• Looking in driver side miror at lady in car behindTransportation Secretary Ray LaHood regularly refers to distracted driving as an "epidemic." Toyota said last week it will spend $50 million on research into issues including distracted driving, a "growing cause of accidents." And state legislators are racing to enact laws banning what they see as the culprit: text messaging and handheld cellphones.


    Yet the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says there's no evidence that distracted driving is leading to more crashes or that laws banning texting or handheld cells are having any effect, possibly because hands-free phones can be just as dangerous.

    Although studies by IIHS and others show using a cellphone while driving quadruples the risk of a crash, IIHS research shows there was no concurrent increase in crashes as the number of cellphones increased throughout the 2000s.

    In an analysis of 7,000 crashes released in September, NHTSA concluded 30% involved some type of distraction but found that of 14 sources of distraction in a car, texting while driving was the only one that was not a factor.

    Driving while talking on, dialing or hanging up a phone was linked to 3.4% of the crashes, looking at other objects in the car was associated with 3.2% and talking with a passenger was a factor in nearly 16% of crashes, the largest percentage.

    Cellphones are "yet another thing that's distracting people," but a "flood of new distractions are being built into vehicles," says Flaura Winston, scientific director at the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Laws banning texting or handheld phones are "not the panacea," as drivers will find something else to distract them, she says.

    Automakers, which are regulated by NHTSA, are actively supporting LaHood's effort on distracted driving. They almost uniformly support bans on handheld cellphones but would oppose efforts to restrict hands-free calls. Mike Stanton, CEO of the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers, says his group's priority for state legislation will be getting texting and handheld bans passed that apply to all drivers and allow police to pull over people just for using their phones while driving. Stanton says there is not enough research to support restrictions on hands-free phones.

    Read the rest of this article at USA Today.

    Photo courtesy of Jim Legans, Jr. and re-used under the Creative Commons license.

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  • close up view of a micro chipWe talk a lot here on the blog about new technologies helping fleets to work smarter.  Here’s a look at the other side of the coin, and a warning to be safe with any new technology you may be using:


    At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, Audi chairman Rupert Stadler announced “There is a revolution taking place. Some of the most exciting new consumer electronics aren’t the ones in your living rooms or in your offices. They’re the ones in your cars.”


    As the connected car becomes a reality, the so-called ‘attack surface’—the areas of vulnerability that could be exploited by hackers and assorted other bad guys—is expanding.


    In March 2010, a worker laid off by Texas Auto Center used his password to access the dealership’s Web-based system to trigger the vehicle immobilization system on 100 cars. The system was installed by Texas Auto Center to enable easier repossession if buyers failed to make payments. Customers were unable to drive their cars for five days—until the dealership finally reset all employee usernames and passwords.

    Look at Twitter-enabled cars, for example.

    If they connect to Twitter.com, it’s fairly easy for a hacker to write a worm to infect the website, said Adriel Desautels, chief technology officer and president of NetraGard, a company that does vulnerability assessments and penetration testing on all kinds of systems.

    “All the cars that pull info from Twitter.com will pull in the worm,” Desautels says.

    When connected cars begin to be traded in the second-hand market, the industry needs to develop mechanisms that will both note the transfer of ownership and make sure the previous owner’s data doesn’t get transferred along with the vehicle.

    [via Telematics Update]


    Photo courtesy of quapan and re-used under the Creative Commons license.

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  • Icy roadWith winter in full swing, it’s a good time to examine your winter-weather driving abilities with another Fleet Safety Tip from Automotive Fleet:


    The snow storms that brought much of the South to a frigid standstill this past week provided a reminder of how surprising the weather can be -- and how unprepared some cities and drivers can be when they're not accustomed to such harsh weather. (You have our sympathy, Atlanta.) This week's tip comes from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. You may want to pass this along to your fleet drivers, especially those who haven't logged lots of miles in snowy conditions. 

