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August 23, 2006


NHTSA has released its Fatal Analysis Reporting System data comparing death rates in 2005 with those in 2005. They show a 1.4 percent increase over the two years – from 42,836 to 43,443 – with rollover, motorcycle and pedestrian deaths as the chief contributors to the upward change.

NHTSA’s press release highlighted the role of motorcycle and pedestrian deaths in the annual increase, but gives scant attention to the role of rollovers – a curious omission in light of the controversy over NHTSA’s current proposal to “upgrade” its roof crush standard, FMVSS 216. The proposed “upgrade” has been sharply criticized by safety advocates as being far weaker than necessary or technologically reasonable. (See stories in past “Current Developments Archives”.) A Washington Post article covering the NHTSA data release said, “Occupant deaths overall, which do not include motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians, declined 1.4 percent to 31,415 in 2005. But occupant deaths in rollover crashes increased by 226, or 2.1 percent, to 10,816.

Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, pointed to the increase in fatalities as support for his call for the agency to impose stronger vehicle roof-crush standards. He told the Washington Post that the current proposal is ‘woefully inadequate’ because it is forecast to save 44 lives per year. Congress has mandated the agency impose a new roof-crush standard by 2008.” Subsequently the Center posted a detailed statement on the Center for Auto Safety website.

Meanwhile, two safety advocates succeeded in having NHTSA place their analysis of deficiencies in the agency’s rollover-roof crush standards in the public docket. “Deadly By Design,” by Paula Lawlor and Todd Tracy, is a 19-page summary of documents and data offered in support of its contentions, with a cover letter urging NHTSA action to remedy the regulatory failings that “Deadly By Design” concludes have led to needless deaths and severe injuries in rollovers of SUVs, pickup trucks, vans and other passenger vehicles.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:54 PM


A new IIHS study concludes that without vehicle safety performance improvements, introduced largely as a result of Federal regulation over recent decades, the motor vehicle death rate per registered vehicle would have stopped declining in 1994 and started going up.

"Death rates per vehicle and per mile have been going down for decades, and they still are. This study shows why," says Institute president Adrian Lund, a coauthor of the study, "Trends Over Time In the Risk of Driver Death".

"In recent years it's the vehicles, not better drivers or improved roadways. The study reveals not only the importance of the vehicle design changes and the kinds of vehicles motorists are choosing to drive but, on the downside, the loss of momentum for effective traffic safety policies on belt use, alcohol-impaired driving, and speeding."

Motor vehicles meeting higher safety performance criteria have been increasing on U.S. highways since the early 1970s, largely as a result of Federal motor vehicle safety standards. IIHS researchers separated vehicle effects from other effects on motor vehicle death rates during 1985-2004 by estimating what the death rate trend would have been if vehicle designs hadn't changed over the years — that is, if people still were driving the kinds of vehicles they drove in 1985. IIHS said the death rate trend given this hypothetical vehicle fleet started to go up in the 1990s, which is very different from the actual downward trend during the past 10 years, suggesting that

"an increasingly dangerous traffic environment has been offset since 1994 only because people are driving vehicles that are more protective… Of course the vehicle design changes are good, but people shouldn't have to buy new, more crashworthy vehicles to maintain their safety. Our concern is that the efforts we had been seeing in the 1980s to mandate belt use and toughen DWI laws diminished in the 1990s at the same time that states were raising speed limits. This produced an increasingly dangerous traffic environment. It has become dangerous enough that, without the design improvements that have made vehicles more crashworthy, death rates would have started up. An estimated 5,200 additional lives would have been lost in 2004 without the vehicle design changes."

