Sudden acceleration: what to do if it happens to you

Millions of popular Toyotas are being recalled to fix a sudden acceleration problem. While the scope of this recall is huge, the problem is not necessarily limited to Toyotas. According to Consumer Reports, in an analysis of National Highways Safety Institute complaints for sudden acceleration by auto make through August 2009, Toyotas represented only about 41% of the overall complaints. Obviously, these numbers will change, but the point is that it’s a safety issue and it could happen for any driver. Would you know what to do? Consumer Reports also offers a useful video about how to safely stop your car if it accelerates suddenly:

For additional information, the Los Angeles Times offers a good article with more information on the Toyota Recall Q&A and what to do if you car suddenly accelerates.

Helping senior drivers to make a tough decision: hanging up the keys

Good Morning America has been airing a series on aging and one of the difficult topics they are tackling is the issue of senior driving. In Mom & Dad, we need to talk, they explore the ways that adult children can help their parents make the difficult and often painful decision to hang up the car keys.
It’s not an issue that should be put off because, at some point, it’s a matter of safety – both for the elderly drivers and for the general public. GMA cites some grim statistics:

“Although most senior citizens are careful behind the wheel, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drivers older than 70 have a higher fatality rate per mile than any other group, except people under 25. And most of those fatalities happened at some kind of crossroads.
A 2007 study released by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that 40 percent of serious crashes at intersections involved people older than 70. Add to this the fact that the number of elderly drivers is projected to double to 70 million by the year 2030 and you have the makings of a potentially dangerous problem.”

They also publicize AARP’s 10 warning signs for when to limit or stop driving.

  1. Almost crashing, with frequent “close calls”
  2. Finding dents and scrapes on the car, on fences, mailboxes, garage doors, curbs, or the like
  3. Getting lost
  4. Having trouble seeing or following traffic signals, road signs, and pavement markings
  5. Responding more slowly to unexpected situations, or having trouble moving your foot from the gas to the brake pedal; confusing the two pedals
  6. Misjudging gaps in traffic at intersections and on highway entrance and exit ramps
  7. Experiencing road rage or having other drivers frequently honk at you
  8. Easily becoming distracted or having difficulty concentrating while driving
  9. Having a hard time turning around to check over your shoulder while backing up or changing lanes
  10. Receiving traffic tickets or “warnings” from traffic or law enforcement officers in the last year or two

Dealing with ice dams and other winter weather hazards

For homeowners in snow-prone areas of the country, roof damage or leaks from snow and ice dams are common winter threats to your home. How do you know if you have ice dams? Wikipedia has a good photo of an ice dam forming on a slate roof. Essentially, if you have large icicles hanging from your roof, you probably have an ice dam problem. The icicles are the symptom, not the underlying problem, which is generally one of insulation. How Stuff Works offers a pretty good non-technical explanation of what ice dams are and why they occur.
If you have ice dams on your house, you need to address them with a two-fold strategy:
First, you need to get rid of the ice dams and minimize the immediate damage.
Your best bet is to hire an experienced professional to do this – it can be a risky task. Some folks want to go out and chop away at icicles, but it’s not a good idea to be climbing on snow- and ice-covered roofs or using ladders on slippery ground. Plus, using the wrong tools to remove snow or chunks of ice from your roof may cause further damage to your shingles or your gutters. Not to mention damage to you: flying ice chunks can be very heavy and sharp. Many people also use salts or other chemical concoctions to deal with ice dams, a less-than-ideal “fix” because chemicals can damage or discolor your roof and can leach into the ground, damaging plants and greenery. If you have a low roof, one of the most common ways that people deal with ice dams is by purchasing a specially-designed roof rake and removing snow from directly above the ice dam. Again, this can pose risks to both you and your roof.
Second, you need to diagnose the underlying problem and take steps to prevent ice dams from forming.
While ice dams can sometimes occur as a result of freezing rain, more often than not they are a symptom of an insulation problem which should be addressed because there are other problems besides ice dams that can occur, such as a build-up of moisture that could lead to rot, mildew or mold. Not to mention that with poor insulation, heating costs are almost literally going through the roof. While there are a number of products that can treat the symptoms and prevent ice dams, the best way to protect the value of your house would be to enlist the expertise of a weatherization, insulation, or energy conservation contractor to diagnose the and remedy the root problem. Builder and consultant Paul Frisette offers his thoughts on why ice dams form and how to prevent ice dams by treating the root cause, not just the symptoms.
Ice dams and homeowners and rental insurance
The Insurance Information Institute discusses what’s covered and what’s not in terms of water damage: “Standard homeowners and renters insurance provides coverage for burst pipes, wind driven rain and damage resulting from ice dams on your roof.” III also offers this helpful rule of thumb: “Generally speaking, water that comes from the top down, such as rainfall, is covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, while water that comes from the bottom up, such as an overflowing river, is covered by a separate flood insurance policy.” When in doubt about your coverage, call your agent – that’s what we’re here for!
Snow overload and other perils for public and commercial buildings
Commercial and public buildings with flat roofs are susceptible to other winter woes. In addition to the risk of ice dams, flat-roofed buildings can also suffer damage or collapse from an accumulation of deep snow. Deep snow followed by heavy rain can be particularly perilous, especially for older buildings. One of our insurance partners, Utica National, has issued a handy risk management advisory about severe winter weather and roofs. The advisory includes general guidelines to help estimate the weight of snow.

