Cell Phones and Distracted Driving


Cell phones have become ingrained in our culture in an amazingly short time. As a nation, we’ve become accustomed to being available to make or take calls 24/7, no matter where we are. Although the convenience of a cell phone cannot be understated, it’s time to step back a little and be more careful with our phones. 99% of the time, there really isn’t any reason to use your phone while you’re driving. If the call is that important, pull over, stop and take it then.
Studies show that using a cell phone while driving is just about as dangerous as drinking and driving, as shown graphically in this video from 20/20. Yet states have been slow to ban their use outright, with only nine states currently banning the use of hand held phones while driving and 35 more banning texting while driving. That may be changing, as the National Transportation Safety Board has recently released a FAQ sheet on the dangers of distracted driving (PDF) and is calling for a national ban. The idea of a nationwide ban is gaining traction, due partly to a study recently released by California, where traffic deaths have declined by 22% in the two years since hand held cell phone use while driving was banned.
If the ban is passed in all fifty states, how will it affect car insurance rates? Since policies vary so much from state to state, it’s difficult to say. Currently, in New York, being ticketed for cell phone use results in three violation points on your driving record, and a fine up to $100, along with other mandatory fees and surcharges up to $85. The penalties are the same for texting or e-mail use while driving, except the maximum base fine goes up to $150.
Here’s a chart of current State Cell Phone Use & Texting While Driving Laws.

Insurance and Your Dog


If you are thinking of getting a dog, or even if you already have one, it’s critical as either a homeowner or renter to check with your insurance agent to establish or review your liability coverage for dog bites and other canine-related injuries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that every year more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs, and last year, the average cost of a dog bite claim was $26,166, according to the Insurance Information Institute — and costs continue to rise due to growing medical costs and larger settlements.

Most states have strict statutes holding owners directly responsible for injuries or damage inflicted by their dogs (you can check your state’s liability statutes here), and some insurance policies exclude dog breeds that are seen as particularly aggressive (see the Top 7 Dangerous Dog Breeds), so in addition to evaluating your ability to care for and properly train a dog, it’s vital to make sure you are covered by your policy, and take steps to minimize any risk of dog bite or other injury.

Tips for dog owners seeking homeowner/renter’s coverage for their dog(s):

  • Enroll your dog in obedience classes and work on helping the dog earn a diploma or certification
  • Schedule refresher classes for dogs who have already been trained, but are not as attentive as they once were!
  • Neuter male dogs to reduce dominance and aggression
  • Always keep your dogs on a leash and under control during walks
  • If your dog is allowed outside on your property, be sure the area is adequately fenced and protected
  • Never leave young children alone with a dog, and always teach them how to behave safely around dogs
  • If strangers make your dog nervous, be sure to separate them from new visitors in your home
  • To keep canine frustration in check, always make sure your dog is properly exercised, and don’t allow them to be exposed to teasing or taunting

Finally, if you are thinking of getting a dog primarily for home protection, be aware that money spent on increased security measures will ultimately be easier, more reliable, less expensive — and kinder to the animal.

Healthcare Reform – changes in 2011


Many healthcare reform provisions are scheduled to kick in sometime in 2011 – some went into effect on January 1. Here are a few resources that outline changes scheduled to take effect in 2011 and what the changes mean to you and your family.

The Kaiser Family Foundation has produced an excellent single-source guide to Health Care Reform and health insurance reform. They’ve also produced a 9 minute animated video that summarizes and explains Health Reform in simple terms.

Keep Super Bowl Sunday super: fans don’t let fans drive drunk


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On average, about 98.7 million fans tune into watch the game on Super Bowl Sunday. If you’re going to be hosting or attending a Super Bowl party this weekend when the New Orleans Saints take on the Indianapolis Colts, you should plan in advance for your safety and that of your guests.
The Insurance Information Institute (III) suggests that designating a driver should be at the top of everyone’s super bowl party list. They note that:
“According to the most recent figures from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), in 2008, alcohol-impaired-driving crashes accounted for 32 percent of total motor vehicle traffic fatalities. On Super Bowl Sunday (February 3 to 5:59 a.m. February 4), 49 percent of the fatalities occurred in crashes in which a driver or motorcycle rider had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level of .08 or higher. Overall, more than 13,000 Americans died that year in crashes involving an impaired driver.”
Whether you plan to be a party host or a party attendee, III offers a list of tips and suggestions to help you stay safe. Plus, party hosts have a particular imperative to protect guests. It’s the right thing to do – plus, it may protect you from liability.
Here are some additional tips from the Natioanl Highway Transportation and Safety Administration’s Fans don’t let fans drive drunk program.
Tips for party hosts
If you are hosting a Super Bowl party, remember, you can be held liable and prosecuted if someone you served ends up in an impaired driving crash. To protect both yourself and your guests:

  • Make sure all guests designate their sober drivers in advance, or help arrange ride-sharing with other sober drivers.
  • Serve lots of food—and include lots of non-alcoholic beverages at the party.
  • Stop serving alcohol at the end of the third quarter of the game and begin serving coffee and dessert.
  • Keep the numbers for local cab companies handy, and take the keys away from anyone who is thinking of driving while impaired.

Tips for party attendees
If you are attending a Super Bowl party or watching at a sports bar or restaurant:

  • Avoid drinking too much alcohol too fast. Pace yourself—eat enough food, take breaks and alternate with non-alcoholic drinks.
  • Designate your sober driver before the party begins and give that person your car keys.
  • If you don’t have a designated driver, ask a sober friend for a ride home; call a cab, friend or family member to come get you; or stay where you are and sleep it off until you are sober.
  • Research and use a local Sober Rides program.
  • Never let a friend leave your sight if you think they are about to drive while impaired.
  • Always buckle up—it’s still your best defense against other impaired drivers.

Additional resources
Drunk Driving Laws by State

Spring Reminder: Bike Safety for Kids


With spring in the air, it’s a good time to issue a reminder that bicycles are associated with more serious childhood injuries than any other consumer product except automobiles. Every year, about 300,000 kids wind up in the emergency room because of bike injuries. Head injuries can result in serious brain injury or death. Most states have laws about mandatory bicycle helmets – some laws are for all riders. Most pertain to kids under age 18.

Here are some resources to help ensure your kids safe when they bike:
Testing Your Child’s Readiness for Riding a Bike
Easy Steps to Fit a Bicycle Helmet
Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute
Kids and Bicycle Safety
Teach Your Child Well: Bicycle Safety Issues