Posted by MVHAP at 09:50 PM


New IIHS crash test results reflect the improvements manufacturers continue to make in protecting people in front and side crashes, the insurance group says, "but protection in rear crashes lags." IIHS recently evaluated four cars and two small SUVs, updating results for vehicle groups the Institute tested earlier: the 2007 Dodge Caliber (small car); 2006 Kia Optima and 2007 Toyota Camry (midsize moderately priced cars); 2006 Lincoln Zephyr (midsize luxury car); and 2006 Hyundai Tucson and 2006 Toyota RAV4 (small SUVs). "Results show that automakers are moving quickly to improve side impact protection," says Institute president Adrian Lund. "They're responding to our crash test by making side airbags with head protection standard in more models." But none of the six vehicles earned the Institute's Top Safety Pick award. The two vehicles that earned top ratings in front and side tests, the Camry and RAV4, were rated too low (marginal) for protection in rear impacts.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:49 PM


In a ceremony in Concord, New Hampshire, site of a death resulting from accidental gear shifting that caused a vehicle to roll over a child, auto companies and government officials announced an agreement that by 2010, all new-car models will be equipped with technology that that prevents children and others from unintentionally shifting a vehicle into gear. The agreement does not mandate the technology and is not a federal safety standard.

Prior to the announcement the Detroit News obtained a copy of the three-page voluntary agreement between the 19 largest automakers in the United States and the NHTSA. The Detroit News article noted, "Numerous deaths and injuries have resulted from accidents involving runaway vehicles that weren't equipped with so-called brake-shift interlock systems, which prevent vehicles from being shifted out of park unless the brake is depressed… Automakers have been hit with numerous lawsuits stemming from accidents involving runaway vehicles." A New Hampshire state representative, Packy Campbell, "lost his 22-month-old son, Ian, in 2004 when Ian's 4-year-old brother put the keys in the family truck and shifted it out of park causing it to become a roll-away."

The industry first began installing the brake systems in the 1990s and most or all new vehicles are due to provide them by 2007. Safety advocates praised the agreement, but questioned why the equipment isn't mandatory. In March, U.S. Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and John Sununu introduced legislation called the Kids and Cars Safety Act to require new regulations from NHTSA, including a requirement to install the brake-shift interlocks, which the senators said cost $5 per car. Automakers wouldn't elaborate on the costs.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:46 PM


NHTSA has issued a rule requiring car companies to inform consumers when their new vehicles are voluntarily equipped with “Event Data Recorders” (EDRs), described by NHTSA as “electronic devices that capture crash data in the few seconds before, during and after a crash” severe enough to cause the airbag to deploy. Approximately 64 percent of the model year 2005 passenger vehicles came equipped with the device.

The new federal rule, which does not mandate EDR installation in new cars, takes effect with the 2011 model year. It will require automakers who have chosen to install EDRs to note in the owner’s manual that the safety monitoring equipment has been installed. It also includes new requirements “designed to ensure that the data collected by EDRs can be used to improve highway safety. For example, the rule requires EDRs to be more durable to protect data during a crash. The rule also requires automakers to collect the same type of crash data if they chose to install an EDR,” NHTSA said.

Public Citizen issued a statement criticizing the rule as inadequate. It said the rule lacks a “protocol to ensure that government can get” data from the EDRs (“if the government has access to the data, it would ensure the confidentiality and non-identification of any individuals, mitigating privacy concerns”); that the rule standardizes only some of the key data elements that EDRs must capture and retain; that it fails to require EDRs in all vehicles – “For EDR data to be comprehensive and reflect actual crashes, 100 percent of vehicles should have them”; that it lacks a standard downloading requirement; that the rule does not require EDRs to survive high-speed crashes, and that it does not require a window sticker informing consumers when their vehicles are equipped with EDRs.

Earlier, Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook, in an interview in Time magazine, said that breach-of-privacy concern voiced by the ACLU and others over the presence of “black boxes” in cars was a “non-issue.” She commented on these and other motor vehicle safety issues and reiterated that the better way to reduce motor vehicle hazards is through regulation applied to all manufacturers, rather than reliance on voluntary manufacturer progress.”

Posted by MVHAP at 09:41 PM


In a suit brought by Public Citizen, a federal court has held that information submitted by automobile and tire manufacturers to the government about crashes resulting in death, injury and property damage should be released to the public under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The U.S. Court for the District of Columbia rejected the tire industry’s claim that the data cannot be released under FOIA. Relying on the “plain meaning” of the TREAD Act, the court held that it “does not qualify” as a statutory exception to FOIA’s command that government records be released to the public on request.

