NHTSA Investigating Steering Defect in Ford Sedans

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a preliminary investigation into safety issues related to the steering systems of Ford sedans. The issue was raised after concerns over safety issues regarding steering shafts on about 500,000 Ford vehicles.

Ford Crown Victoria, Grand Marquis, and Marauder sedans from model years 2004 through 2007 may be affected by these steering issues. The steering problems are related to degrading heat shields on these Fords. According to NHSTA, the heat shields may rust and impede proper steering as time passes. NHTSA was made aware of the issue after five customer complaints were submitted about steering concerns.

So far, there is no formal recall, but one may be issued if the investigation determines that this problem is a wide concern. Ford has thus far said that it will cooperate with NHTSA investigation and has declined further comment.

Rust Problems with Ford Sedans

The inciting incident for this investigation occurred in April, 2014. A 2004 Crown Victoria rolled over after the steering locked. The resulting accident in the Detroit area caused neck and lower back injuries to the driver. According to the driver, the heat shield was found underneath the car after the accident, and it had apparently rusted off. The problem was attributed to salt corrosion.

In the other complaints received by NHTSA, drivers stated that steering had become very difficult to control, to the point that “bodily force” was required to turn the steering wheel. These problems may also be attributed to rusting problems.

In the agency’s official announcement of the preliminary investigation, NHTSA voiced worries over a “separation of the lower steering column shaft from the upper steering column shaft resulting in a loss of steering control.” The investigation will look into how big of a problem this may be, and if the defect is attributable to design flaws or simple wear and tear in less than optimal conditions.

This is not the first rust-related problem reported for these vehicles. Over 300,000 Crown Victoria and Grand Marquis sedans were recalled in August 2013 in states where salt was heavily used on roads. A defect in these vehicles could corrode the lower intermediate shaft. This eventually could cause a collapse of the upper intermediate steering shaft at a serious risk to the driver. This recall was a result of another NHTSA investigation sparked by 22 customer complaints to the agency.

NHTSA is now conducting an independent engineering analysis to determine if there is a harmful defect. In several months, NHTSA should make recommendations based on the outcome of the analysis or possibly issue a recall.



The Dangers of Gas Cans

Almost every home has gas cans. We keep them in our garages and sheds to fill up lawnmowers and other devices. These red, plastic canisters are about as ubiquitous as any other home accessory. For this reason, we never really think about the dangers posed by them.

Investigation has revealed many examples of horrific accidents related to children knocking over gas cans with tricycles, fathers filling up chainsaws or lawnmowers, or people just walking by a can that explodes. Just a small spark from static electricity or a water heater’s pilot light can cause the gas can to combust.

Blitz USA Defective Gas Cans

About 95% of all gas cans sold in the United States are made of plastic. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, about 19 million gas cans are purchased by consumers every year. About 75% of these plastic cans bought in the United States are sold by Blitz USA. The company chose not to use flame arresters in its design of plastic gas cans, which makes their cans especially prone to explosions as time passes.

Flame arresters have been used in metal gas cans for 100 years and they have effectively prevented explosions. Blitz USA even used them on their own metal gas cans. However, they chose not to include the simple metal device in their cheaper plastic models. Many plastic bottles containing flammable liquids and gases already include flame arresters, including lighter fluid. Although including flame arresters would minimally increase the cost of manufacturing the gas cans, the tiny cost is well worth the investment in safety.

Flame arresters are standard in most industries. In fact, workplace standard 1926.155(l) on fire protection and prevention from the Occupational Safety and Health Care Administration requires that all gas cans have flame arresters. The same standards of protection should be applied to consumers who have gas cans in their homes.

While Blitz has recently gone out of business, its successors, including Kinderhook, should be held to the highest standards. Safety should be the number one concern when it comes to manufacturing products that can be so dangerous. Legislation requiring flame arresters on every gas can is a top priority for consumer advocacy groups for the upcoming legislative session.



Inconsistency of Prescription Labels Risks Medication Errors

Medication errors cause thousands of deaths in the United States every year. A recent study by the University of Waterloo and the Canadian National Institute for the Blind determined that many of these errors are caused by illegible labeling.

Many factors can affect the legibility of a drug label from a pharmacy. Fonts that are too small, overly crowded instructions, and inconsistencies in the location of information on prescription drug labels can all cause confusion for patients. Elderly adults, who are already susceptible to medication errors, have the most trouble with these details.

According to the study, very few labels actually followed the professionally recommended guidelines for legibility of prescription labels recommended by the following:

  • The US Pharmacopeia
  • The American Society for Consultant Pharmacists
  • The National Patient Safety Agency in the UK
  • The American Foundation for the Blind
  • The Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  • The Royal National Institute of Blind People in the UK
  • The American Council of the Blind

The following discrepancies affected the legibility of the labels in the study:

  • Only 44% of the medication instructions used 12-point font size, the minimum accepted print size for optimal legibility.
  • Not a single drug or patient name on labels in the study met the minimum 12-point font standard.
  • 95% of the labels were judged to have overly crowded information, making it difficult to read important information, especially for those with diminished eyesight.
  • Just 51% of the labels used left alignment, which is recommended for legibility.
  • The instructions were given in complete sentences, making it difficult for patients to interpret.
  • There was a lack of consistency of the location of different types of information.
  • Every label in the study fell short of legibility recommendations in some way.

