Study Shows Teenage Brain Injuries Have Lasting Negative Effects

The specific long-lasting effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) – whether due to accidents, high-impact sports or other causes – are difficult to pin down. From concussion-related lawsuits brought against the National Football League, specialists know that TBI is often correlated with depression, dementia and cognitive impairment. Scientific research into the field is complex and, so far, limited, but a new study has shed light on TBI’s effects on teenagers’ mental health.

The study included nearly 5,000 public school students from 11 to 20 years old in Ontario, Canada. The students were asked whether they had ever suffered TBI (defined as a head injury that resulted in at least five minutes of unconsciousness or at least one overnight stay at a hospital). Their mental and emotional health was then assessed with a questionnaire on symptoms of anxiety, depression and social dysfunction. They were asked whether they had ever considered or attempted suicide, contacted a crisis hotline or been prescribed medication for anxiety or depression.

Twenty percent of students reported TBI to the researchers. Compared to those who did not report TBI, those who did were more than three times as likely to have attempted suicide, nearly twice as likely to have thought about suicide and 2.45 times as likely to have been prescribed psychotropic medication.

Currently, modern medicine has very little ability to treat concussions directly and only moderate ability to treat the lasting debilitating symptoms. Our best weapon is prevention. Make sure your children wear helmets while riding bicycles. If they engage in high-impact sports, make sure they wear helmets when appropriate. Consider speaking with athletic officials about their policy concerning TBI prevention and response.

Uber, Lyft Come to Tampa, but Insurance and Liability Questions Are Sure to Follow

Lyft and Uber, two services that provide access to vehicles for hire via smartphone apps, recently began operating in Tampa. This is despite staunch opposition from industry and regulators. Taxi and limo operators want the Hillsborough County Public Transportation Commission to ticket the companies’ drivers for what they say are violations of local laws. Meanwhile, state legislators seek to allow county residents to vote on whether to disband the Commission.

But the two services’ problems are more than regulatory. Uber and Lyft also face questions of liability in case of accidents and provisions for sufficient insurance coverage.

Each company has stated that it has excess liability insurance of up to $1 million per accident. That insurance takes over if the driver’s personal insurance is exhausted. Uber has expanded its insurance coverage several times already in 2014. In March, the company began covering the period when a driver has the app active but is not carrying passengers. That gap in coverage came to light when a driver in San Francisco struck and killed a 6-year-old girl. He was logged into his Uber app but was not carrying passengers.

Lyft operates slightly differently than Uber in that it markets itself more as a “ridesharing” service than a “vehicle for hire” service. Drivers do not directly charge fares; instead, passengers give them “donations.” These designations could add yet another layer of confusion over liability after the inevitable accidents that occur in any transportation service.

Regulators in Ohio and California have issued consumer alerts warning of possible gaps in liability insurance for so-called “transportation networking companies” (TNCs). A recent alert from the Ohio Insurance Director named medical payments coverage, uninsured motorist coverage and comprehensive coverage as possible shortcomings in TNC insurance.

HLDI Study Highlights the Importance of Vehicle Safety Recalls

A recent study shows the importance of heeding manufacturer recalls of defective vehicles. The results certainly apply to drivers of recently-recalled GM vehicles, whose defects have been linked with several deaths.

The Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) conducted a study of insurance claims on vehicles due to fires unrelated to crashes. The vehicles were divided into two categories: a group of those for which a recall was issued due to fire-related defects, and the control group, for which no such recalls were issued.

As you would expect, the study showed a significantly higher rate of fire-related insurance claims on the defective vehicles. During the time period before the recall was issued, claims on defective vehicles were 23 percent higher than non-defective vehicles. But, importantly, that gap shrank to 12 percent in the time following the issuance of the recall.

The study demonstrates that issuing a recall makes a significant difference in the rate of defect-related damage – in this case, it was cut in half. But it also shows that aggregate risk remains elevated even after the recall. An exact conclusion on this second point was beyond the scope of the study, but researchers reasonably theorized that some vehicle owners were unaware of the recall or failed to comply with it.

Auto owners can check for recalls on their cars by going to safecar.gov.

The biggest vehicle recall of the moment has been issued by General Motors. GM has recalled some 6 million cars of various models for faulty ignition switches and power steering. GM itself has linked the faulty ignitions with 13 deaths and 31 crashes. Some claim the number is higher.

The ignition switch may cause the engine to suddenly shut off while driving, which also prevents the airbags from inflating if the car then crashes. A crash is quite likely; many drivers are startled and confused when their vehicles suddenly turn off for no reason.

GM has issued urgent guidance to owners of the recalled vehicles. Owners should, of course, take their cars to GM service stations as soon as possible. But if they must drive in the meantime, they should drive with nothing extra hanging from the vehicle’s key – no extra keys or key fobs. Apparently, the weight of larger keychains pulling down on the key makes the defective ignition more likely to malfunction.

Recalls are almost always free of charge. Do your part to make driving safer – look for and heed vehicle recalls.