“Manufacturers were required to submit the information, referred to as ‘early warning data,’ under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act since 2003, but the U.S. Department of Transportation kept the information secret from the public because tire manufacturers claimed that the TREAD Act forbade its release under FOIA,” Public Citizen said, adding that other information collected under the rule will be the subject of a new rulemaking by the federal auto safety agency. It noted that the new ruling followed a March ruling in the same case that struck down a DOT regulation purporting to exempt from FOIA certain other categories of early warning data that it considered “commercially sensitive” (involving production numbers, warranty claims, consumer reports, field data, vehicle identification numbers and information about generic tires).

Posted by MVHAP at 09:40 PM


The Motor Vehicle Hazard Archives Project has accepted an invitation to join the Society for the Advancement of Violence and Injury Research (SAVIR), the national organization of injury-control teaching and research centers. SAVIR, formerly the National Association of Injury Control Research Centers (NAICRC), is devoted to promoting scholarly activity in injury control and addressing issues relevant to the prevention, acute care and rehabilitation of traumatic injury. These aims are achieved through multiple member activities in research, research dissemination, program development and evaluation, consultation, education and training. For more information, visit SAVIR’s website http://www.savirweb.org/.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:37 PM


According to a July 24 report in Automotive News, Toyota Motor Corp. has embarked on a strenuous campaign to "defend its reputation." The company, shaken by a series of recent safety recalls and a criminal investigation in Japan, is "reorganizing, reviewing its quality processes, stepping up its review of aging vehicles' service records and urging customers to report any problems to their dealers.
As a symbolic first step, Toyota executives are apologizing repeatedly."

Lately, the dealer publication said, "customers have had cause to doubt Toyota's quality. Last week, the company recalled 418,570 cars worldwide, all made in 2001. That includes 34,700 Priuses, Echos and other cars sold in the United States. The problem is a faulty crankshaft position sensor that can stall the engine. The engine then cannot be restarted." In the U.S., the carmaker recently recalled 170,000 Priuses because a portion of the steering shaft assembly could become loose or crack. NHTSA is investigating Toyota's Scion tC coupe for problems of shattering glass sunroofs. And Toyota is recalling 367,600 Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX SUVs due to a defective carpet clip that can interfere with the accelerator. In Japan, Toyota has recalled 1.1 million vehicles this year through Thursday, July 20.

"One particular recall now haunts Toyota," Automotive News said. "It involves a defect in the steering assembly of 4Runner SUVs and T100 and Tacoma pickups, built between 1988 and 1996. That problem caused a Hilux Surf, the Japan market's name for the 4Runner, to swerve and strike a car in the prefecture of Kumamoto in 2004. Five passengers in the other vehicle were injured. Toyota had investigated the steering assembly in 1996. It altered the assembly for future vehicles but decided no recall was necessary. After more complaints surfaced in 2004, Toyota reopened its investigation and issued a recall that year. The company recalled similar vehicles in the United States last September.

"On Friday, July 21, Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation ordered Toyota to report by Aug. 1 on steps it is taking to improve its monitoring of defects… Separately, though, Kumamoto police have asked prosecutors to issue warrants against the managers involved in the 1996 investigation."

Posted by MVHAP at 09:35 PM


Chrysler has issued 16 recalls this year covering nearly 1.8 million cars and trucks -- more than any other automaker, according to a Detroit Free Press analysis of federal data. "Federal safety regulators have 12 investigations under way related to Chrysler vehicles, including reports of stalling engines, puncture-prone fuel tanks and seats that catch fire even though they're not power seats. Chrysler's recall figures surpass its totals for all of 2005," the paper reports.

Chrysler issued its largest recall of the year last month, for defective ball joints in the front suspensions of 827,000 Jeep Liberty SUVs -- almost all of the Liberty vehicles it has built since 2001, the Free Press noted. The ball joints could come loose, causing the suspensions to fail.

None of the recalls appear to involve injuries as serious as the seat heater cases, the newspaper said. An Oregon attorney who filed the first lawsuit over the issue in December 2004 was quoted as saying he was aware of about 20 cases in which paraplegics or quadriplegics had suffered burns from a heated seat. Of those, 14 involved Jeep Grand Cherokees. Chrysler said it is aware "of a small number of incidents in which customers with reduced sensitivity in their lower body allege that they have sustained burns from heated seats in our vehicles and those of other manufacturers" and "intends to evaluate such incidents involving our vehicles on a case-by-case basis in an attempt to ensure that any customers who have sustained burns as a result of the seat heater subject to the recall receive fair and reasonable compensation for their injuries."

