When should you book your holiday flights? Experts say right now!


Santa as pilot of the plane

OK. We know that the leaves haven’t turned yet, and the smell of pumpkin spice is barely wafting through the air. We aren’t even in Halloween prime time yet. We assure you, we aren’t trying to rush things, but we’d like to offer some seriously good advice: If you plan to fly someplace for the holidays – either for Thanksgiving or for the Christmas / Hanukkah / Kwanzaa window – it’s not too early to book your plane travel now. In fact, it may be the ideal time.

According to AAA Travel’s flight booking data from the last three years, Sept. 25 marks the start of the best booking window for air travel over the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. It’s generally the best time for both availability and price deals. While it’s true that there are sometimes last-minute deals for travel, there is limited availability – so if you want the best availability and choice, start looking soon.

See AAA’s advice for the best days to travel on both holidays windows: The Best Time to Book Your Holiday Flights? Now! Check their article for some detailed advice. We’re reproducing two of their handy charts.

AAA Thanksgiving travel -chart of best dates

AAA - Christmas holiday travel = best times chart

SmarterTravel offers their take on timing: The 12 Best and Worst Days to Travel This Holiday Season. They show the busiest travel days around both holidays by share of bookings from travel booking site Hipmunk. They also offer some advice on snagging the best fares.

For train travel, Amtrak offers Tips for Successfully Booking Your Trip. They say that “The earlier you book your tickets, the more likely you are to get the lowest fare available for the dates you want on the routes along your journey. You may book your travel up to 11 months in advance.” See their Tips for Savvy Travelers.

In planning your trip, consider whether you need trip insurance. If you are just zipping home on a domestic flight to visit your folks, you might not need it. Instead, before you book, check your credit cards to see if any offer baggage protection or other travel benefits when you book a flight – many do. And know your consumer rights – see the Department of Transportation’s Fly Rights: A Consumer Guide to Air Travel.

But if you are taking an expensive family trip over the holidays and traveling overseas or on a cruise, you might want to talk trip insurance over with your agent to protect your investment. The Insurance Information Institute offers a good primer: Should you buy travel insurance?

When will you be driving a robotic car? Take an interactive online trip


illustration of a driverless car

Whatever you call them – robot cars, driverless cars, autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars – they are definitely in your future. But the question is, how far in your future?

They’re being tested already – more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles are operating in 36 states right now. Most states, but not all, require a backup driver.

Take an interactive urban trip as the backup driver in the Washington Post’s autonomous (self-driving) car simulation. It offers an interesting perspective on  the strengths and weaknesses in the way these cars work and how they interact with the environment around them. The Post invites you to sit in the passenger seat and play the role as the backup driver. And that’s an important role because the cars may miss some hazards and they can’t operate in certain weather conditions that interfere with their sensors, causing them to pull over suddenly and shut down entirely.

This interactive  feature is a fun way to learn more about how the cars work and their limitations. You can learn more about some of the system’s weaknesses in article in Insurance Journal by Alan Levin and Ryan Beene: Automated Driver Assist Cars Still a Work in Progress:

The radars and cameras used to sense obstructions ahead each have their limitations and computer software that evaluates the data is still a work in progress, according to the experts and advocates. In many cases, they are better at tracking moving vehicles ahead than recognizing parked ones.

But there are definite pluses, too:

To be sure, automated driving systems have clear potential to improve traffic safety by supplementing the driver. Automatic emergency braking alone has been found by IIHS to reduce rates of rear-end crashes by half, and the insurer-funded group estimates that the system could reduce police-reported crashes of all types by 20%.

Many autonomous or self-driving features are already making their way into our new cars now. These are generally referred to as advanced driver assistance systems. See 7 Self-Driving Car Features You Can Buy Now (and Some You May Already Have) from Autotrader. And cars.com breaks down self-driving features by car make.

