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Backlog in federal safety rules amid US car crash ‘epidemic’

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Backlog in federal safety rules amid US car crash ‘epidemic’

WASHINGTON — After their 16-year-old daughter died in a car crash, David and Wendy Mills wondered whether she would be alive if federal rules on rear seat belt warnings had been issued on time.

Four years later, with no rule and traffic fatalities spiking, they’re still at a loss over the inaction.

The teenager was riding in the back seat of a car to a Halloween party in 2017 just a mile from her house in Spring, Texas, when she unfastened her seat belt to slide next to her friend and take a selfie. Moments later, the driver veered off the road and the car flipped, ejecting her.

Kailee died instantly. Her three friends who remained buckled walked away with minor scrapes.

A 2012 law had directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency of the Department of Transportation, to implement safety rules requiring car manufacturers to install a warning to drivers if an unbuckled passenger is sitting in a rear seat. The agency had three years to act.

But the regulation wasn’t done when Kailee climbed into her friend’s car. It’s one of more than a dozen car safety rules now years overdue, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

The ever-growing docket has become one of the biggest tests for the federal agency since its founding in 1970, when public pressure led by safety activist Ralph Nader spurred NHTSA’s mission to “save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes.”

Advocates worry that the agency has lost focus and risks getting bogged down under President Joe Biden, at a time of increasing road accidents and reckless driving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We need a call to action,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. He called the pandemic surge in accidents a “car crash epidemic.”

The rules backlog would only increase with the sweeping technological requirements included in a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill pending in Congress, from new breathalyzer devices that would disable a car if a driver is drunk to stiffer standards for reporting safety recalls.

Currently, the 600-employee federal agency lacks a permanent leader. Its acting administrator is Steven Cliff, a former deputy executive officer at the California Air Resources Board, which regulates auto emissions, a key component of Biden’s climate agenda.

“Government should not take this long to act on safety,” said David Mills, who started a Houston-area foundation in Kailee’s honor aimed at promoting seat belt safety. The foundation keeps a list, known as “Kailee’s Angels,” of some of the teenagers around the country who died in car crashes after failing to buckle up.

“It’s devastating to families,” he said.

The rear seat belt reminder requirement is now scheduled to start moving through the cumbersome regulatory process in January, but a final rule could be years away. The agency in the past has repeatedly blown past deadlines, including those promised in federal court.

The AP review of NHTSA’s rule-making activities under the last three presidents found at least 13 auto safety rules that are years overdue based on deadlines set in laws passed by Congress.

In most cases, those rules are opposed by powerful industries as expensive, outdated or restrictive. Other pending rules have been slowed by the bureaucracy or taken a back seat to other priorities under Democratic presidents. For example, a 2011 initiative that large commercial vehicles be equipped with devices to limit their speed was recently put on indefinite hold by Biden.

President Donald Trump sidetracked at least four major road safety proposals, including medical evaluations of commercial truck drivers for sleep apnea.

Pending rules include side-impact standards for child car seats, originally due in 2014. Attorneys general of 17 states and the District of Columbia wrote to the Biden administration in July, urging immediate action. Other pending rules would require car manufacturers to maintain records of safety defects for at least 10 years, as required by Congress and originally due in 2017, and anti-ejection protection measures for larger buses, due in 2014.

Standards for “smart” car headlights, begun in 2018, are incomplete despite car industry support. Smart headlights would adjust a high intensity light to oncoming traffic, so drivers don’t have to toggle between high and low beams.

NHTSA declined to make Cliff available for comment. The agency instead released a list of steps it has taken to address auto safety, including recently announced proposed fuel economy standards that Biden has promoted to confront climate change.

The agency points in part to plans to require or set standards for automatic emergency braking systems on new passenger vehicles and heavy trucks, a reversal from the Trump administration, and to move forward on some of the delayed regulations, though it did not offer firm guarantees on timing.

NHTSA has pledged to require what it said are rigorous testing standards for autonomous vehicles and set up a national database to document automated-vehicle crashes. It has prodded electric vehicle maker Tesla to recall dark touch screens and is investigating the company’s Autopilot partially automated driving system’s failure to stop for parked emergency vehicles.

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Rachael Rollins, FBI special agent meet with Massachusetts Jewish community after synagogue hostage crisis, security trainings highlighted

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Rachael Rollins, FBI special agent meet with Massachusetts Jewish community after synagogue hostage crisis, security trainings highlighted

The Texas synagogue hostage crisis hit home for Jewish communities all across the world over the weekend, including for Bay State Jewish people who heard from the FBI and U.S. Attorney on Tuesday in the wake of the horrifying incident.

After the Texas rabbi said security trainings helped him survive the hostage nightmare, many speakers during Tuesday’s community briefing highlighted the importance of trainings for houses of worship.

The rabbi threw a chair at the terrorist, providing cover for other congregants to run out. He was also able to run away and escape.

“It sounds basic but it’s really important, and this is what we do when we conduct training…practice these kinds of drills,” said Jeremy Yamin, director of security and operations for Combined Jewish Philanthropies.

More than 1,400 people registered for the local community briefing on Tuesday.

