Tag Archives: ‘safer’

Are Stoners Really Safer Drivers Than People Texting or Using Touch Screens?

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Now there’s another survey showing how using a smartphone appears to dramatically slow a driver’s reaction time and increase the chances of having an accident. Once again, drunk drivers and cannabis users fare better than sober test drivers using a phone hands-free, texting, using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto voice controls, or – worst of all – using the phones for touch-screen tasks.

This survey, done in the UK for IAM RoadSmart, found that slower reaction times when using smartphones or touch-screen applications on highways increased stopping distances by four to five car lengths. On some tasks, drivers’ eyes were off the road for as much as 16 seconds, and the worst reaction times were connected to doing touch-screen applications.

A TRL study for IAM RoadSmart shows how much driver alertness was reduced by alcohol, weed, and phone/car interactions. (The kind of study that never lacks for volunteers.)

The testing, in a driving simulator, has test subjects who used either iPhones or Android phones (in their own lives) drive a simulated test route three times: once without phone interaction, once using phone voice control, and once using the car’s touch screen with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto running (not the car’s native infotainment interface). IAM RoadSmart, which describes itself as the UK’s largest road safety charity, reported six major findings in the report:

  • Controlling the vehicle’s position in the lane and keeping a consistent speed and headway to the vehicle in front suffered significantly when interacting with either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, particularly when using touch control
  • Participants failed to react as often to a stimulus on the road ahead when engaging with either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay – with reaction times being more than 50 percent longer.
  • Reaction time to a stimulus on the road ahead was higher when selecting music through Spotify while using Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
  • The impact on reaction time when using touch control (rather than voice control) was worse than texting while driving.
  • Use of either system via touch control caused drivers to take their eyes off the road for longer than NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)-recommended guidelines.
  • Participants underestimated by as much as 5 seconds the time they thought they spent looking away from the road when engaging with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay via touch control.

Interestingly, Apple CarPlay users were more distracted than Android Auto users when using voice control and issuing car touch-screen commands. The tasks included two music-related sub-tasks while following another car, dealing with erratic highway traffic while handling navigation chores getting to a railway station, and finding a restaurant or gas station. Reaction was measured by the time to notice a red band of light on-screen. Alertness was mention by the reaction time and driver behavior (such as current speed, deviation from lane position, eye gaze behavior, and self-reported performance).

According to the report, “Driver distraction [is] estimated to be a factor in 10-30 percent of collisions in Europe.” The study found some interesting contrasts: Test-drivers said they preferred, in the personal lives, to use touch-screen over voice, yet these tests showed voice was more efficient than touch-screen interaction.

Most academics end their research by saying, “Further research is indicated,” because it often is, and because everybody wants more research grants.

The death rate the last decade, factored for population increase and miles driven (yellow line), is less than one-quarter what it was when the middle of the boomer generation came of driving age circa 1970.

We’d like to see more research that helps explain why being legally drunk at the lowest level of illegality, 0.08 percent BAC (both in the US and most of Europe), has the least effect on reaction time: 12 percent more than a sober driver. Not that we’re in favor of backing off on getting drunks off the road. Before the US drunk driver crackdown that got serious around 1980, half of all highway fatalities were linked to drunks. Yet, even though there are probably way more people texting and tinkering with music playlists than drunks, the death rate has been essentially unchanged for much of the past decade.

Part of the reason drinking (also driving stoned) is so dangerous is that a driver is drunk for the entire trip. (Stopping for coffee gets you a wide-awake … drunk.) Texters only do it for part of any trip. Of course, there are probably more texters and phone-yakkers driving all the time.

We’d also like to see how driver-assists affect (improve) safety. We suspect adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning or, better, lane keep assist/lane centering assist, are so good they bail out texters before they run into something or someone. And it would be interesting to comparison test distraction using a hard-to-reach center stack display mounted high on the dash versus one the driver can reach without leaning forward in the seat.

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New Canadian standard developed to make BBQ grill brushes safer after ingested bristles cause injuries

A new national safety standard for barbecue grill brushes will require a warning label and testing to reduce the risk of wire bristles becoming detached, embedded in food and accidentally ingested.  

Over a six-year span ending in January, Health Canada received 59 reports of incidents related to barbecue brushes, including 48 injuries, according to its Consumer Product Safety Program.

Following reports of injuries caused by loose bristles, Health Canada decided in 2017 not to ban sales of the wire bristle brushes.

Instead, the federal regulator worked with the Retail Council of Canada and other groups to come up with a standard for barbecue brushes sold in Canada.

‘Sad that there can’t be a stop to this’

Bev Smith underwent emergency surgery to remove a 20-centimetre section of her bowel after a metal barbecue brush bristle perforated it in 2017. She said she’s disappointed the new standard still allows for wire bristle BBQ brushes.