Posted by MVHAP at 09:33 PM


The Detroit News has reported that Ford Motor Company, expanding “one of the largest safety recalls in automotive history," has said it will recall an additional 1.2 million vehicles nationwide that are prone to engine fires. "The Dearborn automaker has recalled 6.7 million vehicles worldwide since January 2005 that are equipped with a Texas Instruments speed control deactivation switch that has been linked to dozens of engine fires and has sparked numerous lawsuits," the paper said.

Vehicles included in the expanded recall are 1994 to 2002 models of the Ford F-250, F-350, F-450 and F-550 Super Duty pickups; 2000 to 2002 models of the Excursion; 1994 to 1996 Econoline vans; 1996 to 2002 E-450 vans; and 1998 Explorers and Mercury Mountaineers. About 20 million of the switches in question are used in both Ford and non-Ford vehicles, but a spokesman for the NHTSA said similar problems have not been found in non-Ford vehicles. If the combined total of 6.7 million Ford vehicles called back -- including 5.8 million in the United States -- were a single recall, it would be the fourth-largest ever, behind a 1996 Ford recall of 7.9 million vehicles for ignition switches and two by General Motors Corp., according to NHTSA data.

In all, the switch-related fires reportedly have led to at least 13 lawsuits around the country and have been the subject of government investigations since 1998. Most of the fires in question occurred when the vehicles were not running. The fires can ignite well after the engine has been turned off because electrical current continues to run through the switch. NHTSA recently issued a 29-page report stating that fatigue failure of a brake seal allows fluid to corrode the cruise control switch when it's pointed up, the newspaper said. "The brake systems generate a vacuum that can potentially cause the (switch) to fail and in certain installation orientations catch fire."

Posted by MVHAP at 09:31 PM


A VW company attorney has proposed that serious consideration be given to abolishing mandatory vehicle safety-defect recalls. In a "commentary" in the Detroit News, Kevin M. McDonald asserts that evidence "doesn't support that recalls actually improve safety" and, with a dig at Ralph Nader, concludes that the recall system isn’t working. "…hardly a day goes by without a major car company announcing a massive recall to fix some ‘safety’ defect," he writes, and lists a number of allegations in support of abolishing the system, including these:

• "Because of the recall overload, consumers ignore them. More than a quarter of vehicles that are recalled never get repaired."
• "…there is simply no evidence that the vehicles that aren't fixed pose higher risks to the motoring public than those vehicles that do get fixed."
• The costs to industry of recalls – "…automakers probably spent about $3 billion in 2004 to fix safety problems," plus unspecified "indirect costs" for "engineering, tooling and producing the replacement part" and "the loss of market capitalization, market share, and brand damage as a result of a recall."
• Consumer "time and cost of driving to a dealership for a recall fix… just driving to get recalls done translates into 27 million gallons of fuel consumption. At $3 a gallon, the cost to consumers for fuel alone is nearly $82 million."
• Recalls "expose consumers to otherwise avoidable fatalities, injuries, and crashes because of additional travel. The 2004 fatality rate of 1.44 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled means recalls can be expected to kill 4.3 people a year.”

"Considering the surfeit of recalls conducted to fix questionable ‘safety’ defects," the industry attorney concludes, "it is certainly worth asking whether, in the aggregate, recalls risk more lives than they save. Although the costs of recalls are fairly certain, whether any meaningful benefits accrue are not. Considering the burden and risks posed by recalls, it's time NHTSA studies whether the benefits (if any) justify their costs."

Posted by MVHAP at 09:27 PM


A Scripps News investigative report says that NHTSA documents indicate a wheel component problem that appears to cause Hummer wheels to collapse or separate under low-level impact conditions. Agency engineers are studying more than 20 cases involving 2003-model Hummer H2s, according to the report. They are focusing on “how a part called a steering knuckle fractured or failed in the incidents, causing H2 suspensions to collapse or their wheels to separate.”

