• With flu season approaching and our recent look at drugged driving policies, this week’s Automotive Fleet safety tip is all about how medication side effects can affect their ability to drive safely. Here are a few medications that can greatly affect driving ability:

    • Taking sedating antidepressants even 10 hours before driving is equal to driving drunk.
    • Antihistamines, which block allergic reactions, slow down reaction time and impair coordination.
    • Common prescription drugs (including medications to treat allergies, pain, diabetes, high blood pressure, cholesterol, ulcers, depression, anxiety disorders, and insomnia) can cause drowsiness, affect vision and other skills that can be serious hazards on the road.
    • Over-the-counter drugs such as cold and cough medicines, antihistamines, drugs to prevent nausea or motion sickness, pain relievers, decongestants and diuretics can cause drowsiness or dizziness that can impair a driver's skills and reflexes.
    • Drivers should ask their physician and pharmacist all they can about their medication's side effects, and what drugs are usually safe to combine -- especially behind the wheel.

    It’s important to make sure your drivers know the risks of taking medications and driving. For more tips on what drugs to avoid and how to use the others responsibly, click here.

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  • For fleets looking to see whether alternative fuels are right for their budget or just deciding on new vehicles, a powerful new online tool should make the choice a little bit easier.

    The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has released new vehicle cost calculator on its website and a related widget that allows users to compare emissions and the lifetime operating costs of different conventional vehicles and alternative fuel methods.

    The calculator allows users to enter information for existing vehicles or for a “custom vehicle,” where they can input their own vehicle data, and compare that with either other existing vehicles or custom vehicles. Along with data about driving habits, the program gives users the cost-per-mile for operating the vehicle, annual fuel used, annual electricity used (for EVs), a combined annual cost for using electricity and fuel (for plug-in hybrids, for example), and annual CO2 emissions.

    The report also shows a graph that charts the annual cost of ownership by year, including fuel, tires, maintenance, registration, license fees, insurance, and a loan payment.

    You can try out the cost calculator for yourself by clicking here.

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  • State highway safety group the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) has announced that it plans to strengthen its drugged driving policy. The new policy aims to make drugged driving a national priority and ask states to address the issue.

    The announcement was made at a drugged driving summit in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 14 organized by the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

    A 2007 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that 33 percent of all drivers with known drug-test results who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2009 tested positive for drugs (both illegal and over-the counter and prescription medications). Another recent NHTSA report indicated drug use reported by states among fatally injured drivers increased from 13 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2008.

    “As with drunk driving, a strong national-state partnership is necessary to make progress,” said Barbara Harsha, GHSA’s executive director.

    The new GHSA policy encourages states, among other things, to amend statues to provide separate and distinct sanctions for alcohol and drug-impaired driving as well as improve testing protocols.

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  • Looking for new vehicles? It looks like buying foreign may still be your best bet for long-term reliability.

    Recent consumer data collected by Consumer Reports and reported in The New York Times shows that Japanese automakers continue to produce the most reliable passenger vehicles on the market in the eyes of buyers and drivers.


    The top 9 most reliable brands listed this year were Scion, Lexus, Acura, Mazda, Honda, Toyota, Infiniti, Subaru and Nissan. Of the 91 Japanese models for which Consumer Reports had sufficient data, 96 percent received ratings of Average or Much Better than Average in predicted reliability.


    As for American cars, Ford dropped 10 spots from last year, from its 10th place ranking to No. 20 out of 28 brands. Jeep moved up seven spots to No. 13, displacing Ford as the most reliable domestic brand. Chrysler and Dodge moved up 12 and 3 spots, respectively. A bright spot for G.M. was the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, which received a predicted reliability rating of Much Better Than Average.


    Regarded as a whole, Detroit models still had a reliability problem, the editors said. Of the 97 domestic models and versions for which Consumer Reports had sufficient data, just 64 percent rated Average or Much Better Than Average, compared with 96 percent for Japanese models.


    The survey results are available to subscribers at the Consumer Reports Web site.

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  • It looks like all of that integrated text-eliminating technology we were talking about a few days back is coming along sooner than you may think! Ford is set to begin installing a feature that reads text messages out loud to reduce distraction due to reading them while driving:

    The feature, which will be installed in new vehicles and some older models, is part of Ford's voice-activated technology, Sync, and is already installed on all model 2012 Ford vehicles with the exception of the Ranger.

    The system syncs with smartphones via a Bluetooth connection and alerts users when they receive text messages, reads them out loud and allows users to respond with a selection of standard pre-written messages without taking their hands off the wheel.

    Vehicles model 2010 or later will carry the new system as an upgrade available as a download. Older Ford vehicles that have Sync will soon be able to make the update as well.

    Studies have shown that distracted driving is a major factor in fatal traffic accidents. What is your fleet doing to reduce distracted driving?