She maintains Health Canada should have banned the sale of them.

“It’s sad that there can’t be a stop to this — that there can’t be something done so it never happens again,” Smith said. “There wouldn’t be so many hospital visits. There wouldn’t be so many surgeries,” Smith said. “And someday somebody … is going to eventually die from it.”

WATCH | Bev Smith was injured after accidentally ingesting a wire bristle:

Bev Smith underwent emergency surgery in 2017 after accidentally ingesting a wire bristle from a BBQ brush. She says sales of the brushes should be banned. 0:23

Retail group pleased

The new standard, which was developed by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group), sets out testing parameters for barbecue brushes and outlines warnings that are to accompany brushes that meet the standard.

“This is something that we’ve been wanting for a while,” said Cory Anderson, senior manager of government relations and regulatory affairs for the Retail Council of Canada, which represents more than 45,000 storefronts. 

Health Canada says the Consumer Product Safety Program has received 59 reports related to barbecue brushes from Jan. 1, 2014, to Jan. 29, 2020. (Health Canada)

“We are extremely happy that it is now a reality, and retailers will be doing what they can to get these certified brushes on the shelves as soon as possible,” Anderson said.

“It’s in the retailers’ best interests to sell safe product,” he said, in explaining the rationale for a standard. “They don’t want to be selling product that could be bringing harm to their consumers.”

Standard is voluntary

But brushes that don’t meet the CSA standard, which is voluntary for companies, won’t disappear from store shelves overnight.

“There is not technically a cut-off date or a specific date that a retailer would be required to sell a CSA certified barbecue brush,” said Anderson, who represented the Retail Council on the technical committee on barbecue brush safety.

“It’s definitely more of a gradual thing,” said Anderson.

“There is a long process for manufacturers to not only design and produce these brushes, but it has to go through the testing,” he said.

“All the testing and the labels have to be produced for each of these brushes. And so that can take up to a year. And then following that, over the next few years, retailers will start stocking these different barbecue brushes for sale in Canada,” Anderson explained.

WATCH | Loose bristles fall away from barbecue brush:

Health Canada has decided against banning the sale of wire-bristle barbecue brushes, and is instead leaving brush safety mostly in the hands of industry and grillers, according to its latest risk assessment report. 0:18

‘One bristle is all it takes’

Smith, from Red Deer, Alta., says she still suffers from bowel problems, pain, fatigue, nausea and the anxiety that accompanies her symptoms.

“It sure takes a long time for anything to get done, and people are still getting hurt by them. I wonder how many more will be hurt by the time that even comes out?” Smith said.

“One bristle is all it takes, and it still means that there will be people hurt by them. People will still ingest them as long as they fall out of the brushes,” she said.

“The old [brushes] are still out here, and people are still buying them.”

She has filed a lawsuit in Alberta against the retailer and the distributor of the barbecue brush she used, seeking $ 2.5 million in damages for things like pain and suffering, and punitive damages. 

The Alberta government is also suing jointly in Smith’s lawsuit to recover the costs of her health care arising from her injuries.

WATCH | CBC’s report on Health Canada’s 2017 decision:

Health Canada has decided against banning the sale of wire-bristle barbecue brushes, and is instead leaving brush safety mostly in the hands of industry and grillers, according to its latest risk assessment report. 2:13

Safety awareness

Health Canada said it provided $ 165,000 between 2018 and 2020 for the development of the safety standard.

“Health Canada will continue its safety awareness campaigns through its social media channels, reminding Canadians to replace metal bristle barbecue brushes every season, to regularly inspect brushes for signs of damage, to inspect grills and barbequed food for loose bristles,” a Health Canada spokesperson said by email.

The health department asks anyone who experiences a grill brush incident to report it to Health Canada and the store of purchase.

The CSA Group, which declined an interview, is making copies of the standard available on its website.

New standard for wire bristle brushes

The new standard sets out methods for testing brushes such as: 

  • Mechanically pulling on bristle tufts.
  • Exposing brushes to heating and cooling.
  • Exposing brushes to a five per cent concentration salt spray for 48 hours.

Brushes would also be labelled in uppercase letters with the word WARNING in both English and French, along with the text, “Stop using if any bristles are found on the grill. Bristles can get into the food and cause serious injury. Replacement after one year of use is recommended.”

A further warning is to appear on a tag or packaging for a brush, indicating instructions for safe use:

“WARNING: Examine the brush prior to each use for loose bristles. Do NOT use if any loose or broken bristles are found. Discard brush immediately. Ensure cooking surface and brush are free of any bristles prior to cooking. Broken bristles can get into the food. Ingestion can cause serious internal injury.”