Children’s auto booster seat ratings; child restraint laws

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has issued new ratings for children’s auto booster seats. They’ve examined 60 models covering almost all models sold in the U.S. right now, and they’ve issue 9 “best bet” recommendations and 4 “good bet” recommendations. In addition, they’ve indicated 11 products which aren’t aren’t recommended due to poor fit.
IIHS states that more than 1,000 children 12 and younger in passenger vehicles die in crashes every year, and more than 100,000 are injured. Parents can reduce the risk to their kids by properly securing them in the back seat of their vehicle.

“Parents can’t tell a good booster from a bad one just by comparing design features and price,” says Anne McCartt, Institute senior vice president for research. “What really matters is if the booster you’re considering correctly positions the safety belt on your 4-8 year-old in your vehicle. Our ratings make it easier to pick a safer booster for kids who have outgrown child restraints.”

When cutting budget corners, avoid the 5 biggest insurance mistakes

In the post holiday season, we’re all looking for ways to tighten our belts to save money in the new year – particularly since the economy continues to be sluggish, with no end in sight. But when making resolutions for the year ahead, the Insurance Information Institute (III) reminds us not to be penny wise and pound foolish by cutting insurance costs in a way that could cause problems later. III advises consumers to avoid the 5 Biggest Insurance Mistakes:

  • Insuring a home for its real estate value rather than for the cost of rebuilding
  • Selecting an insurance company by price alone
  • Dropping flood insurance
  • Only purchasing the legally required amount of liability for your car
  • Neglecting to buy renters insurance

III elaborates on each of these mistakes and suggests better alternatives.
Other common mistakes that we see, which can cost you money:

  • Forgetting to keep beneficiaries updated
  • Not understanding what a policy does and doesn’t cover
  • Buying too much or too little coverage
  • Forgetting to update coverage to reflect major life changes, such as birth, marriage, new homes
  • Not verifying agent or insurer licenses
  • Not taking advantage of potential discounts

New Year’s Resolution: inventory your possessions

Whether you rent or own, it’s critically important to know your stuff. Do you have a home inventory of all your possessions? According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), about half of those recently surveyed do not.
Nick Hytrek talks about the importance of logging your possessions in a recent article in the Sioux City Journal, and notes that the post-holiday period is a good time to start one or update any that may exist:

“It’s a lot easier to take inventory now rather than after a fire has gutted your home. There’s enough to think about without having to try to remember everything you owned once the insurance adjuster arrives.
“After a fire, they basically hand you a piece of paper and a pencil and say write down all your possessions,” said Wynn Gochenour, executive adminstrator at Paul Davis Restoration. “Most people don’t do it beforehand, but wish they would have.”

We’ve previously suggested Know Your Stuff, a free online tool issued by the Insurance Information Institute, that is great for this purpose. It offers a room-by-room inventory system that allows you to create, view, save, and print real time reports. You can learn more about this inventory system in a brief video clip. Hytek’s article also notes that there are national companies that will come in and do home inventories and valuation for you – a service that might be worth it if you have expensive collections.
Hytek offers the following tips for taking a home inventory, sourced from NAIC:

  • Document each item as completely as possible, including brand and model number.
  • Include receipts and/or canceled checks to prove what you paid for items.
  • Remember to include items you don’t use regularly, such as holiday decorations, sports equipment or tools.
  • Review your insurance policy to know what is covered and whether your possessions are insured for actual cash value (the amount it would take to replace or repair the item after depreciation) or for replacement cost (the amount it would take to repair or replace the item without deducting for depreciation).
  • For rare or valuable items such as jewelry, antiques or art, you may want to consider adding additional insurance — a rider — to your policy.
  • Keep the completed list outside of your home. Store it at your office, a family member’s house or safe-deposit box.
  • Update the list annually.