvage parts has risen significantly.

    The salvage industry is also helping to get vehicles where they are needed most: North American auto brands in developing countries have raised their demand for salvage vehicles that can be reconditioned at a reasonable cost for use in those regions in order to maximize returns and get the most out of their vehicles.

    Photo courtesy of kodiax2 under the Creative Commons License.
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