The instructions also include a notice that the brush is not for commercial use.

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Vape Fail | The hope of vaping as a safer alternative to smoking is fading. We explore why

CBC News has been doing a lot of reporting about vaping over the past few years. Initially, that reporting reflected some of the hope that vaping might help with the smoking problem.

But increasingly, it’s been about alarm bells — about mysterious and deadly lung illnesses, about the crisis in schools with a new generation sneaking nicotine hits from vapes and about the rising rates of cigarette smoking among teens who vape. Yes, old-fashioned, deadly cigarettes. 

How did this happen? 

That’s what we kept asking. Where was the precautionary principle?

When we looked back, the answer wasn’t hiding. It was right there in plain sight.

The decisions that allowed this to unfold were based on an unproven hypothesis and some hopeful thinking.

The above refers to adult vapers 18 and older. *The new user category could include those who used to smoke in the past or who used other nicotine products.

The hope was that e-cigarettes would help smokers quit cigarettes. So, an entire population was exposed to a potential — and powerful — nicotine addiction through vaping. 

There were all sorts of warnings that this may play out exactly as it has, yet still it happened. 

One-quarter of high schoolers are vaping, and the numbers are shooting up. Clearly, the moves to keep vapes out of their hands aren’t working.

And as for the cigarette smokers, some may have quit, but many are dual users: they vape and smoke cigarettes.

Research suggests that vaping fails to help smokers quit 85 to 95 per cent of the time. 

As part of the CBC News series Vape Fail, we tested several kinds of vape juice to find out what exactly is inside. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

Is vaping a safer alternative? We actually don’t know. We do know nicotine in vapes is not innocuous, especially for young people. Plus, there are thousands of other chemicals being introduced into lungs through vaping.

And what do we know about those chemicals? As part of our special series Vape Fail, we went to a leading testing lab to find out. The results were not reassuring.

Read the stories in this series:

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2020 Nissan Versa Review: Safer, Smoother, Still-Affordable Small Sedan

The 2020 Nissan Versa has more safety features, a better ride, and 40 mpg highway fuel efficiency in the just-shipped third generation of this subcompact sedan. The Versa feels more substantial and polished. It’s adequate on the interstate. The car has been lowered, widened, and lengthened, which makes it look sleeker (think baby Altima) at the expense of rear-seat room. The trunk, however, is huge. Nissan is banking on the apparent trend of millennials away from what their parents drove, meaning SUVs, toward sedans.

The changes make the 2020 Versa a reasonable contender. It’s no longer just a car shopped on price against subcompacts from Chevrolet, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota. Only the Versa sedan continues for 2020; the hatchback Versa Note goes away. If you want a Versa hatchback / SUV, it’s called the Nissan Kicks and is about $ 2,500 more, comparably equipped.

On the Road With the Nissan Versa

I spent a week with the Versa recently: a day in crowded Manhattan, a weekend tailgating and foliage-watching in New York State’s Finger Lakes, and several days driving suburban New York-New Jersey. The Versa is easy to park in the big city and would be better still if it had Nissan’s highly regarded Around View system of exterior cameras with a 360-degree birds-eye view. (Maybe in a year, Nissan hints.) The car is most at home on local roads. But once you get it up to highway speed, it’s a fairly quiet ride with great seats that Nissan dubs Zero Gravity. As with any small car, the short wheelbase (103 inches on a 175-inch car) means highway expansion strips are more noticeable. The driver assists (below) make highway driving a bit more effortless.

The 1.6-liter front-drive engine and continuously variable transmission are willing but engineered to return high mpg over tire-smoking performance. I clicked off 0-60 mph times of 9-10 seconds. Stomp the throttle hard and there was a bit of turbo-lag sensation — a second or two of hesitant progress while the engine room spooled up to full power — in a car that has no turbocharger. But 18-wheelers that take 25 to 100 seconds to reach 60 mph get onto highways safely every day.

Nissan rates the “Xtronic” Versa CVT at 32 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, 35 mpg combined. Driving 300 miles of interstate and 50 miles of 55 mph rural highway, I came out very close to that 40 mpg. When I ran 10- to 20-mile legs on more-or-less flat interstate road at 60-65 mph, I got closer to 45 mpg. This is a new 1.6-liter, 16-valve engine with 122 hp (12 percent more than the old Versa) and 114 pound-feet of torque (a 7 percent increase) that doesn’t peak until 4,000 rpm, which may account for the initial slow liftoff.

Those grandly named Zero Gravity seats are comfortable. They’d be a little better with adjustable lumbar support. The driver’s left leg is pushed back a bit by the wheel arch and you notice it on longer runs.

A 7-inch LCD in the instrument panel provides infotainment, phone, trip and safety alerts. Here, it shows the car is on or near the right lane marking. The triangle adjacent lights up when there’s a car in your blind spot and you flick the turn signal.

