How to avoid driving blind spots

“I didn’t even see it coming!” Most drivers have experienced a close call at one point or another when changing lanes, often due to blind spots. The National Highway Traffic Institute says that blind spots account for more than 800,000 vehicular accidents a year. Blind spots are the areas around our vehicle that we can’t clearly see either with our peripheral vision or by looking in our mirrors, most commonly to the left and right rear of our cars. These blind spots can be affected by many factors: how many visual obstructions there are in the vehicle itself, such us window pillars and headrests, or your height in the driver’s seat, which can affect your external visibility. Blind spots are no joke – they can be big enough to hide an entire vehicle from your view.

The usual prescription for minimizing blind spots is a two-step process: properly adjusting your mirrors and physically turning your head to check before changing lanes.

But the question is, how do you properly adjust mirrors? Most people adjust side mirrors so that they can see the right and left rear flanks of their vehicle, but safety experts are now telling us that this is wrong: The Society of Automotive Engineers says that we should adjust the mirrors further outward to create a greater arc of visibility and this will eliminate blind spots entirely. See more about their recommendation, along with a diagram at How To: Adjust Your Mirrors to Avoid Blind Spots.

This short video goes into more detail and demonstrates exactly how:

Crash avoidance technologies

Many new cars are equipped with sensor and alert technologies either for blind spot detection or lane change warning systems designed to aid us in crash avoidance. As with many other crash avoidance systems, the technologies are still fairly new but expect to see more in future years.You might talk to your local insurance agent about any auto insurance discounts that might be available for car safety technologies.

This short clip from CNET talks about how such systems work and what to look for if you are shopping for a car with this technology.

The high cost of alcohol-impaired driving

What happens to your wallet if you are convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol? Financial penalties ae swift, severe, and can linger for a number of years. There are 42 states with an automatic license suspension on first offense, and the suspension can extend from 30 days to as much as a year, depending on the state.

You can look up your state’s impaired driving laws and penalties in this chart.

Here are some of the negative consequences of having a DUI conviction:

  • Your license could be suspended. 42 states have administrative license suspension on the first offense.
  • Your vehicle may be confiscated or impounded.
  • You may be required to participate in an ignition interlock program and pay for all associated costs. MADD estimates the cost of ignition interlock device installations at $70 to $150, plus a monthly fee of between $60 to $80.
  • You are flagged as a high risk driver and may require an SR-22 filing by your insurer. In violations that result in license suspension, SR-22 forms must be obtained from your insurer before a license can be reinstated. Essentially, it’s a red flag signifying that you are a high risk driver. State laws vary, but the average SR-22 spans three years.
  • You could be dropped by your insurer. At the very least, your auto insurance options are more limited.
  • You will pay higher insurance rates over a number of years.
  • You might be subject to alcohol exclusion laws. Currently, 37 states have laws that allow insurers to refuse payment of costs for treating drunk drivers’ injuries.

So far, we’ve only talked about the financial costs of a DUI violation. Impaired driving also puts you and others at a much greater risk of being injured or killed. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 9,967 people were killed in alcohol-impaired driving crashes in 2014, accounting for nearly one-third of the nation’s traffic-related deaths. That’s about 28 people every day, or one death every 53 minutes.

It’s vitally important to understand the effects of alcohol on driving. See the 6 stages of getting drunk. Your BAC (Blood Alcohol Count) is a measure of the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream. Check out the Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) Calculator to understand the impairment effects of drinking. There are also a variety of BAC gauging apps that you can get for your phone.

Our best advice? Line up a designated driver in advance or call a cab, an Uber or a Lyft. Impaired driving is not worth it, whatever measure you use!

2017 Top Auto Safety Picks from IIHS

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named 82 vehicles as 2017 Top Auto Safety Picks. Of those, 38 earned the Top Safety Pick+, which signifies that they earned good ratings in 5 crashworthiness tests, plus they earn an advanced or superior rating for front crash prevention.

Criteria for all awards include both crash protection and crash prevention so new technologies play a big role in safety. Automatic emergency braking systems are a prerequisite for earning the Top Safety Pick designation so more and more automakers are adding automatic emergency braking as a standard feature in new cars. Research shows that front or rear crashes are cut in half with automatic braking. Another recent criteria that IIHS has factored in to its picks are headlight performance. They added this after observing a wide variance in the effectiveness of headlights.