According to the report, “General Motors denies there is a safety problem with the metal part, which holds the steering arms in place near the front tires. It says that knuckle-related collapses and wheel-separation incidents are a consequence, not a cause, of H2 crashes and collisions. But in June 2003, the automaker changed the steering-knuckle part starting with model year 2004. The older part remains in the 47,900 model year 2003s.

The change was made not because there was a problem with the part, according to GM product-safety spokesman Alan Adler, but because GM always wants to ‘improve its products’. NHTSA engineers also have gathered data about 61 steering-knuckle failures on three-quarter-ton GM Suburban and Avalanche pickup trucks that used the same part, according to documents the company submitted to the government as part of the safety probe.”

Posted by MVHAP at 09:26 PM


The Army has announced it is joining NHTSA in an effort from Aug. 17 through the Labor Day weekend to crack down on drinking and driving. In a new campaign called "Drunk Driving. Over the limit. Under arrest," a government press release says the Army and NHTSA hope to reduce the number of lives lost each year to accidents caused by impaired drivers – both in the Army and on the streets of the nation.

The new campaign focuses on combining high-visibility enforcement with heightened public awareness. "The penalties can be twice as bad for a soldier who is found guilty of driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated, both on or off base," said a command judge advocate for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center. "The soldier may be held accountable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well as to the state where the offense occurred."

Posted by MVHAP at 09:23 PM


A new study reported by ConsumerAffairs.com says truck drivers who have severe sleep apnea or who sleep less than five hours each night while at home are more likely to suffer from sleepiness, performance impairment and decreased task vigilance while behind the wheel. Results of the study appear in the second issue for August 2006 of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, published by the American Thoracic Society.

The authors reportedly tested 247 commercial drivers at high risk for sleep apnea and 159 at lower risk for sleep impairment. They evaluated the role of short sleep duration at home over one week in 340 drivers, with 55 sleeping less than five hours. "In this study, we showed that both subjective and objective sleepiness, as well as performance impairments are common in our sample of commercial driver's license holders," the lead author said. "Our analyses reveal that chronic short sleep duration is a risk factor for subjective sleepiness, objectively measured sleepiness and performance impairments. The results for sleep apnea are less clear."

Posted by MVHAP at 09:20 PM


Bentley Continental GT 2004 Passenger vehicles (Wed, 16 Aug 2006) On certain passenger vehicles, there is the potential for insufficient clearance between a brake pipe and an engine mounted hose clip, which could eventually result in failure of the brake pipe. This failure could result in an increased stopping distance when braking increasing the risk of a crash and also a risk of fire due to brake fluid escaping into the engine compartment.

Ultra Aftermarket Cast Aluminum Custom Wheels (Tue, 15 Aug 2006) Certain Femtec Ultra aftermarket cast aluminum custom wheels, series 260 in sizes 15" x 10" and 16" x 10" sold for use on light trucks. These wheels may contain design-induced stress which could lead to a crack developing over time at the drop center. This could lead to air loss from the tire as well as the eventual separation of the wheel and tire from the rim, possibly resulting in a vehicle crash.

Cadillac Escalade EXT 1500, SRX; Chevrolet Avalanche 1500, Colorado, Silverado; GMC Canyon, Sierra 2006-2007 Sport Utility vehicles (Wed, 09 Aug 2006) Certain sport utility vehicles and trucks fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 110, "tire selection and rims.". These vehicles have an incomplete tire rim designation on the certification/tire label located on the driver's door edge. In addition, the label may also be missing the tire load rating on the label. Although this information is not required by the standard, if a tire of a lesser load rating is installed, the tire may not be able to sustain the loads encountered during use. If a customer replaces a wheel and only relies on the rim size designation that is indicated on the label, a wheel that is of a different rim contour designation may be installed. It may be difficult or impossible to mount the tire on a wheel with the wrong contour. If the tire is mounted on the wheel with the wrong contour, the wheel and tire may not perform as intended, which could increase the risk of a crash.