Nissan Versa Trim Lines

The 2020 Nissan Versa has one engine, one transmission (two on the cheapest model), one body style (sedan; no hatchback), and three trim lines, or model variants. All models are front-drive only, no sunroof. Normally the cheapest trim line accounts for a small fraction of sales. Here, the top seller is the base trim, says Jordan Savage, a senior planner for Nissan. Pay attention to what you do and don’t get on the base trim line, especially if you’re buying for a newer or younger driver who would benefit from the safety assists while they’re building skills and — sadly — convinced they can text and nothing will happen.

Nissan Versa S, $ 17,295 including $ 895 shipping. Every Versa including the S gets a 7-inch center console touchscreen LCD, three USB ports, four audio speakers, Bluetooth audio, push-button start, and hill start assist. The S has 15-inch steel wheels and 185/65R15 all-season tires. There is Siri Eyes Free and Google Assistant Voice Recognition.

With the Versa S entry model (only), there’s an even less expensive five-speed manual transmission version available for just $ 14,730 — “look, a Versa under $ 15,000″— plus $ 895 shipping, or $ 15,625 – $ 1,670 less than the CVT equivalent model. But fuel economy is less: 27/35/30.

With either transmission, Versa S safety features include pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, rear automatic braking, and auto high beams. Lane departure warning warns but does not pull the car back if you cross a lane marker, nor does it self-center.

The 2020 Nissan Versa SV, the middle grade, with its contrasting seats. All trim lines have fabric seats.

Versa SV, $ 18,535.The SV adds steering wheel controls, voice recognition, NissanConnect telematics with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, satellite radio, a driver (only) armrest, heated side mirrors, and 16-inch aluminum wheels with 205/55R16 all-season tires.

Additional safety features are blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert (Nissan calls it Safety Shield 360), a drowsy driver alert, and a rear door alert that warns you to check for kids and pets when you get out.

Versa SR 1.6 Xtronic $ 19,135 / $ 19,435 with Convenience Package. The SR adds remote engine start, automatic climate control, nicer seat fabric, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, six-speaker audio, and 17-inch alloys with 205/50R17 all-season tires. Also, the parking brake button is now chrome.

Additional SR safety features are LED low and high beam headlamps and LED fog lights. The SR Convenience Package is a must-have at $ 300: full-range adaptive cruise control and heated front seats. The ACC goes down to 0 mph and back to speed, but after 3-5 seconds at a traffic light, it disengages the brake beeps and creeps forward. ProPilot Assist, Nissan’s Level 2 autonomous system, is not on the Versa.

The 2020 Nissan Versa is more attractive with its lower roofline and less chunky silhouette.

Should You Buy?

The Versa has always been one of the most affordable new cars offered in recent years. Now it has a wide advantage in safety features over the key competition, especially Kia and Hyundai. The interior is much nicer than before and driving dynamics are vastly improved. Rear seat legroom drops 6 inches, from fantastic-for-a-small-car to competitive. Through three quarters of 2019, Versa sales in the US were about 57,000, best among subcompact sedans. (Two subcompact crossover/hatchback semi-competitors, Kia Soul and Honda HR-V, sold better.)

Subcompacts, those under 170 to 175 inches long, are a relatively small market because compact cars (Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra) start just a couple thousand dollars more. Some subcompacts are hatchback-only or have hatchback and sedan variants, so total US sales for subcompact sedans may be a quarter-million this year. The Toyota Yaris, a rebadged Mazda2 (that is no longer sold in the US) is the best-handling small car. The Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, and Chevrolet Sonic are also good vehicles. So is the Honda Fit, late in its model life; the next-generation Fit launches soon but it may not come to the US, in part because the similar Honda HR-V small SUV outsells the Fit 2-1. Other subcompacts include the Mitsubishi Mirage, Volkswagen Beetle and Golf, Fiat 500 / 500L, and Chevrolet Spark.

If you’re buying for safety and you’re shopping the Versa, bypass the Versa S for the SV, which is $ 1,670 extra. And if safety is your top concern, then the right choice is the Versa SR with the adaptive cruise control package. Look at Nissan Kicks as well.  It does not look anything like the SUVs the parents drove you around in. Either Versa or Kicks is a good deal.

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Safer opioids needed to stem overdose epidemic, Canada's top doctor says

Canada's chief public health officer says the need to increase access to a "safer supply" of opioids is being reviewed with provinces and territories — a move encouraged by a number of public health experts.

The comments from Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, come as the Public Health Agency of Canada releases data that says in the first half of 2018, opioid drugs were a factor in more than 2,000 deaths. That's a higher death rate than the previous year.

