• General Motors will soon be making a wireless internet router as a dealer-installed option on select Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac vehicles.


    The router, supplied by San Francisco-based Autonet Mobile, creates a mobile wi-fi hotspot that extends for 150 feet around and inside the vehicle, allowing anyone inside to use the internet.


    Internet compatibility will first be offered only in GM’s vans, SUVs, crossovers and trucks.  The idea is that since these vehicles are more likely to carry whole families, passengers in the rear can use laptops and other devices while the driver uses the connection to stream internet radio.


    “Ninety percent of customers prefer surfing the Internet over just watching movies,” Sterling Pratz, CEO of Autonet Mobile, said in a statement. “Customers want the biggest brands the Internet has to offer in their car, such as Facebook, YouTube and FlyCast Internet radio.”


    Later, the device will be available in other vehicles with the intention of helping business users stay connected at all times.


    Dealers will begin offering the package later this month, at a retail price of $499 for the unit and internet access for about $29 a month. The Autonet device comes with a docking station, meaning that it can be transferred from one GM car to another.


    Autonet also supplies Internet routers for Chrysler, through its Mopar accessories unit, and Volkswagen.


    Photo courtesy of sarnil under the Creative Commons License

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  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has formed its first-ever national drug and alcohol strike force, removing 77 commercial bus and truck drivers from service and bringing enforcement action against 84 motor carriers.

    During the period of Sept. 8-18, FMCSA safety investigators looked at previous drug and alcohol records of commercial drivers employed by bus companies including interstate passenger carriers, school bus drivers, hazardous material transporters and general long-haul freight trucking companies.

    “Violators of our drug and alcohol policies have no business driving a commercial vehicle. Programs like the drug and alcohol strike force are helping remove the most dangerous offenders from our roadways,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

    The 77 drivers who are now facing the possibility of civil penalties for breaking federal drug and alcohol regulations can no longer work operating commercial motor vehicles and will most likely be forced to pay a fine. The carriers involved are facing enforcement action for allowing drivers to work despite violations and failing to institute drug and alcohol testing programs.

    The FMCSA says that the overall goals of the program were to identify motor carriers in violation of federal requirements and to identify drivers who move from company to company to evade federal drug and alcohol testing requirements. Both the drivers and carriers implicated by the task force will have the opportunity to contest the alleged violations and the extent of their penalties

  • On Monday, the United States Department of Transportation held the first meeting of its newly created Safety Council.  The council was formed in order to formally address safety issues that affect all 10 of the DOT’s operating administrations.


    “Now is the time to identify and address the top safety issues that cut across our agencies,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “The council will take our commitment to safety, which is our highest priority, to the next level.”


    LaHood says that prior to him taking office, many of the agencies within the DOT were pursuing the same safety initiatives without a formal process for sharing data, strategies, and best practices.  He created the Safety Council to fill the role of broad leadership and to serve an organizational function to create a more strong and cohesive culture of safety within the department.  The council’s goals are to further enhance the DOT’s focus on safety and to improve the effectiveness and impact of the department’s safety programs.

    Chaired by Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari, the Safety Council is comprised of the heads of DOT’s 10 agencies: the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Transit Administration, the Maritime Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the Research and Innovative Technology Administration, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation.


    Photo courtesy of DOTlibrary

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  • After our last story on drunk driving laws, this seemed too good to pass up.


    A Duluth, Minnesota man has pleaded guilty to driving a motorized La-Z-Boy armchair while under the influence of alcohol in August of 2008, according to the Duluth News Tribune62-year-old Dennis LeRoy Anderson told local police that he was driving home on his chair from a bar after drinking eight or nine beers.


    Prosecutors in the case say that Anderson’s blood alcohol content was 0.29, more than three times the legal limit.  He crashed into a parked car on his way home, but was not seriously injured.


    The home-modified armchair was powered by a converted lawnmower engine and chassis, and even has a stereo and cupholders.


    Sixth Judicial District Jude Heather Sweetland stayed the penalty of 180 days in jail Monday, and instead sentenced Anderson to two years of probation.

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  • A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on October 20th challenged the authority of policeofficers in dealing with drunk drivers based on indirect evidence.