You can see a full list of Top Safety Picks by year.  This year, the release notes some of the list’s top performers:

Toyota/Lexus leads manufacturers with nine 2017 Top Safety Pick+ winners, including the updated Toyota Corolla, while Honda and its Acura division pick up five Top Safety Pick+ awards.
Among 2017 models, only seven are available with good-rated headlights. They are the Chevrolet Volt small car, Honda Ridgeline pickup, Hyundai Elantra small car, Hyundai Santa Fe midsize SUV, Subaru Legacy midsize car, Toyota Prius v midsize car and Volvo XC60 midsize luxury SUV.

To evaluate a vehicle’s crashworthiness, IIHS conducts five crash tests: moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraints & seats. At the link, you can learn more about these tests and see videos.

Here are additional resources from IIHS that are worth consulting before you buy your next car:

Confused? Learn auto insurance basics from these handy tools

Auto insurance can seem confusing – especially for first-time car owners. The first thing that you need to know about auto insurance is that every state has different laws about what is and what isn’t required. So you need to know your own state law. Find a link to your state’s insurance bureau using this map.

It’s not that hard to understand auto insurance basics, but sometimes TV or online ads oversimplify things and make it sound like you can just pay whatever you want or that the cheapest coverage is best. It’s really a balance – too much coverage and you are wasting money; not enough coverage, and you might find yourself in a financial fix should you have a bad accident. A lot of it depends on your personal situation.

Your local independent insurance agent would be happy to explain the ins and outs of auto insurance in your state and help you explore coverage options and any available discounts. But if you’re one of those people who likes to do research on your own first, we’ve found a few great tools to help you learn the basics of auto insurance from reliable and objective sources.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers a A Consumer’s Quick Guide to Auto Insurance, a pdf brochure that is quite good.

The next few tools are from the Insurance Information Institute (III) another good place to start your insurance research on auto or other types of insurance.

First, the handy Auto Insurance Jargon Buster, which explains potentially confusing insurance terminology.

Second is a short video auto insurance explainer:

Third, this infographic is a good reference. It talks about the different auto insurance coverage types. There are simple explanations for each, and at the end of each explanation, there is a line indicating whether the insurance is required or optional. You can click for a larger version.

auto insurance basics

10 most and 10 least reliable cars

new car for Christmas

If you are asking Santa to bring you a new car this year, you probably have a particular style, a color and certain features in mind. But before you put your final request in that North Pole letter, we’d suggest that you take a look at the Consumer Reports’ list of 10 Most Reliable Cars from their recent Annual Auto Reliability Survey. They also name this year’s picks for the 10 Least Reliable Cars.

In their survey, Consumer Reports gathers data on 300 models and a half million vehicles. This is what they look for:

“Our survey takes a deep dive into the numerous things that can go wrong with a vehicle. We study 17 trouble areas, from nuisances—such as squeaky brakes and broken interior trim—to major bummers, like out-of-warranty transmission repairs or trouble with four-wheel-drive systems. We weight the severity of each type of problem to create a Predicted Reliability Score for each vehicle. That score is then combined with data collected from our track testing, as well as our owner-satisfaction survey results and safety data, to calculate each test vehicle’s Overall Score.”

Of course, if you are car shopping, we’d also recommend that you factor safety ratings in your purchase decision. For safety. we recommend the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety / Highway Loss Data Institute ratings. They test a vehicle’s crashworthiness — “how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash. It also rates vehicles for front crash prevention, systems that warn the driver or brake automatically to avoid or mitigate a frontal collision.”  You can check out their Top Safety Picks by year from 2006 through to 2017.

See more results of the CR Reliability Survey, along with some general trends. They also offer a great Guide to Car Reliability with more useful information, such as reliability by car type, used car reliability and owner satisfaction. Some of the information is freely available but some requires a subscription – and if you don’t want to subscribe for a full year, they also offer a month by month option, which could be handy if you are researching a car, home electronics, or any other pricey purchases this season.