Tam says a toxic drug supply is causing a key part of this epidemic.

Fentanyl, a drug more powerful than heroin, is often mixed into opioids sold on the street, meaning users can't know the potency of the drugs they take.

Tam said the country must "double down" on its efforts to address the opioid crisis, stressing the need for escalated treatment.

The health agency found more than 9,000 lives were lost in Canada between January 2016 and June 2018, suggesting the country has not been able to turn the tide on the crisis.

Data released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information on Wednesday showed a 27 per cent increase in hospitalizations due to opioid-related poisonings over the past five years. In 2017, hospitalization rates were 2.5 times higher in smaller communities with a population of between 50,000 and 100,000, compared to  Canada's largest cities. 

The Canadian reports come as the U.S. government officials reported a bigger share of overdose deaths in that country are being caused by methamphetamine.

The number of fatal overdoses involving meth more than tripled between 2011 and 2016, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Wednesday. The percentage of overdose deaths involving meth grew from less than 5 per cent to nearly 11 per cent. 

Meth is not the main killer among illicit drugs in the U.S. Fentanyl was involved in the highest percentage of fatal overdoses in 2016, followed by heroin and cocaine. Meth was fourth. 
But it was only eighth as recently as 2012.
It's not clear why meth overdoses are growing, but some people who had been abusing opioid pain pills or shooting heroin have turned to meth, a stimulant, to offset the downer effects of those drugs, said Theodore Cicero, a Washington University researcher who has studied the rise of meth use among people who use opioid drugs.
The CDC report looked at death certificates on 64,000 U.S. overdose deaths in 2016 and compared them with the five previous years. Many of the people who died had used multiple drugs —​ fentanyl was often in the mix.

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Quarterbacks got (a bit) safer today

Welcome to The Buzzer — the new email newsletter from CBC Sports. Sign up here to get it delivered directly to your inbox every weekday.

Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

It just got (a little) safer to be a CFL quarterback

The league made a pretty big on-the-fly move today, adding an extra official whose only job is to watch for hits to the head and neck of QBs. They'll start right away. There will be one on the field for both of this Sunday's playoff games, which will decide who plays in the Grey Cup. The hope is that the extra ref acts as a deterrent to dangerous hits, since those hits are now more likely to be penalized.

This is partly a response to a controversial hit late in last week's playoff game between Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. Roughriders QB Brandon Bridge was knocked out of the game by a vicious high hit that went unflagged (Jackson Jeffcoat, who delivered the blow, later received the max fine from the league). A replay showed the referee in position to make the call had his view blocked by a player. The Riders weren't happy, and you can't blame them. Bridge, the backup, was only playing because No. 1 QB Zach Collaros was laid low by another high hit in their regular-season finale. No flag was thrown on that one either.

Head injuries to quarterbacks have been a problem for the CFL this year. There's a concussion spotter at every game, but they're missing things. Commissioner Randy Ambrosie admitted that Collaros shouldn't have been allowed to keep playing after his hit, and Montreal's Johnny Manziel stayed in a game after getting crushed at the goal-line (he later went into the league's concussion protocol and sat out a few games).

Since taking over as CFL commissioner in 2017, Ambrosie has tried to improve safety. The former player banned full-contact practices and added an extra bye week for every team. He says he's "committed to removing reckless and dangerous play from our game" and his actions mostly back that up. But Ambrosie, like his predecessors, still hasn't admitted a link between football-related concussions and degenerative brain disease — even though studies have suggested one exists.

In pro football, quarterbacks are the most protected players on the field. For good reason: it's hard to protect your body from an onrushing 300-pounder when you're trying to chuck a ball 40 yards downfield. And great QBs make the game go 'round. It's important to keep them healthy. That's why both the CFL and NFL have altered their rules in recent years to make it harder to hit them. It's paid off in the NFL, where scoring is up this year and fans are embracing the flashier product.

Usain Bolt might be done with soccer already

The greatest sprinter of all time spent two months trying to win a spot on a team in Australia's top league. That ended when he rejected a contract offer a couple of weeks ago. The team reportedly offered Bolt about $ 150,000 US, but he wanted more. Both sides tried to find a sponsor to fatten the deal, but it didn't work out.

Now Bolt says he'll decide by the end of the month whether he'll keep pursuing a soccer career. He scored two goals in a friendly but was generally considered not good enough for the Australian league, which is far from elite.

Could Bolt make a track comeback? He'd be the story of the 2020 Olympics if he decided to go for his fourth (!) consecutive titles in the 100, 200 and 4×100, or any combination of those. It's not out of the question. Bolt will still be only 33 for the Tokyo Games. The runner-up to him in 2016, Justin Gatlin, was 34.

