With spring well under way and summer around the corner it is time again for me to remind readers of the importance of window safety and the crucial work done by SafeKids Oregon.

Earlier this month the country marked National Window Safety Week. As SafeKids noted at the time: “windows rank as one of the top five hidden hazards in the home, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.” The good news is that, the group notes, educational efforts do seem to be having an effect: across Oregon “the number of children falling from windows and being admitted to the trauma system (dropped) from a high of 52 children in 2010 to 26 children in 2015.”

While that progress is excellent, more still needs to be done. As SafeKids notes: “Window falls are a preventable cause of injury and death to young children” and the basic ways of stopping them are simple. Parents should remember to keep windows closed and locked when they are not in use, to make sure that children play a safe distance away from open windows and, most importantly, to “stop at 4” – meaning to ensure that open windows are limited to a four inch gap and held in place by window guards (to prevent children from opening them further). Another important tip: if a window can be opened from both the top and the bottom secure the bottom closed and open it only from the top.

An article published this week in the New York Times outlines what many of us have long suspected: distracted driving, the paper writes, “by just about any measure, appears to be getting worse. Americans confess in surveys that they are still texting while driving, as well as using Facebook and Snapchat and taking selfies. Road fatalities, which had fallen for years, are now rising sharply, up roughly 8 percent in 2015 over the previous year, according to preliminary estimates.”

It quotes the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration saying “radical change requires radical ideas,” and then goes on to offer some striking examples. The most unique, proposed by legislators in New York “is to give police officers a new device that is the digital equivalent of a Breathalyzer – a roadside test called the Textalyzer.”

As the Times outlines, an officer would collect phones from drivers and passengers and use the device “to tap into (each phone’s) operating system to check for recent activity.” The answers provided by the machine would determine not only whether the driver had been texting but also whether he or she had violated New York’s hands-free laws (the oldest in the nation) in any other way. “Failure to hand over a phone could lead to the suspension of a driver’s license, similar to the consequences for refusing a Breathalyzer,” the paper reports.

A report broadcast last Sunday on 60 Minutes brought into stark detail alleged abuses in the insurance industry. CBS News found a pattern, which it believes is replicated nationwide, of insurance giants failing to pay life insurance policies despite knowing that the insured person had died.

The report quotes Florida’s insurance commissioner calling the behavior “unconscionable, indefensible” and alleging that it is close to universal in the industry. Simply put, it involves insurance companies knowing that a person has died but failing to inform the beneficiaries of life insurance policies. Instead, the company simply waits for premium payments from the now-deceased policyholder to stop coming in, then cancels the policy for non-payment and pockets what would have been the benefit owed to a surviving spouse, children or grandchildren.

CBS adds: “In a little-known series of settlements, 25 of the nation’s biggest life insurance companies have agreed to pay more than $7.5 billion in back-death benefits. However, about 35 insurance companies have not settled and remain under investigation for not paying when the beneficiary is unaware there was a policy, something that is not at all uncommon.”

The Oregonian reports that a Beaverton nurse was allowed to continue working with patients while under investigation for sexual misconduct on the job and allegedly committed a similar offense during that time. The incident, if the facts are as reported, raises serious questions about how the nurse’s employer, Kaiser Permanente, deals with abuse allegations among its employees. The result is a case which concerns both hospital malpractice and sexual assault.

According to the newspaper the 37-year-old North Plains man was indicted earlier this month “on one count of first-degree criminal mistreatment, three counts of invasion of personal privacy, two counts of computer crime and four counts of third-degree sex abuse, police said. The charges relate to three alleged victims, but detectives have identified two more and are investigating their claims.”

The claim that the man was allowed to keep working is particularly striking when one considers how quickly the case has moved. Far from being something that has dragged on for many months or years, The Oregonian reports that “police first started investigating (the nurse) on Jan. 28 after a woman reported that he made sexual statements to her and sexually touched her during a visit to the Beaverton clinic two days earlier.” In other words, this case has gone from initial allegations to a wide-ranging indictment in about nine weeks – a case of the criminal justice system moving fairly quickly. Despite that, however, it is hard to imagine another workplace context where an employer would regard it as OK to keep an employee accused of sexual assault in a position to recommit the alleged offenses.

With pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on the rise here in Portland, something I wrote about earlier this month, safety questions are increasingly becoming part of our city’s political agenda. As The Oregonian noted in a recent article, 2016’s “year-to-date death toll is nearly twice the seven fatalities recorded during the same period last year.” As a result, attention around this issue is increasing.

It is especially noteworthy that eight of this year’s 13 fatal crashes involving a cyclist or a pedestrian have happened in East Portland neighborhoods, according to a Portland Bureau of Transportation official quoted by the paper. At a time when the city is trying to implement the “Vision Zero” program, which aspires to eliminate pedestrian deaths on Portland’s streets by 2025, the rise in fatalities is especially unwelcome. With luck it will also serve as a spur to action.

According to the newspaper, city officials have plans to install many more flashing yellow lights at crosswalks, particularly in East Portland, as part of the Vision Zero project. The city also plans to make alterations to curbs and median islands in an effort to make key crossings more pedestrian and bike-friendly. The paper reports that the city recently installed rapid-flash beacons – “devices that light up for drivers to see pedestrians, who, in turn, hear ‘yellow lights are flashing’ in English and Spanish” – in 16 locations around the city, building on a program that has brought 34 of these devices to East Portland alone since 2012.

According to a recent article in The Oregonian “the city had, as of Friday (April 1), tallied 12 traffic fatalities so far in 2016, compared with seven over the same period last year. Five of those killed were walking when they were hit by a car, and one was riding a bike.” This raises a clear and obvious public policy question: what is the best and most efficient way to fix this situation? Yet according to the newspaper, millions of dollars in federal funds that could be used for essential pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure upgrades are likely to be directed toward other priorities.