But event these new tech features have a ways to go before they are up to par and winning driver acceptance. A recent survey by JD Power showed that many driver-assist features are seen as annoyances;

J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study, published today, surveyed more than 20,000 consumers earlier this year, most of whom purchased or leased a model-year 2019 vehicle during the previous 90 days. Nearly a quarter of the group found alerts “annoying or bothersome” from systems that mitigate lane departure or actively center the vehicle, the study said. Such alerts range from hands-on-the-wheel warnings to lane departure chimes. For those who find them annoying, more than half said they sometimes disable the systems; among those who weren’t annoyed, only one-fifth or so indicated the same.

Some of the complaints can be chalked up to drivers being unfamiliar with the technology and uncertain about how it operates, so presumably we’ll all get more comfortable with things as we grow familiar with them.

So it’s not likely you’ll be able to read the latest best sellers while lounging in the back seat of your robot car on your upcoming commutes. But on the other hand, sophisticated technologies are leading to safer cars and fewer accidents – a big win for us all!

Fall foliage planner: find the best times and places to enjoy the season


colorful gall foliage by a lake

Plan the best of the foliage season this year with an interactive fall foliage map from SmokeyMountains.com. The national map offers a slider so you can search by date to see where and when has reached minimal change, partial, near peak, peak or past peak across the nation from September through November. It also includes interesting information about why leaves change colors.

And here are some suggestions of where to get the best views.

New England foliage and autumn activities

Of course, those of us who live in New England are a little snobby about our status as a prime fall destination and foliage viewing point. From Yankee Magazine, find a New England foliage map, as well as links to articles on the best seasonal things to do, from festivals and fairs to places and driving routes:

  • 10 Places to Visit in New England in Fall
  • Favorite Fall Foliage Drives in New England
  • Best Corn Mazes in New England
  • Best Apple Orchards in New England
  • Fall Foliage Train Tours
  • 5 Best Pumpkin Festivals in New England
  • 12 New England Fairs to Visit This Fall

Yankee also offers a free Yankee Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Autumn in New England, one of many free New England Guides. Also see Town & Country for their picks of 14 Incredible Spots to See Fall Foliage Across New England

As you’re out on the roads leaf-peeping, visiting apple orchards or commuting to-and-from work this autumn, keep a sharp eye out: The likelihood of striking a deer more than doubles in the fall. Your normal odds of a ruminant-related collision claim are about 1 in 169, but the likelihood more than doubles during October, November and December. See our post: Watch the roads: Autumn is peak deer-vehicle collision season

Florida in the Fall
For our agents, clients and friends in Florida, while the foliage may not be quite as brilliant, you can indeed enjoy the change of season in the great outdoors through wonderful trails, scenic highways, beaches, festivals and fairs. Here are some suggestions:

These suggestions should give you some good options. One more thing: When you’re on the road, it’s always a good idea to have your local insurance agent’s name and number with you in case any mishaps occur on the road. Make sure you have your independent insurance agent’s info in your phone contacts listing!

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Hurricane Dorian Toolkit: Emergency Prep and Tracking Resources


image of a hurricane forming for hurricane emergency prep

Thursday updates

Hurricane Dorian is not over. Overnight, it was upgraded to Cat three and the National Hurricane Center says there is an enhanced risk of severe weather, especially tornadoes, over eastern North Carolina today.

Here are the 5 AM EDT Thursday, September 5 Key Messages for Hurricane #Dorian, See below for links to emergency shelters, state emergency management centers and updated reports.

Key messages Hurricane Dorian

 

Tuesday 9/3 Update

Hurricane Dorian

For evacuation orders and routes, shelters and more check:

See our Friday update for tracking and weather coverage.

Monday 9/2 update

Hurricane Dorian is battering the Bahamas, wreaking severe damage. It accelerated to a Cat 5 Hurricane as it approached the Bahamas and has slowed to a high Cat 4 with winds in excess of 155mph. It is hovering over the Bahamas today and slowly making its way to the US coast, expected to reach Florida tonight.

