Friday, February 19, 2010

Making That Call While Driving

The pundits have made it clear that speaking on your cell phone while driving is dangerous to not only the user, but those around them. However, have they really identified the issue or merely created a smokescreen to the real issue…driver distraction? While I wouldn't advocate for talking on the phone while driving, I do wonder if perhaps we're trying to piece-meal legislation aimed at reducing driver distractions. With today's technologies, we have more resources at our fingertips, not to mention well-laid out road networks aimed at creating the easiest way to get from point A to point B.

The University of Illinois and Northwestern University in Illinois completed a study on the impact of legislation prohibiting hand-held cell phone use while driving. Their findings included several key points, including:

  • Cell phone subscribers in the US have skyrocketed from 97 million in June 200 to a whopping 267 million as of November 2008.
  • As reported in USA Today, approximately 11% of the population used a cell phone while driving at some point during their day.
  • Studies indicated that the average call was 4.5 minutes.
  • From 1994 to 2004, cell phone subscribers increased by 655%.
  • The number of minutes-of-use increased 3,600%.
  • Automobile accident rates dropped by around 5% over the same time period.
  • Driver distraction is purported to be the cause of nearly 80% of automobile accidents and 65% of near-accidents.
  • In 2006, these distractions caused 2,600 deaths, 330,000 moderate to critical injuries, and 1,500,000 instances of property damage annually in the USA.
  • Cell phones or car phones have been around for nearly 50 years…yep, that long. Just think of the classic Charlie's Angels or McMillan & Wife shows where they picked up the 5-odd pound phone in the car to make that all important call.

Using a phone while driving encompasses no less than three tasks on the user: locating or glancing at the phone; reaching for and dialling; and of course talking. All of these encumbrances affect either the attentiveness of the driver, or the driver's focus on the road. Investigations into whether cell phones actually contribute to a driver's inability to function correctly have been done predominately through simulators, tests, questionnaires, surveys, and observations.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the USA completed a study in 2006 that concluded "…drivers talking or listening to a wireless device are no more likely to be involved in an accident or near-accident, than those not involved in such activities." In fact, of all the 'bans' on cell-phone use, not one jurisdiction has implemented a complete ban on all types of cell phones (hand-held or hands-free).With the introduction of Bluetooth technology which enables a user to provide voice-command interface with between the user and their phone have failed to demonstrate significant reductions of risk.

Here's another piece of statistical data worth chatting about: "…increased cell phone use does not translate into increased automobile accident rates. In particular, there has been an exponential growth in the number of cell phone subscribers from the late-1980s, while automobile accident rates in the US during this same time period have remained at a fairly constant level." By February 2007, sixteen States published data on accidents caused by cell-phone use while driving, and that number represented less than 1% of automobile accidents. Another question comes into play on how enforceable a cell phone ban can be executed; as an example, in New York prior to the ban there was an estimated 2.3% user rate (while driving) which fell to 1.1% after the ban, only to rebound back up to 2.1% a year later.

In order to provide full Legislative measures aimed at reducing automobile accidents, then they're going to need to look beyond one distraction opportunity. One could expect that items like DVDs in vehicles which are visible to other drivers could be argued as an unnecessary distraction; or how about legislating cameras to support going in reverse; or banning conversations with your spouse…because we all know how distracting that can be sometimes. So let's not just look at one distraction available to drivers…let's look at the whole menu, and work with the drivers on how to mitigate those opportunities.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Banning the ABCs

In the United States, folks spend around $20,000,000,000 (that's Billion) on toys each year. Monitoring the safety of these toys in the US is the Government funded Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) around $10,000,000 (that's Million) on testing toys and other consumer products. Also at play is the not-for-profit watchdogs Ecology Center, which posts unhealthy toys and products on If you're an avid purchaser of toys, you may find yourself dramatically altering your purchasing decisions.