Joseph Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston field office, also touted the trainings for protecting houses of worship.

“Please don’t hesitate if you’d be interested in these kinds of threat briefings, not just on protecting houses of worship but also active shooter-related presentations,” he said.

“We’re here,” Bonavolonta added to the attendees. “And there’s no current threat information at all — that we have any knowledge of — that is currently being levied against any houses of worship within the Jewish community, and if we did, you and your community leaders would be the first to know it.”

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Boston officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ about coronavirus as new testing clinics open

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Boston officials ‘cautiously optimistic’ about coronavirus as new testing clinics open

Mayor Michelle Wu’s administration is rolling out three new coronavirus testing facilities as officials say they’re “cautiously optimistic” about the direction the omicron-variant-driven surge is now taking.

Wu spoke to reporters in a room of the Bolling building in Roxbury’s Nubian Square where the city is partnering with CIC Health to open what she called a “high-capacity” testing clinic, one of three to start up this week in the city.

The school administration building’s large corner storefront — which is slated to become a jazz club this year — will be open Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 8 p.m. for walk-in COVID tests, with people either able to wait in line or get a card that features a designated time to come back and slide right in. Wu touted the fact that 20 testers will be able to each test one person every three minutes when the place is fully up and running.

This — plus soon-to-come sites in Dorchester and Mattapan, and possibly more elsewhere — is aimed at increasing capacity and cutting down on wait times that boomed along with the current omicron surge.

Wu also announced she’ll be asking the city council to send over $5 million of the federal relief American Rescue Plan Act funding to refuel the city’s small business fund, which has existed for the past couple of years to help local establishments get through the pandemic.

Boston Police Health Commission Executive Director Dr. Bisola Ojikutu — then echoed by Wu — said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the city’s coronavirus numbers. She said the still-high case counts, positivity rates and emergency-room visits are all dropping. Hospitalizations, which throughout the pandemic have lagged those other metrics by a couple of weeks, do continue to climb, she noted.

This comes just after Wu’s vaccination mandates kicked in on Saturday. Now city workers are required to get the shot or face discipline as soon as next week, and restaurants and other venues are required to ask patrons for proof of vaccination.

The officials said more than 81% of Bostonians now have gotten the vaccine, with many coming in the past week, and more than 1,000 city workers also got the jab since last Monday, bringing compliance up to 95%, according to the city.

Wu, doing a radio hit on GBH just a few minutes after the presser, said, “Vaccination rates across the city have been really jumping in the past week.”

Asked in the press conference if she has contingency plans for if the city has to put large numbers of workers on leave, Wu said, “Far more of our city workforce has been out because of COVID positivity than we anticipate when it comes to a lack of vaccinations.”

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NH gov. questions Massachusetts’ handling of Montgomery case

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NH gov. questions Massachusetts’ handling of Montgomery case

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu harshly criticized a Massachusetts court on Tuesday for placing Harmony Montgomery, missing since 2019 at age 5, with her father and stepmother before the state could complete a study of their home.

Sununu, in a letter to the chief justice of Massachusetts’ highest court, described the father, Adam Montgomery, as a “monster.” Adam Montgomery has a criminal record that goes back to least 2007 in both states. In Massachusetts, he was previously convicted of shooting someone in the head and a separate armed attack on two women, Sununu wrote.

Sununu asked why the Massachusetts courts went ahead and placed Harmony Montgomery with him. The governor said that at the time the court ruled, New Hampshire’s child protection agency had asked Massachusetts for additional information to complete the home study and would have likely found the father unfit.

“It is unclear why the Massachusetts courts moved so quickly with this permanent placement prior to the completion of the home study. Why would the Massachusetts court choose to place custody of Harmony with this horrible individual? What caused such a fateful decision?” Sununu wrote.

Sununu is requesting the court review the decision and all events leading to the judge’s ruling.

“No child should ever leave Massachusetts in the custody of a dangerous criminal like Adam Montgomery,” Sununu wrote. “We must ensure that, moving forward, at-risk children of our states are protected and adequately monitored.”

Massachusetts Court System Spokesperson Jennifer Donahue said Chief Justice Kimberly Budd received the letter from Sununu and that the Massachusetts Office of the Child Advocate has opened an investigation “into this tragic situation.” The Massachusetts Trial Court, she added, was cooperating fully with that investigation.

Harmony Montgomery was last seen at a Manchester home in October 2019, when she was 5. Manchester police were notified last December that the child had not been seen in two years.

Since then, police have searched the house where she was last seen. Harmony Montgomery’s father and stepmother have been arrested on charges related to her well-being.

Adam Montgomery was arrested on a second-degree assault charge earlier this month, as well as charges of interfering with custody and child endangerment. Police accused him of “purposely violating a duty of care, protection or support” by failing to know where the girl has been since late 2019 — the last reported sighting.

Adam Montgomery, 31, had not guilty pleas entered on his behalf by his lawyer. He has been jailed without bail.

Prosecutors dropped a welfare fraud charge last week against Harmony Montgomery’s stepmother, Kayla Montgomery, for collecting food stamps in the child’s name. The charge was replaced with three other charges, including theft.

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