It’s Playground Safety Week – time to check those playgrounds!


Every year, about 200,000 kids are injured seriously enough in public playgrounds that they require emergency room treatments. As seasonal warm weather starts to settle in and kids head to public parks and play spaces, National Playground Safety Week offers a good reminder to parents. Don’t take it for granted that the public or commercial play equipment that your kids like so much are safe – make it your business to check out these spaces for yourself.  Don’t hesitate to call your Parks & Recreation department to ask about safety.

The National Program for Playground Safety (NPPS) offers a helpful checklist of things that you should look for in playgrounds. For other excellent guides, see KidsHealth and the
National Safety Council.

We’ve compiled just a few these tips:

Provide supervision.  Adults should be on hand to watch for hazards and respond to any emergencies.

Ensure age-appropriate outdoor play. Make sure your kids are not using equipment that is above their age or safety level. See the NPPS guide for age appropriate design.

Be alert for clothing hazards. Be careful about strings on your kids’ clothing or on equipment. Strings can get caught causing strangulation.Remove strings, scarves, necklaces, and jewelry. Kids should also wear appropriate footwear. And here’s one important point: some parents might think a bike helmet would offer good playgroup protection – wrong! Playgrounds and helmets don’t mix. Helmets can snag on equipment or tree branches and cause asphyxiation.

Prevent burns. In addition to being careful that your kids are not out in the sun too long and have sunscreen to prevent burns, be sure to check the temperature of equipment surfaces. On a hot day, some equipment could be hot enough to cause burns. See Tips for limitings sun exposure.

Be alert for heavy molded plastic animal swings.  Those animal swings might look fun to you and your kids, but the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recalled these a number of years ago because the weight and frame can cause serious injuries if they strike kids. CPSC offers a 61 page Public Playground Safety Handbook that offers more safety information.

If you are planning for equipment at homes, see the NPPS backyard playground video series for tips.  And if you do have a backyard playground, make sure that you check with your insurance agent to be sure you have adequate liability insurance.

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.

Imposter fraud and debt collection scams top the list of 2016 fraud reports


This week is Consumer Protection Week – but honestly, consumers should be on their guard about potential scams and fraud every single week of the year. In 2016, people who reported fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) paid $744 million to scammers – with a median payment of $450. Those are only the reported cases – many people are embarrassed to admit that they fell for a scam. Experts put scam crimes more on the order of $30 to $40 billion a year.

In looking at the top fraud in 2016, the FTC said that of those who specified how they were contacted by scammers, 77% said it was by telephone, with only 8% contacted by email and 3% by traditional mail. That tells you to be alert for suspicious calls.

Also notable in 2016, the FTC reports that for the first time, imposter scams passed identity theft for the number of complaints, and debt collection was the top complaint for the second year in a row.

Imposter scams are scammers who pretend to be someone else: the IRS, debt collectors, tech support – the FTC has posted examples of different types of imposter scams that have been reported.

Why are people susceptible to fraud?

Scammers are masters of human nature and prey on our weaknesses. They appeal to fear by posing as the IRS, debt collectors or other authorities, making harsh threats and you-must-act-now demands. They exploit our hopes of winning or getting something for free or for an incredible price. They take advantage of naive computer users with popups, phishing scams, unsafe apps or links and social media targeting.

In What Makes People Fall for Online Fraud? Rick Paulas reports on an AARP survey about risk factors involved with falling for Internet scams.

” … there’s a correlation between fraud victims and the activities people perform online. For instance, those willing to post their birth dates or relationship status on social media are 8 percent more likely to be victims of online fraud than those who keep mum. Those who sign up for free trial offers are 10 percent more likely to get swindled. People who click on pop-ups are 16 percent more likely. “Victims tend to be more open,” Shadel says. “But people wise up. They realize you shouldn’t be clicking on every pop-up you get.””

The article 10 Types of People Who Fall for Scams, Schemes and Cons by Marilyn Lewis says that:

Victims include older people, yes, but also younger ones. Educated and undereducated. White-collar and blue-collar. Dumb people and smart ones. The Stanford study says:

An emerging conclusion in profiling research is that there is no generalized profile of a “typical” victim. Profiling studies that analyze victims by type of scam, however, have yielded a clearer picture of scam-specific profiles. In other words, while everyone is vulnerable, some people may be more vulnerable to particular scams than others.

The article is very interesting, examining various demographic groups and what type of scam is likely to be most successful for that group. For example white men are the most likely victims of investment fraud; lonely people are more susceptible to dating fraud.

Even relatively sophisticated and alert people can let their guard down and fall for a scam. One way to keep suspicion high is to periodically review the FTC Scan Alerts to learn the latest scams that are circulating. It’s also important to report fraud should yo be come a victim. That is how the authorities catch criminals and alert others about new schemes.

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!

Snow day toolkit: Shoveling, sharing the road with plows & more


Snow day! Despite many closures in anticipation of a fast-moving storm today, some people still need to be out and about, and most of us will need to deal with the subsequent cleanup. We’ve ferreted through our archives to find some of the best tips we’ve found on cealing wiht the snow safely. And to get you in the spirit, we’re offering a few interesting snow related clips:

Here’s a mesmerizing extreme snow removal video that may make you feel better about a measly 8-14 inches

Snow shoveling 101: Best shovels, best techniques

Sharing the road with snow plows & more winter driving tips

Take care: Shoveling snow can kill or injure you

Snow shoveling and snow removal safety

And after it’s over:
Snowmageddon: Is your roof at risk of collapse?