Sure, this was fun. But it would be nice to see him back on the track. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)


Dwane Casey got his revenge. The former Raptors coach, who was fired last spring after leading the team to its best-ever regular season, returned to Toronto last night as coach of the Pistons. His new guys came through for him as Blake Griffin dropped 30 points and Reggie Bullock hit a buzzer beater for a 106-104 win. It was Toronto's second straight loss at home after starting 7-0. "I'm not happy for him," Raps guard Kyle Lowry said with his typical grace. "We should have won the game."

LeBron James is coming for Michael Jordan. The Lakers star (still feels weird to say that) scored 44 points last night to pass Wilt Chamberlain for fifth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list. Next up is Jordan. LeBron should pass him sometime early in the new year if he maintains his career scoring average of about 27 points per game and doesn't get hurt (he's pretty much indestructible, so count on that). When that happens, get ready for another round of "Who's the greatest ever?" takes… OK, you twisted my arm. For me it's still MJ. For now. LeBron is only 33, so by the time he's done there's a good chance he'll be the No. 1 all-time scorer. And he could even win three more rings to match Jordan's six. Then you'd have to go LeBron.

This year's NL Cy Young winner is another example of how baseball thinking has changed. Back in the Stone Age (before Moneyball) a pitcher needed a lot of wins to be named the best in his league. Now nobody cares about that. It's a deeply flawed stat — it's possible to give up, say, 20 runs and still get a win. Jacob deGrom won the National League Cy Young yesterday with only 10 wins — lowering the bar from the previous low of 13. Voters see more nuance these days, and they took into account the poor run support deGrom got from his Mets teammates, as well as his high strikeout total and low earned-run average. In another sign of the times, Tampa Bay's Blake Snell won the AL Cy Young with just 180 innings pitched, the fewest ever for a starter winning the award. Starters aren't expected to work as long anymore in the modern game.

Child kickboxing in Thailand is under the microscope after a 13-year-old boy died following a fight. Anucha Tasako was knocked out during a Muay Thai bout in a Bangkok suburb and reportedly suffered a brain hemorrhage. Muay Thai is a form of boxing that allows punching, kicking, elbow and knee strikes and standup grappling. It's fairly common for children in Thailand to fight for money, especially in rural areas, and proponents say it's a way for them to help support their families and rise out of poverty. Thai lawmakers are considering legislation banning anyone under 12 from fighting competitively. But Muay Thai supporters say that could kill the sport because it's essential to start young in order to master it.

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'We have to try something': Drug inhalation site aims to give users a safer space

Jeff Martens and his friend Albert Paul amble into the new safe consumption site in the southern Alberta city of Lethbridge early on a Monday afternoon. 

It is the sixth day the facility has been open and already dozens of drug users have come to smoke their drug of choice in the first government-sanctioned safe inhalation rooms in Canada.

Martens has been feeding a drug addiction for three decades. Paul describes himself as a recreational user. He uses two or three times a week, he says. 

They are both here to smoke methamphetamine (meth) in one of the two safe inhalation rooms in Lethbridge, a couple of hours south of Calgary.

Martens says it’s a far cry from the places he’s used before.

“It’s like ‘OK, where can we go?’ And it’s like a bathroom stall here or over there, somewhere out of the wind and yes, out of the public’s eye.”

Paul adds there is a humiliation that comes along with using in public places.

“They stereotype you badly,” he says. “We get people driving by and calling us junkies. I’m not a junkie. 

“Everybody that has caught us using in a bathroom stall or around the corner, they think we’re lesser than them and we’re not really lesser. I felt walking through the door [at the safe consumption site] gave me dignity again.” 

Building trust

Here, Martens and Paul are greeted by drug counsellors and a nurse.

It’s key to building a trusting relationship that the users are not judged for their habit or addiction, counsellors say.

After answering questions about their drug use and signing an undertaking to follow the rules of the facility, the pair are escorted to a glass-enclosed room with a table and three chairs.

It’s not fancy but it’s a long way from a gas station bathroom stall or beneath a local bridge, two of the most popular places to use in this city of 98,000.

The constant hum of an industrial exhaust system provides white noise as Martens and Pauls crush their meth with glass pipes known as a bubble. 

Outside the room, a nurse and drug counsellor stand by in case of an emergency.

Stacey Bourque, the executive director of ARCHES, an outreach and support agency that runs the new facility, is taking CBC News on an exclusive tour

There are the now-familiar booths that drug users in many Canadian cities use at safe consumption sites to inject, snort drugs or take pills.

Emergency system

Then she points to a giant red button on the wall, no more than two metres from the safe inhalation rooms, that she says make this site unique.

“In the case of a medical emergency, if the staff do have to enter, they would just trigger the emergency system.”

The heavy duty exhaust system is more than just a fan.