    -Know your car. Every vehicle handles differently -- this is particularly true when driving on wet, icy or snowy roads. Take time now to learn how to best handle your vehicle under winter weather driving conditions.

    -Practice cold weather driving when your area gets snow -- but not on a main road. Until you've sharpened your winter weather driving skills and know how your vehicle handles in snowy conditions, it's best to practice in an empty parking lot in full daylight.

    -Drive slowly. It's harder to control or stop your vehicle on a slick or snow-covered surface. On the road, increase your following distance enough so that you'll have plenty of time to stop for vehicles ahead of you.

    -A word of caution about braking: Know what kind of brakes your vehicle has and how to use them properly. In general, if you have antilock brakes, apply firm pressure. If you don't have antilock brakes, pump the brakes gently.

    -If you find yourself in a skid, stay calm and ease your foot off the gas while carefully steering in the direction you want the front of your vehicle to go. This procedure, known as "steering into the skid," will bring the back end of your car in line with the front.

    Photo courtesy of LisaW123 and re-used under the Creative Commons license.

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  • crashed windsheildThe number of total U.S. road fatalities dropped in 2009 to 33,963, down 22% from 43,510 in 2005. That's the fastest rate of decline in traffic deaths in peacetime since the dawn of automotive mass production in 1913.

    A new study by two University of Michigan researchers of detailed federal crash statistics from 2005 to 2008 suggests all these reasons could be behind the reduced death toll.

    The federal highway fatality data analyzed by University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle suggest that talking and texting behind the wheel are a smaller problem than, for instance, motorcycle deaths.

    Sivak and Schoettle found that in 2005, 2,369 fatal accidents were blamed on "inattentive" driving–including eating, talking or using a phone. By 2008, inattentive driving was blamed for 3,366 deadly crashes.

    By comparison, the number of fatalities involving motorcycles grew by 14% to 5,129 deaths in 2008 from 4,492 in 2005. The researchers noted this trend is consistent with rising motorcycle ownership among "middle-aged men with little or no prior experience."

    So what's helping to reduce deaths? Technology deserves some credit, according to the data. Deaths in side-impact crashes declined between 2005 and 2008 at a faster rate than the decline for deaths overall. That suggests that side airbags are helping more people survive crashes, the researchers found.

    The Michigan study found a nearly 20% decline in deaths among young drivers, age 16 to 25. Among the possible reasons: the increasing number of states that use graduated licensing programs that delay granting full driving privileges until teens have more experience, and rising teen joblessness.

    The exact role of the economy in declining highway deaths is a big unknown. Messrs. Sivak and Schoettle highlight pieces of data that suggest that as the economy slowed down, so did motorists.

    Fatal accidents during rush hours also declined more sharply than overall deaths. The 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. morning rush claimed 3,236 lives nationwide in 2008, down 16.7% from 2005. Deaths between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. fell by nearly 18%. The deadliest hours on the road? The period between 6 p.m. and 8:59 p.m. —still the rush hour in many cities. In 2008, 5,342 people died in crashes during those hours, down 13.1% from 2005.

    [via The Wall Street Journal]

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  • Toyota logo on front of vehicleToyota announced it is launching an advanced safety research center that will collaborate with leading North American universities, hospitals, research institutions, federal agencies and other organizations on projects aimed at reducing the number of traffic fatalities and injuries on America's roads.  

    Toyota's new Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC) will be based at the Toyota Technical Center (TTC) in Ann Arbor, Mich., and will involve Toyota researchers and engineers from North America and Japan. The company estimates that it will commit approximately $50 million over the next five years to fund CSRC. 

    The collaborative research will pursue integrated ways to enhance safety, involving the vehicle, driver and traffic environment, Toyota said. Initial areas of focus will include reducing the risk of driver distraction and helping to protect the most vulnerable traffic populations, including children, teens and seniors.  These populations account for approximately 30 percent of U.S. traffic fatalities.  