Chevrolet Kodiak, T-Series; GMC Topkick 7500, 8500; Isuzu FVR, FXR, HVR 2006 Trucks (Wed, 09 Aug 2006) Certain trucks fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 121, "Air brake systems". An internal control and check valve within the air brake application valve assembly was configured improperly, preventing air from flowing through the brake system as designed. In the event of an emergency stop, the vehicle's stopping distance would be increased. If stopping distance was limited, a vehicle crash could result.

Roushpp Ford Mustang GT 2005-2007 Passenger vehicles (Mon, 07 Aug 2006) On certain passenger vehicles built on the Ford Mustang GT chassis, the anti-roll bar attachment bracket on the front strut can separate from the strut housing due to inconsistent welding. If the broken bracket contacts the tire, sidewall damage can occur, possibly resulting in a vehicle crash.

Victory V92 2000 Motorcycles (Fri, 04 Aug 2006) On certain motorcycles equipped with a gates drive belt system, the front sprocket may wear between the sprocket and its retaining nut, causing the front sprocket nut to loosen and fail to retain the sprocket. The front sprocket nut failure could cause axial movement and interference which could result in transmission lockup, increasing the risk of loss of control or crash.

Victory V92 1999-2001 Motorcycles (Fri, 04 Aug 2006) Certain model year 2001 Victory V92 motorcycles, and 1999-2000 V92 motorcycles that received transmission replacement kits built in 2001 can experience a third gear failure in an abnormal overload condition such as when shifting at high RPM. While shifting gears at high RPM, the third gear may fail. If pieces of the failed gear become lodged in the transmission, the transmission could lockup possibly resulting in loss of control and a crash.

Chevrolet Avalanche, Avalanche 1500, Kodiak, Silverado, Suburban, Suburban 2500; GMC Sierra, Toopkick 6500, Yukon XL 2004-2006 Trucks (Wed, 02 Aug 2006) On certain trucks equipped with an 8.1l V8 (RPO L8-VIN G) engine have a condition in which the engine fuel rail pulse damper retainer clip may fracture resulting in inadequate retention of the damper. If the damper comes loose, a fuel leak may result. Fuel leakage, in the presence of an ignition source, could result in a fire.

Jeep Grand Cherokee 2006 Sport Utility Vehicles (Tue, 01 Aug 2006) On certain sport utility vehicles, the inflator connector for the driver's air bag may have been incorrectly assembled. The air bag may not inflate properly which can increase the risk of injury in certain crash conditions.

Jeep Liberty 2002-2006 Trucks (Tue, 01 Aug 2006) On certain trucks, the constant tension front lower ball joints may experience contamination. If the vehicle is operated for an extended period with this condition, the ball joint may eventually experience wear and looseness. When the driver continues to operate the vehicle with this condition, the contamination can lead to corrosion, accelerated wear and possibly separation from the steering knuckle causing a loss of vehicle steering control increasing the risk of a crash.

Kia Rio 2003 Passenger Vehicles (Mon, 31 Jul 2006) Certain passenger vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard No. 208, "Occupant crash protection" when used with certain child seats, the automatic locking retractor (ALR) function in the rear outboard seatbelt assemblies may disengage. If a child seat is not properly secured, there is an increased risk of injury to the seat occupant in the event of a crash.

Audi A3 2006 Passenger Vehicles (Mon, 31 Jul 2006) On certain passenger vehicles, during production of the air bag, either the left or the right side curtain air bag inflation module may leak. In the event of a crash, the air bag may not inflate as designed increasing the risk of injury to a seat occupant.

S&S Cycle 56-1130, 56-1131, 56-1132, 56-122, 56-5122 Transmission Shift Collars (Mon, 31 Jul 2006) Certain S&S Cycle six speed transmission shift collars, P/N 56-5122, included in S&S complete transmission/gear sets and cassette transmission/gear sets with S&S P/Nos. 56-1222, 56-1130, 56-1131, and 56-1132. The transmission shift collars were manufactured with a machining error. As a result of this error, the shift collars can crack when exposed to high loads over an extended period of time. If the shift collar cracks, the rear wheel can lock up possibly resulting in loss of control and a vehicle crash.

Posted by MVHAP at 09:04 PM