I've not heard of a Zhu Zhu toy hamster, and yet it's been banned due to high levels of 'antimony'. Antimony is a metal extracted predominately from ore composites, with roughly 84% of the world's supply coming from China. Antimony will burn when a flame is held to it, but will extinguish itself when the flame is removed. While its use is in a variety of markets from children's clothing, toys, and seat covers, antimony's most important use is as a hardener in lead for storage batteries.

I have heard of the 'imaginarium cube' – that oddly-shaped cube that has 12 cut outs of various shapes, wherein a child then inserts the appropriately shaped object…and that too was banned, but for high levels of 'barium'. Barium is a soft silvery metal not easily extracted and is founded in certain ore composites. Like Antimony, barium has many uses ranging from the medical field to the making of bricks, glass, and the green colour seen in fireworks.

And, toys made with PVC are at risk of containing unsafe levels of 'cadmium' and have been banned accordingly. Cadmium joins the aforementioned as a metal extracted from ore composites. The highly toxic metal, cadmium is widely used as in electroplating due to its excellent corrosion resistance. You'll find it in solder, and it's used as a barrier to control neutrons in nuclear fission.

The US Government has decided that these particular metals require legislative intervention through the introduction of the Safe Kids' Jewelry Act, preventing the aforementioned ABC metals from being manufactured, sold, or distributed in children's jewelry. Hot on the heels of recent recalls of toys imported from China this past December, this latest piece of legislation may not have been fully thought out. Antimony in particular is used as a fire-retardant in toys and clothing. Remove this component, and we've opened up a whole new sub-set of concerns. This particular legislative piece is meant to dovetail into the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and as such carries some pretty stiff controls and penalties for failure to comply.

While manufacturing and selling safe toys should be a given; and understanding that these particular metals are not exactly new to the industry; it calls into question the business ethics of manufacturers who knowingly create harmful toys intended for children. Whether it is ignorance or simply arrogance, the fact that it occurs at all is disturbing. To throw a loop into this particular legislation is that barium doesn't register on the HealthyStuff website. Perhaps they are reacting to a Canadian ban on Connecticut-based company Melissa & Doug manufactured products due to barium-laden paint on the recalled items.

While the children learn their ABCs, I guess the parents will also be watching their ABCs in their toy purchases.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My First Social Media Orgy

To start with, I've never really been a fan of "opening ceremonies" or "closing ceremonies" of any sporting event. While I understand the symbolic-ism of such events, I have found that they've become more of a show-piece as a means to raise revenues through ticket and advertising sales. I'd put it into the same category as singers who feel the need to change a National Anthem into a 'power ballad'.

Last night was the 2010 Winter Olympic Opening Ceremonies in Vancouver. While a fantastic showpiece that demonstrated some rather unusual performances; punked-out fiddlers, spoken-word presentation, poorly coordinated lip-syncing by Bryan Adams & Nelly Furtado, and some wild-haired Opera singer...and a malfunctioning cauldron to light the ultimate symbol of the Olympic Games.

After watching a few shows I had dvr'd, I decided to tune in to the ceremonies, missing the first hour or so. Mimicking what I imagined most social media folks on Twitter or Facebook or whatever were doing, I sat with my laptop open ready to comment at some point of the event. What I didn't realize, was just how many other folks were doing the same thing!

I consider myself as a bit of a social media hobbyist, and therefore not attuned to the intricacies of Twitter or Facebook. I've learned that the number sign (#) prefixed in front of a word in Twitter brings you to a whole new sub-set of Tweets specifically related to that word. Last night, I stumbled upon #Olympics, and soon found myself in (what I'll refer to as) a social media orgy.

Tweets were coming in at an astounding rate of (as high as) 1,000+ per minute. I struggled between reading the posts and watching the ceremony. And, what amazed me the most, was that I was witnessing the true power of social media. Folks from all over the world were sounding off, providing insight, or paying respect to the folks of Vancouver who coordinated such an amazing event. Most of the time, the content was rather hilarious.