    In addition, CSRC will conduct in-depth analyses of available accident and human behavior data to support efforts to evaluate and speed deployment of active safety systems. 

    "We have a long history of working closely with North American partners to achieve our safety objectives, and our new collaborative research initiative will build on this tradition," Gulash said. "We intend to publish as much of the research as possible so that it is available to federal agencies, the industry and academia." 

    Toyota Technical Center (TTC), a division of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing, North America, is the research and development arm of Toyota in North America. TTC is responsible for engineering design, vehicle development, safety and performance evaluation, regulatory affairs and advanced technical research in North America for Toyota and Lexus vehicles assembled or sold here.  

    [via Automotive Fleet]


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  • Money laid out on a tableThe average fleet director earned more than $100,000 and fleet managers earned more than $83,000 in 2010, but more than half of those who responded to a recent survey also said their salaries were frozen at the beginning of the year, while another 10% saw their salaries reduced.


    The results were gleaned from the 2010 Fleet Manager and Fleet Director Compensation Survey, from FleetAnswers.com. The social networking site for fleet managers surveyed more than 200 fleet directors and managers in the United States and Canada.


    Size does matter when it comes to compensation, said Chris Shaffer, partner, FleetAnswers.com. “We saw a clear distinction between a fleet’s size and title function. There is a direct correlation between compensation for directors and managers, and between smaller fleets and larger fleets.”


    Of those fleet professionals who did not see a raise in 2010, 68% are in public fleets (city, county, state and federal) while 32% are private fleet professionals (utility, telecom, cable, private).


    A total of 65% of the directors and managers had some college education, whether it was a two-year associate’s degree (17% of the respondents), a bachelor’s degree (32%) or a master’s degree (16%). Another 25% had a high-school diploma, while 8% went to trade school.


    About one fifth (18%) of the respondents obtained some type of fleet certification, but it appears that the certification has little to no impact on annual salary, Shaffer said.


    There were some significant disparities between women and men in both education and salaries. Almost 60% of the female fleet managers reported a high school education as their highest school level compared with 26% of the male fleet managers. That may partially account for a gap in compensation. Women fleet managers, on average, earned $63,094, or 27% less than men with the same title. Women fleet directors fared somewhat better, earning $91,500, 13% less than the average male fleet director ($105,251).


    On top of salaries, 24% of the respondents received performance-based incentives which, for 75% of them, made up 15% of their total compensation.


    Along with salary freezes, 51% of the respondents with incentives reported no increase in 2010 from 2009.


    [via Light & Medium Truck]


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  • Driving behind an 18-wheelerTime for another Friday fleet safety tip from Automotive Fleet:

    This week's tip concerns the risks associated with tailgating a tractor trailer. You may want to pass this along to your fleet drivers as a friendly reminder. 

    Driving too closely behind a big commercial truck prevents you from seeing and reacting to changing traffic conditions. You won't notice a slow-down on the highway, debris in the road, or a crash until it is a braking emergency. 

    If there is a problem ahead, your first hint will be the truck's brake lights. If you happen to be distracted or fatigued, you may not be able to react in time. If you hit the rear of a tractor trailer, you'll quickly learn that such trucks are unforgiving. They typically do not have impact-absorbing bumpers and their metal bumpers may not align with yours. So be smart and give yourself plenty of room -- more than you would for a passenger vehicle.

    Photo courtesy of twodolla and re-used under the Creative Commons license.

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  • GM Electric VehicleHere's a new technology that could eventually find its way into fleet vehicles for extra convenience on the road: the ability for drivers to charge their mobile devices without wires.

    General Motors and Powermat, a provider of wireless charging technology, announced a commercial agreement today that will eliminate the need for charging cords for personal electronic devices in many future Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac products beginning mid-2012.

    GM Ventures, the company's venture capital subsidiary, will invest $5 million in Powermat to accelerate the technology's development and support efforts to grow Powermat's business globally.