    Despite resistance fromChief Justice John G. Roberts, the Supreme Court upheld a decision by the Virginia Supreme Court that states police may follow but notstop a suspected drunk driver’s vehicle until the officer actually observessuspicious behavior.


    Many states have upheldvehicle searches based entirely on called-in tips to officers as long as thevehicle in question matches the description provided.  While the Virginia rulingeliminates this possibility in one case, it does not set a legal precedent andother states are not required to follow the same rule.


    The Virginiaruling actually frees Joseph Harris of Richmond.Harris was arrested recently when a caller reported seeing a drunk driver inHarris’ Nissan Altima.  The caller, who has identified himself to police,also provided a portion of Harris’ license plate number.  Harris wasarrested after an officer pulled over the car and found him visiblyintoxicated.  However, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the arrestconstituted an “unreasonable search” because the officer had no firsthandevidence for pulling the car over.


    The Virginia prosecutors’ appeal to the U.SSupreme Court was defeated by a vote of 7-2.  Chief Justice Roberts andJustice Antonin Scalia both voted to overturn the decision.


    Photo courtesy of Alex E. Proimos underthe Creative Commons License.

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  • New advances in telematics are offering the ability to curb auto theft with the technology we already carry around every day: mobile phones.


    The way a new system is planned to work: if your vehicle is broken into, you may receive an email to your mobile device informing you of the breach.  Video feeds from inside the cabin could appear to give the owner a positive ID on the thief.  Integrated map technology tracks the vehicle’s movement, giving moment-to-moment tracking information.  From there, the owner of the vehicle can call 911 to alert the police and disable the car’s engine at the touch of a button.


    “While this may sound like science fiction, for Toyota, these features are already a reality in Japan with its G-Security system, part of the company’s G-Link, G-Book mX Pro, and G-Book Alpha Pro telematics systems that provide a range of car control and safety services via remote control from a mobile phone or PC,” said Hitomi Larson, an analyst covering automotive electronics at iSuppli Corp. “Furthermore, other OEMs are getting into the game, offering competitive solutions. Nissan, for example, will be the next automaker to introduce a mobile device service to the Japanese market, debuting sometime in 2010. Likewise, there are other mobile device connectivity solutions that will come into the U.S. and global markets in 2010 and 2011.”

    Toyota is the first OEM to implement an in-vehicle mobile security system in Japan, but some companies such as Subaru and Mazda are already adapting the same technology. Beyond the capabilities already mentioned, G-Security gives users remote control via a PC or mobile phone to features including door locks, power windows and hazard lamps.


    “While it seems futuristic, mobile device in-vehicle connectivity interface is nothing new, with Japanese OEMs accustomed to utilizing mobile phones for off-board service content delivery into cars,” Larson said. “However, several automotive OEMs now are trying to further expand the usage of mobile phones as a direct communication channel to send and obtain vehicle-centric information along with mobile applications.”

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  • A recent Associated Press report says that New York truckers may soon be penalized for driving on restricted roads directed by GPS devices.


    New York Governor David Paterson has proposed penalties including confiscation of trucks and even jail time for drivers who use GPS to take more hazardous routes and end up in situations such as striking low bridges.


    “To our knowledge, no other state has similar legislation,” said Clayton Boyce of the American Trucking Association.


    “Most trucking companies rely on GPS services that are specifically for trucks and route them away from restricted roads,” he said. “Most of our members also use dispatching and fleet management systems that direct and track the vehicles by truck GPS services.”


    The safety group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said that trucks driving on restricted roads is a fact of life on the nation’s highways and something that will become an ever-increasing problem as more drivers use GPS technology.  Senior research director Gerald Donaldson says that GPS adds to the growing number of distractions drivers deal with on a daily basis.


    “GPS is the heart of it,” said Donaldson, who predicts other states will soon enact similar restrictions.

    AP reported that New York state alone has seen more than 1,400 bridge strikes in the past 15 years, including 46 so far this year in suburban Westchester County, testing many old bridges already in need of repair. One bridge in Westchester was hit nine times this year.


    “This sort of culture of just following the GPS and almost ignoring the road signs has created this public hazard,” Paterson said. “It’s only a matter of time before someone is killed or a truck carrying chemicals or explosives hits a bridge.”