Improving Prescription Legibility

In order to study the legibility of labels currently used by pharmacies, researchers in the Waterloo study had 45 Canadian pharmacies in Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge print a sample prescription label with the patient’s name, drug name, and instructions. They then compared the labels to each other and to label printing recommendations from pharmaceutical and health organizations and non-governmental organizations for ideal readability.

The researchers determined not only that recommendations were being ignored, but also that there were very few requirements for legibility and readability being handed down to individual pharmacies. In order to rectify this problem, researchers have proposed new guidelines and regulations for label size, font size and color, sentence alignment, and highlighting.

The researchers next plan to create a prototype for a uniform label and test it on both patients and pharmacists to try to improve legibility standards. “We expect that addressing these factors together will improve the accessibility of prescription labels. We need to move from a pharmacy-centered labeling standard, to a patient-centered one,” said Carlos H. Rojas-Fernandez, Professor at Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy and researcher on this study. In the meantime, patients need to be aware of this lack of clarity and make sure to read prescription bottles especially carefully.




Changes in the Appearances of Pills Can Cause Lapses

Over the last ten years, generic drugs have become increasingly popular due to the savings to consumers and insurance companies. These efforts to keep healthcare costs low have saved people in the United States $1.2 trillion in that time.

Many doctors, insurance companies, and even patients switch to the cheapest generic version of a drug as soon as it becomes available. After all, the medicine is essentially the same, only perhaps with a new appearance. When patients go to pick up a refill of a prescription, they may be surprised to find that the pills are a different shape or color than they received before.

According to a recent study by prescription drug researchers from Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, this may be a problem. Research suggests that changes in a particular medication’s color or shape can cause many patients to discontinue necessary medication without notice.

Why Changes in the Appearances of Pills Can Cause Problems

Because of the way that pharmacies negotiate with drug manufacturers in order to get the best price, they may dispense one generic manufacturer’s drug one month and refill it later with the same drug made by a different manufacturer. These pills will be effective for patients even though the medication may have a different size, shape, color, and formulation. These changes should not affect the treatment of any patient or disrupt recovery in any way.

However, patients are often not told what to expect from these new pills. Even if a pharmacist may mention that the pill looks different, some patients do not trust the medication because it looks different. These patients may lose confidence in the medicine’s safety or effectiveness. Often patients suspect that there is a problem. Some patients will stop taking the pills until they can ask their doctor about the change. Others stop taking the drug entirely.

Some patients may not intend to make medication errors, but are confused by the new look of the medication. Many patients who take multiple pills daily have a difficult time keeping a medication schedule straight. Any change can disrupt a patient’s habits. These patients may forget the new pill, confuse it with another pill, or even accidentally double up on one medication.

These are serious problems, since many of the patients who are the most easily confused by the new look of a pill are those who most require the medication to live. The authors of the study have encouraged the FDA to rethink its hands-off policy on regulating the appearance of generic drugs and to require similar appearances for equivalent medications. Medication errors cause thousands of death in the U.S. every year. This change in regulations can help patients avoid errors.



FDA to Decide If Testosterone Meds Boost Heart Attack Risks

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has decided to hold a special advisory committee meeting to discuss the potential cardiovascular risks posed by testosterone products. This meeting, to be held on September 17, 2014, will be spent examining two recently released trials that indicate that testosterone products may increase the risk of heart attacks in men.

At this advisory meeting, the FDA Bone, Reproductive, and Urologic Drugs panel and the Drug Safety and Risk Management committee will jointly discuss what implications these studies have for consumers and the general safety of testosterone products.

This safety reassessment is the culmination of a months-long investigation by the FDA. The agency has been researching claims made in the testosterone market and the safety of such products. The FDA has already put a warning on all testosterone drugs about blood-clot risks posed by these products. Depending on the outcome of these hearings, the market may be more tightly regulated or some products could even be banned.

Concerns about Testosterone Medications

In recent years, men have been buying testosterone medications in increasing amounts. The drugs for low testosterone count, or hypogonadism, are intended to increase sex drive, improve mood, and strengthen muscle tone. While testosterone medications have been advertised as a panacea for any male problem, the medications for “Low T” may pose serious risks. As the testosterone market is currently valued at $1.6 billion and is expected to grow to $5 billion by 2017, it is important for the FDA to take an active role in determining the health impact of these drugs.

A study of 55,000 men taking prescribed testosterone medications in the United States found that in the first 90 days using testosterone drugs, 1 in 167 men aged 65 or older could suffer a heart attack. These risks increased to 1 in 100 men under 65 for those with pre-existing heart conditions. These risks are more than double the normal risk for men in this age bracket. There were nearly doubled risks for younger men with previous risk factors for cardiovascular problems.

Many doctors have expressed concerns about these medications, and the FDA is taking these concerns seriously. However, the risk may be mitigated by other factors. The solution to make these drugs safer may be in requiring more stringent patient testing before starting the medication.