As The Oregonian reports: “The debate focuses on a $130 million pool of (federal government) money that comes with few restrictions and can be awarded by Metro over three years to a variety of transportation projects.” Specifically, the question is whether to focus those funds on upgrading pedestrian and bicycle safety infrastructure or to direct it toward other projects, notably mass transit. The money, “known as regional flexible funds, is important to bicycle and pedestrian advocates because most federal funds are earmarked for road or transit projects. The pool is expected to grow by $17 million compared with the last three-year cycle,” the paper writes.

The current plan is to direct most of that money toward “new high-capacity transit lines being planned connecting downtown Portland to Gresham and Tualatin.” There are, however, two strong arguments for focusing the money, instead, on safety upgrades for pedestrians and cyclists. First, those increased fatality statistics, which indicate a serious and rising problem here in the city. Second, the fact that because the sum – $17 million – will go much further and have a more dramatic effect if focused on pedestrian and bike projects. These tend to be small and inexpensive when compared with rail or highway-building which can cost tens of millions of dollars per mile.

It is an election year, so between now and November we can expect to hear many politicians at the national, state and local levels complain about trial lawyers and call for “tort reform.” As an article published this week in Slate outlines, however, an often disingenuous campaign designed to ‘protect’ big business frequently has an even more shocking effect – protecting child abusers and other people who injure children.

The article begins with the story of an Ohio pastor who was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl in 2008. In addition to his criminal trial the man was sued by the girl and her family in civil court. As I have written in this space on many occasions, this right alone is important and worth defending. Access to courts for victims and their families is essential if justice is going to be served. As the article notes, quoting a legal scholar at New York University, often “the civil justice system is the only way for a perpetrator to be held directly accountable to the victim.”

A court awarded the victim $3.6 million in damages, but because of award caps required under Ohio’s tort reform laws she was only able to collect $350,000 – less than one-tenth of what the jury decided was her due. The girl and her family are now suing to have those caps declared unconstitutional on the grounds that they are “arbitrary and unreasonable, and thus a denial of due process.” Specifically, there is a strong argument to be made that damage caps violate the US Constitution’s guarantee of a trial by jury. An inherent part of that right is letting the jury decide what is fair – something that the tort reform movement seeks to stifle.

Last week marked a significant moment in the ongoing discussion about football, especially professional football, and concussions. As the New York Times notes, “after years of denying or playing down a connection, a top NFL official acknowledged at a hearing in Washington that playing football and having CTE were ‘certainly’ linked.”

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, is a degenerative brain disease that has increasingly been linked to former athletes in football and other contact-intensive sports. It “is believed to cause debilitating memory and mood problems,” the paper reports. Concerns about CTE are sometimes confused with equally serious concerns about sports-related concussions. Though the problems are related they also differ in fundamental ways. Concussions and other traumatic brain injuries are usually linked to single incidents where a blow to the head may cause problems that last for days or even weeks, and which can grow more intense if a person suffers repeated concussions.

CTE is thought to grow out of repeated blows to the head over long periods of time – including blows that individually do not cause concussions or concussion-like symptoms but whose cumulative effect can lead to long-term mental and physical issues. Last week’s Times story focuses on explaining the difference between the two and highlighting the degree to which CTE science “remains in its infancy.”

Two separate Oregon truck crashes involving three semi-trucks on the same stretch of eastbound Interstate-84 last week left one driver dead, the other two seriously injured and forced state officials to clean up a hazardous waste spill. In the process, these Baker County truck crashes highlighted the continuing danger large vehicles pose on our roads and highways.

According to The Oregonian the two semi-truck accidents took place about half an hour apart on Tuesday morning of last week. The first crash involved a rollover that resulted in the driver, a Gresham man, being taken by helicopter to a hospital in Idaho, according to the newspaper. The Oregonian reports that the 34-year-old driver “was traveling east on Interstate 84 at milepost 349 when he veered off the interstate and into the median. He drove back onto the interstate where the semi overturned and blocked both eastbound lanes.” The paper quotes state troopers saying they do not know what caused the first truck to leave the road.

The second accident occurred as traffic backed up behind the first. A truck “transporting Aluminum Oxide Powder UN3175, a hazardous material, rear-ended a truck that was already stopped in traffic behind the first accident. The containers leaked and a clean-up operation was undertaken,” according to The Oregonian. The newspaper added that between the accidents and the hazardous material spill, the effected section of the Interstate was closed for about nine hours.

A recent article in The Oregonian outlines a quiet revolution that has been taking place among first responders here in Oregon. According to the newspaper, in the months since Multnomah County EMT teams began using CPR machines as an everyday part of their work officials say the results have been exceptional, making them a key asset in the fight against deaths from Oregon traffic accidents.

The Oregonian reports that the county’s EMS medical director “believes mechanical CPR is as good or better than the hands-on version.” Where it particularly shines is in a moving ambulance, where anecdotal evidence indicates that it is almost always an improvement over humans attempting to administer CPR with one hand instead of two as they struggle to maintain their balance. Multnomah County has put 16 CPR machines into service since last fall and “plans to add 12 more by the end of the year, officials said” making it by far the largest user of the machines in Oregon.

Though there are several different models on the market, the most common design “consists of a backboard that’s slipped under the patient, a U-shaped device that’s affixed over the patient and (a) plunger attached to a suction cup that sticks to the chest – pushing it down and pulling it back up. The whole thing fits in a duffel bag… and can perform CPR while a patient is being moved on a stretcher or simultaneously with a defibrillator.”