It allows staff to enter quickly and safely if a user overdoses or goes into medical distress, Bourque says.

“It takes a few seconds for the damper to close, but once it closes, it turns that air over in a about 10 seconds.”

Stacey Bourque

Stacey Bourque, executive director of outreach agency ARCHES, demonstrates the emergency exhaust system in the first Health Canada-approved safe inhalation site. (Dave Rae/CBC)

Nurses can run in with just a mask without fear of exposure.

Bourque was one of the driving forces behind the Health Canada application for approval to open the first government-sanctioned safe consumption-inhalation site in the country. 

Restocking naloxone

A small city like Lethbridge may not be top of mind when it comes to building an innovative safe consumption site.

But not every small city has suffered the ravages of drug abuse and overdoses that Lethbridge has seen over the past few years. Statistics show that in the first six months of last year, about 60 per cent of fentanyl-related overdose deaths in Alberta Health’s south zone occurred in Lethbridge.


Paramedic Kyle Vreekin holds a dose of naloxone, the drug used to reverse opioid overdose. Vreekin says it’s taking more naloxone to bring back patients who have overdosed on increasingly potent opioids. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

They feel the brunt of it at the firehall in the downtown area.  

There was one week last month in which there were so many overdoses in Lethbridge that the fire department ran out of naloxone, the drug that reverses opioid overdose, and had to restock the kits at the hospital until a new order came in. 

That was the week paramedic Kyle Vreeken attended five overdose calls in one night. 

‘You’re giving a lot more … for them to start breathing on their own’– Kyle Vreeken

Some of the drugs making the rounds are so potent first responders are having to give 20 times the original recommended dose, Vreeken says, “So you’re giving a lot more just to get the same result for them to start breathing on their own.”

Vreeken’s boss, Deputy Chief Dana Terry, says the crisis is wearing on the paramedics and first responders who are attending more and more overdoses.

“If we look at 2013, we administered naloxone about 17 times that year. In 2017, about 190 times is about what we went up to for naloxone administrations.”

Kyle Vreeken

Vreeken shows his emergency medical kit. First responders have been overwhelmed with a growing opioid crisis in the city. (Allison Dempster/CBC News )

No one knows that more than drug users themselves. 

Martens says he thought had seen it all — that is until this crisis started a few years ago.

“I have a friend who lost 13 people last year,” he says, shaking his head before recalling watching an acquaintance turn purple while overdosing,

“The whole opioid crisis in the ’80s, this is 10 times worse.”

Martens reconsiders that thought. “Well, technically 5,000 times worse because carfentanil is 5,000 times more powerful than heroin.”

Martens and Paul know there is almost certainly fentanyl or carfentanil cut into the meth they smoke.  

Making the rounds

They believe it’s small enough to avoid overdose.

Other addicts feel no such comfort. They are terrified of the drugs they are so addicted to. 

Sherise Schlaht leads an outreach team that makes the rounds behind the homeless shelter, behind a local gas station and beneath a bridge where addicts tend to gather. 

As she hands one user clean needles and supplies, Schlaht asks her if she knows the site is open. The user says she doesn’t.  

Sherise Schlaht

Outreach worker Sherise Schlaht picks up used needles around the train tracks in Lethbridge. (Allison Dempster/CBC)

There is drug debris, including used needles in places that have been recently cleaned up, a telltale sign that despite frigid temperatures, despite knowing the risks, addicts are still using outside.

“I think at that point, they’re so dope sick and they’re so psychologically dependent on the drug that it doesn’t even matter,” Schlaht says. They will risk taking the drug every single time, she says.

Schlaht says in these early days of the new site, it’s essential for addicts to know and believe going to use at the safe consumption site won’t land them in jail.

Police support

There is irony in that fear because the Lethbridge Police Service is one of 16 agencies involved in supporting the effort.

Insp. Jason Dobirstein says the crisis has grown out of control.

“We can’t possibly have predicted how big this was going to get and I don’t know how big it is going to get.” 

It is now well beyond a law and order problem, he says. “There’s people suffering here that have got addiction issues that need more help than the police can provide in terms of arresting them.”

There have been critics of the site who suggest it is simply enabling addicts.

‘We have to try something.’– Chris Spearman,

Lethbridge Mayor Chris Spearman says his city is “overwhelmed” by the crisis.

“We have to try something,” he told CBC News.

“I can’t sit around and ignore the fact that we’ve got these issues of visible drug use and drug debris.”

Every user CBC News spoke to said the site won’t change what or how much they use. They will take drugs whether it’s here or not.

Bourque dismisses the argument the site could enable drug use.

“The only thing we’re enabling here is breathing. You know, you can’t enable people to do something they’re already doing. It’s impossible.”

She points to the observation room where everyone who has used drugs must sit.