    Powermat's technology allows electronic devices - smart phones, MP3 players and gaming devices - to be charged safely and efficiently, according to Powermat CEO Ran Poliakine.

    The Chevrolet Volt will be one of the first GM vehicles to offer this technology. The technology is expected to revolutionize how electronic devices are charged in a car.

    "Imagine a mat or shelf where you could put your iPhone, your Droid or other personal device and charge it automatically while you commute to work, run errands or as you're driving on a family vacation," said Micky Bly, GM's lead electronics executive, including infotainment, hybrids and battery electric vehicles.

    Jon Lauckner, who helped create the Volt concept and now is president of GM Ventures, has been dreaming about a technology like Powermat for years.

    "We first developed the Volt concept car in 2006," Lauckner said. "The intent was to revolutionize every aspect of the car, not just the propulsion system. We had something like this in mind even then, and we think it will have widespread appeal."

    [via Business Fleet]

    Photo courtesy of  J. Rosenfeld and re-used under the Creative Commons license.
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  • Hybrid logo on vehicleFor fleets looking to increase fuel savings, hybrid technologies are a solution that is becoming more and more attractive:

    In the face of rising fuel costs and stricter emissions regulations in many parts of the world, fleet operators are increasingly looking to hybrid drivetrain designs to help make their medium- and heavy-duty trucks cleaner and more fuel efficient. While truck manufacturers and suppliers have been in the early stages of hybrid vehicle launches for several years, the market has yet to achieve significant sales volumes. However, a recent report from Pike Research forecasts that the hybrid truck sector will reach an inflection point over the next few years, increasing from just 9,000 vehicles sold in 2010 to more than 100,000 vehicles annually in 2015.

    "Payback periods on hybrid drivetrains are improving for medium and heavy-duty truck classes, particularly as oil prices continue to rise," says senior analyst Dave Hurst. "An increased focus on efficiency and regulatory compliance among fleet managers, combined with a variety of new models being introduced by truck manufacturers, will lead to substantial growth in this market over the next five years."

    Hurst adds that there are five types of hybrid systems that can be implemented on board medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles:

    • Hybrid electric
    • Plug-in hybrid electric
    • Battery electric
    • Mild electric power take-off (EPTO) hybrids
    • Hydraulic hybrids

    Among these options, Pike Research forecasts that hybrid electric trucks will be the largest segment between now and 2015. Fleets with local delivery trucks will be strong candidates for battery electric vehicles. Pike Research does not anticipate a sizable opportunity for plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the medium- and heavy-duty truck markets.

    [via Work Truck]

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    • Industry News

  • Ford's fuel-saving technology that automatically shuts off the engine when the vehicle comes to a stop - a feature found today on the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Ford Escape Hybrid and some Ford cars in Europe - will soon be added to conventional cars, crossovers and SUVs in North America. 

    Ford's patented new Auto Start-Stop system for gasoline engines is expected to improve fuel economy for most drivers by at least 4 percent, the company said. The gain can be as high as 10 percent for some drivers, depending on vehicle size and usage. The system can also reduce tailpipe emissions to zero while the vehicle is stationary or waiting at a stoplight. Ford has more than 244 patents for its Auto Start-Stop technology and will showcase the feature on a concept in January at the North American International Auto Show. 

    "For the driver, Ford Auto Start-Stop provides extra fuel efficiency without inconvenience, as it works completely automatically," said Barb Samardzich, Ford vice president of powertrain engineering. "And, just like in our hybrid vehicles, the heater and air conditioner work as normal so drivers will not sacrifice comfort." 

    The global rollout of Auto Start-Stop is under way in Europe. The system, designed to work on both gasoline and diesel engines, is standard on the ECOnetic models of the Ford Ka and Mondeo, and is launching now on Focus, C-MAX and Grand C-MAX. The fuel-saving system debuts in North America in 2012 and eventually will be offered in all of Ford's global markets. 

    [via Automotive Fleet]

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