I was rather pleased with the level of content which was posted. Incidents of offensive language was minimal, and for something as real-time as this was, there were no lewd comments (that I could see). No one was asking if there were any young girls on-line, and no one posted threatening language. In fact, the folks who oversee Twitter activity did a nice gesture by not updating posts during the moment of silence for Georgian athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died earlier in the day from a luge accident.

The Ceremony itself was rather confusing, and trying to keep up with the number of posts only exasperated the confusion. I'm not sure I'm ready to contribute to the social media main stream. So perhaps I will ease my way into larger social media venues, so that way I'll have an opportunity to hone in my multi-tasking skills.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Obesity Paradox

In honour of Heart Month, I thought I would expose "The Obesity Paradox". For starters, it's a real term, and while the outcome seems odd, I'm not sure I'd want to gamble with my life.

Let's start with the facts:

To define 'overweight' or 'obese', physicians/specialists use the Body Mass Index (BMI) scorecard. BMI is a statistical measurement, which takes a person’s weight and divides it by their height squared. [BMI = mass/(height)2] The resulting number is then applied to a graph which outlines whether a person is underweight (<18.5),> 30); it does not indicate a person’s percentage of body fat.

2004 Statistic Canada numbers showed that 36% of Canadians age 18 and over were ‘overweight’, and 23% are ‘obese’. Put those two numbers together and you have 59% of Canadians flouting around some excess baggage. The Heart & Stroke Foundation’s 2010 Annual Report dubs this "The Perfect Storm" highlighting the mere fact that we’re not getting any better at controlling our lifestyle. (The report also indicates other factors, but one certainly can’t ignore the ‘weight’ of Canadians.)

In a rather long-named Special Report released by the Canadian Cardiovascular Society (CCS) indicates that for each single unit increase in BMI greater than 25, the risk of heart failure increases by 5% in men, and 7% in women.

Enter the Obesity Paradox: According to the aforementioned CCS Special Report, once heart failure has become present in patients, subjects with a higher BMI are actually at a decreased risk of death and hospitalization compared to their lower scoring BMI peers. However, those higher scoring BMI patients with heart failure who went on to lose weight showed improved heart health.

One could read into this that those who choose to life an overweight lifestyle are given an opportunity to right the wrong, and lose the weight they should have in the first place. From my vantage point, I don’t know if I’d be willing to take that risk.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Regulating Day Nurseries Exposure to the Sun

Apparently the Ontario Government is short on dealing with matters more in tune with concerns of their constituents, or perhaps our elected officials have developed some control issues.

My last post touched on a proposed Bill currently entering its 2nd reading on making illegal guns illegal in bars...well we have perhaps a more idiotic Bill currently before the House.

Introducing Bill 229, Day Nurseries Amendment Act (Sun Protection), 2009. To be clear, this Bill is to address children in day care facilities or full-time care...not flowers.

Essentially if you run a day care facility, you will now be required to do the following:
  • If a child in your care is going to be outdoors for more than 30 minutes, you must provide adequate sun protection (unless a physician or parent of child advises otherwise in writing)
If this direction isn't enough, the Bill goes further to indicate what is acceptable methods for providing such care...including:
  1. applying sunscreen
  2. ensuring the child is in a shaded area
  3. ensuring the child is only outdoors during shady weather or shady times of the day. And,
  4. ensuring that the child is wearing appropriate clothing to cover his or her head, arms, legs and body
Taken in its literal sense, I will now ensure that my 2 year old niece has had sunscreen applied, placed under a tree at nine o'clock at night (because I'm not really sure what a 'shady time of day is...and will assume that means 'night'), and make sure she is wearing her winter snowsuit and hat.

Have we really sunk this far that we have abandoned our basic life-skills surrounding the care of children? Further still, mandating basic care to this level, of children in day-care facilities brings into question on the requirements needed to become licensed or their hiring skills.

Yes folks, this is our tax dollars at work. I feel so much better now!