It gives drug counsellors a chance to monitor their health and also offer the addict whatever help they’re willing to take.

 “We support people where they’re at until they’re ready to make changes,” Bourque says. “At least if we keep people alive, they get to make that decision on another day. And that is why we’re here.” 

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Qualcomm Is Building a Vehicle-to-Everything Chip for Safer Cars

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Safer driving — and safer self-driving — call for car-to-car communications with no lag. Will it be cellular or dedicated short-range communications (DSRC)? Cellular chip supplier Qualcomm just announced a chip that will do both, bridging the two. Cellular telematics could get information that’s not time-critical, while DSRC would send and receive info directly from nearby cars about speed, slippery roads, sudden braking, and cars running stop signs or red lights.

The Qualcomm Technologies 9150 C-V2X cellular vehicle-to-everything (V2X) chip will be available to automakers in sampling quantities in the second half of 2018, along with a reference design to help automakers speed the system into production. The chip integrates the DSRC radio; cellular would be handed off to the car’s telematics system.

Qualcomm’s roadmap for cellular/vehicle-to-everything technology helping move cars toward self-driving. (D2D: device to device, an LTE-A wireless standard.

Why the Need for Cellular and/or DSRC

Ninety-five percent of automobile fatalities are attributed to driver error. (The remainder would be a catastrophic failure of a car component or, say, a tree falling on an occupied car in a storm.) If nearby cars can communicate their status, the cellular and/or V2X systems can alert the driver and respond. If the car immediately ahead starts to skid, brake heavily, or switch from an adjacent lane without looking, the V2X-equipped car could alert the driver and then take some action, such as pre-charging the brakes and then braking briskly, if both DSRC or rear-facing radar shows no car tailgating you.

There has been talk of cellular-t0-cellular communication without V2X, because telematics is already on a healthy minority of cars. Virtually every GM car now on the road has OnStar telematics, although it’s not clear existing cars could be modded to get useful alerts via the cellular system. Cellular also has a lag — hysteresis — because it goes from car to cell tower to other cars.

V2X communicates directly with nearby cars. That includes V2V, or vehicle-to-vehicle; V2I, or vehicle-to-infrastructure; and V2P, or vehicle-to-pedestrian (via phone). The traffic signal tells cars when the light is changing and in which direction; a portable V2I transceiver would warn of a closed lane for construction. A fully mobile unit might travel in a police car and warn of an accident blocking the right lane and shoulder on the northbound side of the highway.

DSRC Can Be Via Cellular, Dedicated Radio, or Both

Last year, I test drove the Audi Traffic Light Information V2I (vehicle-to-infrastructure) system via cellular modem. The car received information on when traffic lights were about to change to red and later back to green. I found the countdown timer accurate to within about a second. When going to green, Audi deliberately did not count down the last several seconds visually, because drivers might try to tromp the throttle immediately and collect a red light-runner. If the information via cellular was delayed by a couple hundred milliseconds — there was no indication it was — it wouldn’t have been safety-critical.

I also drove, early this year, at a V2X demo in Washington. It was a government-run event and lacked the slickness of the Audi demo. But the alerts came through clearly and quickly as we snaked among traffic barricades dropped off at RFK Stadium after the inauguration. The scenarios included a lane closure because of construction, a red light, and a lane curve (slow-down) warning. These were only alerts, but in a production car they could also slow the vehicle, provided it had clear information on which lanes were closed, or that the light was now red and you risked a traffic citation.

DSRC may be a key factor in safe autonomous driving. Prototype cars rely on radar, optical, and lidar sensors to locate other cars as well as road edges and obstructions. If cars constantly send out, via DSRC, their position, speed, and rate of acceleration or deceleration, that may enable self-driving with more confidence in rain, snow, or heavy fog.

What Qualcomm Brings to the Party

Qualcomm’s involvement gives DSRC further legitimacy. It promotes development of dedicated short-range communications along both cellular and the 5.9 GHz radio band. Integration of the radio will help bring costs down faster, enough so that cellular-only DSRC may be just a short-term solution.

The 5.9 GHz radio would be superior for fastest transmission of time-critical events, such as the car ahead braking hard, skidding, or running a red light. In heavy rain or fog, it could report cars just ahead and which lane they’re in, so you’d be careful coming up too fast. (Some would argue this would encourage driving closer to the limits in low-visibility conditions.) Cellular would provide more range and warn of events farther ahead, such as a bridge out, a car pulled over on the shoulder, or the precise location of an accident that happened a minute before.

In some minds, DSRC might let a large vehicle (an 18-wheeler) signal a car behind when it’s safe to pass on a two-lane road, or it might not, since the car ahead might have legal liability if there wasn’t enough room for safe passing.

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