    The bill would increase penalties for illegally using parkways and require all large commercial trucks to use GPS devices that route them away from restricted roads. It would also hold trucking companies or their insurance carriers responsible for repairs and cleanup after bridge strikes.

    The bill could hit the Legislature as early as January, AP reported.


    Photo courtesy of news.com.au

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  • Customers with certain Citi MasterCards have found their accounts terminated this week in a move that came with little to no warning from the credit card giant.


    Citi has confirmed that it is in fact shutting down customer accounts.  In a statement, the bank said that it “decided to close a limited number of oil partner co-branded MasterCard accounts.” This number includes Shell, Citgo, Exxon Mobil and Phillips 66-Conoco cards.


    The accounts were terminated last Wednesday, with letters sent out by the bank to inform customers of the change on Monday, according to a Citi spokesman.  The bank declined to reveal how many accounts were cancelled or how much available credit they represent.  However, unlike Citi’s move to shut down its Home Depot cards, the oil-partnered cards will still be made available for new customers.


    Citi would not say why the affected accounts were shut down, saying in its statement only that it is continuously reevaluating its products.  Analysts noted that after its third quarter earnings report posted $8 billion in losses, Citi has been drastically reducing its outstanding credit to customers.


    “It is kind of an extraordinary action, but these are extraordinary times,” said Ben Woolsey, director of marketing and consumer research for CreditCards.com.


    The most devastating effect of the card shutdowns could be damage to customers’ credit scores. Card holders who think their cards were unfairly cancelled can try contacting the bank for reinstatement, but John Ulzheimer of credit.com doesn’t see much hope for that strategy.


    “In this environment,” he said, “it’s not as successful as it was in the heyday of credit cards, where you could in fact call and plead your case.”


    Photo courtesy of SqueakyMarmot under the Creative Commons License.

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  • Toyota recently issued a massive recall due to the possibility of floor mats in its vehicles moving forward and jamming the accelerator while engaged. 


    Affecting nearly3.8 million vehicles, Toyota is acknowledging the problem on a grand scale.  However, the automaker is not planning on redesigning the floor mats, instead requesting that customers simply remove them.  In the wake of this issue, some auto manufacturers are considering a new technology that would help to nullify the problem: smart gas pedals.


    The new technology tells the car’s engine to ignore the gas pedal’s input if the brake is depressed at the same time. “It is an additional safety feature,” said Thomas Plucinsky, a spokesman for BMW. “The brake takes precedence.”  The technology, which utilizes a drive-by-wire accelerator, only engages when the vehicle is in motion.


    A spokesman for Toyota confirmed that while not considering replacing its defective floor mats, his company is considering something like a smart gas pedal system as one option for eliminating accidental acceleration.


    The system has already worked for other automakers.  Audi and Volkswagen already have smart pedals in place, and Nissan plans to include the feature on the 2010 Infiniti M.  Chrysler utilizes a similar technology that brings the car’s engine speed to idle when both pedals are used.


    As useful as smart pedals may sound, some companies don’t see the point. Chris Naughton, a spokesman for Honda, says his company will “continue to accept application of the accelerator and brake pedals as representing the driver’s intention.”


    Photo courtesy of danielctw under the Creative Commons License.

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  • ChurchBrothers Collision Repair, based in Indianapolis,recently received a special award from the state of Indiana recognizing the body shop chain’sdedication to reducing pollution.


    Church Brothers is thefirst major collision repair shop in Indianato fully convert its painting operations to a waterborne paint system.The conversion has been done at all six of the company’s Indiana locations.  The change hascaused a 25 percent reduction in harmful organic compound emissions duringrefinishing operations.  In recognition of this dedication to theenvironment, the Indiana Department ofEnvironmental Management presentedChurch Brothers with an award during the 2009 IndianaGovernor’s Awards for Excellence program held last month.


    “We are pleased and veryhonored that the ‘waterborne project’ undertaken by our small business has beenrecognized at such a high level,” said Ted McClintic,president of Church Brothers Collision Repair. “We hope all repair shops willget energized from our initiative and do their part to reduce our emissions.”

    The waterborne basecoatfor automobiles provides better coverage with less paint sprayed over a givenarea and also reduces the amount of hazardous waste generated by olderpaints.  The new system also creates a safer health environment for shopemployees.


    Photo courtesy of rapidpaint

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