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  • With Moammar Gadhafi no longer in power, oil companies are already looking to start ramping up production in Libya, whose supplies had been tightly controlled by the former dictator. Now a question remains: what effect will this new production capacity have on worldwide oil prices?

    Some senior analysts within the industry recently spoke to Edmunds Inside Line about the possible effects.

    "Gadhafi's death won't be a big game-changer in the short term," said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com "I don't see prices going below $3 per gallon."


    "I think consumers can expect lower short-term (gas) prices and then another vicious winter-spring rally," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service. "Gadhafi's loss was factored into the marketplace when Tripoli fell this summer. There was a huge drop within a few days." He predicts that gas will average about $3.40 per gallon from now through Thanksgiving with prices rising to as much as $4.25 per gallon in the spring.


    Before the civil war, Libya produced only 2 percent of the world's oil, but because the market is so touchy, any interruption in oil production can have a big impact on gas prices.


    DeHaan said a bigger impact on gas prices in the U.S. will be China's economy.


    "If China's economy hit a slowdown or if it started to see negative growth, it would be huge on oil prices," he said. "To see China's economy slow down would mean the pace of imports would slow down and that would be big. It would lower (gas) prices.”


    (Tags: Libya, Oil Prices, Production)
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  • With new standards in place to raise the overall efficiency of new vehicles by 2025, it would stand to reason that automakers would be taking steps toward higher fuel economy standards already. Apparently, this might not quite be the case yet! Some vehicles have taken a step back, as 2 different reports out this week conflicted over whether the average mileage has slipped back.

    The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute said the average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in September was 22.1 mpg --unchanged from August and at the lowest level in 12 months. TrueCar.com said that the September fuel economy for new vehicles sold stood at an average 22.0 mpg compared with 21.7 in August and 21.4 in September 2010.


    Michael Sivak, a research professor at the University of Michigan’s institute, said fuel economy has gone up from 21.1 mpg two years ago and said he was not surprised by the difference between his calculations and the TrueCar measure.


    “The two methodologies and the data sources are slightly different. However, the actual values are not that different from each other,” he said.  


    How do you feel about the recent changes in fuel economy standards, and do you think it is important to fleets like yours? Leave a comment and let us know.

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  • Here’s another story of a real fleet taking on more alternative fuel technologies in the name of efficiency:

    DeKalb County, Ga. has ordered 24 new Freightliner Business Class M2 112 compressed natural gas (CNG) trucks. The Atlanta Metro county will receive the vehicles in late 2011. The trucks will be used for sanitation and maintenance.

    By converting the county’s methane waste to energy, DeKalb produces enough electricity to run 2,500 homes and will produce enough natural gas to run 600 trucks. 

To support the gas-to-energy program, DeKalb County is building two fueling stations for passenger cars and trucks.

    “We take environmental responsibility very seriously, and we are very proud of all our green initiatives,” said Robert Gordon, fleet service superintendent, DeKalb County Fleet Management Division.

    With more and more government fleets taking on alternative fuels to maximize their efficiency, commercial fleets are starting to take on similar habits. What is your fleet thinking about for the future?

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  • With mobile Internet becoming more and more ubiquitous in our daily lives, it only makes sense that it is showing up in our vehicles. As time goes on, our vehicles will become fully integrated with Internet connectivity. Glenn Lurie, president of AT&T’s Emerging Devices business, recently spoke about the future of connected cars to The New York Times:


    “Five percent of cars are connected today,” said Lurie. “Three to five years from now, 100 percent [of new vehicles] will be connected. You’ll see diagnostics, calls when the airbag goes off, real-time traffic reports, entertainment in the back seat.”
    Mr. Lurie thinks that the next step may be more grassroots, as smaller companies figure out how to repurpose existing devices, like the iPod, to work in new environments.


    “What will be more innovative than people realize is the accessories business,” he said.

    From iPod docks to integrated systems, we’re all becoming more and more dependent on technology to help us drive and do our jobs. Does your fleet use mobile devices in your vehicles during the workday?

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  • A while back, we looked at Ford’s new inflatable rear seat belt technology designed to reduce injury to passengers during accidents. Now that technology has received the prestigious Popular Mechanics’ Breakthrough Product Award.

    "Ford's goal is to develop innovative safety technologies that give our customers more peace of mind, so it is a great honor to receive the Breakthrough Technology Award," said Srini Sundararajan, safety technical leader for Ford Research and Innovation. "I thank Popular Mechanics for recognizing the contributions of a number of dedicated engineers from Ford."

    The advanced restraint system is designed to help reduce head, neck and chest injuries for rear seat passengers, often children and older passengers who can be more vulnerable to such injuries. Ford introduced the inflatable rear seat belts in the 2011 Explorer, which already has a lot of positive feedback for its safety and driver-assist technologies.

    Ford plans to roll out inflatable seat belt technology in more vehicles in the coming years.

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