While predictions are that the storm’s probable path will veer to the east, the path could change. Right now, it is expected to hug the coast from Florida up through the Carolinas. In an 11 am key messages, the National Hurricane Advisory says that life-threatening storm surge and dangerous winds are expected along the Florida east coast and Georgia coast, regardless of the trajectory. Heavy rains capable;e of life-threatening floods are expected over coastal sections of the Southeast and lower Mid-Atlantic through Friday.

Mandatory evacuations have been issued in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina is monitoring.

Florida’s evacuation and curfew orders

Florida Emergency Shelter information

chart - what to bring to an emergency shelter

Georgia: A mandatory evacuation order is in effect for individuals living east of I-95 in Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Glynn, Liberty, and McIntosh Counties due to Hurricane Dorian. Contraflow of I-16 will begin at 8:00 am Tuesday morning.

Georgia EMA Twitter and Facebook

South Carolina: Governor Orders Mandatory Evacuations for Coastal Counties Effective September 2 at Noon

SC EMD on Twitter and Facebook

North Carolina Hurricane Dorian information

NC Emergency Management on Twitter and Facebook

Friday August 30 posting 

As we approach the Labor Day weekend, Florida is under a state of emergency as Hurricane Dorian approaches. Today, the storm is a Category 2, but weather experts warn that it holds the potential to develop into a Category 4 when it hits land. It’s still early to project, but landfall is expected late Monday or Tuesday. Everyone is on standby.

We’re deploying resources in a Hurricane Toolkit as a just-in-case. September is National Preparedness Month and, remember, hurricane season lasts thorough November so it’s a handy bookmark. We’ll be keeping an eye on things over the weekend and may add to the resources if evacuations or other emergency measures are needed.

Florida Emergency Resources

FloridaDisaster.org (Division of Emergency Management) is the single best source for information. See specific information on Emergency Information for Hurricane Dorian. You can also visit the sister site for commercial businesses: FloridaDisaster.Biz

On social media, you can find updates from the Florida State Emergency Response Team (SERT) on Twitter and on Facebook

US Coast Guard Southeast on Twitter and on Facebook

Florida Power Tracker

Florida Department of Education – Hurricane Dorian

Florida 511 APP – Get up-to-the-minute, real-time traffic conditions and incident information for the State of Florida with Florida 511 app.

Florida Storms APP – Florida Public Radio Emergency Network

FEMA App

Hurricane Dorian – tracking & live weather coverage

Hurricane Prep & Checklists

Insurance Information Institute: What to do when a hurricane threatens
When the storm approaches, don’t get caught with your windows down

Insurance Information Institute: Hurricane Awareness
Hurricanes can shatter lives as well as damage property. Fortunately there are steps you can take to minimize a hurricane’s impact.

Insurance Information Institute: Five Steps to preparing an effective evacuation plan
Disaster readiness will help keep you and your family safe and secure

Red Cross – Hurricane Safety Checklist

FEMA: How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Common sense advice …Before and after a hurricane

Hurricane Preparation Checklist To Protect Your Technology

Taking Care of your pets during hurricanes & floods

FDA Offers Tips about Medical Devices and Hurricane Disasters

Food and Water Safety During Power Outages and Floods

Red Cross Free Emergency Apps – includes a hurricane app, first aid, and many other useful apps.

School bus safety tips for kids and for drivers


school bus safety - kids getting on a school bus

Now that we’re in back-to-school season, take the time to teach your children school bus safety. Even if you’ve done it before, good habits can be forgotten over the lazy summer days so be sure to review procedures at the start of every new school year. Consumer Reports offers School Bus Safety Tips for Back to School. They suggest tips for safety while waiting for and getting on the bus, while riding the bus, and exiting the bus. It’s particularly important to give kids safety rules about remaining visible to the bus driver at all times when entering or exiting the bus or crossing in front of our behind the bus.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a helpful back to school safety tip sheet. We’re reprinting the safety tips that deal with traveling to and from school safely.

SCHOOL BUS SAFETY FOR KIDS

  • Children should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.
  • Make sure your child walks where she can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see her, too).
  • Remind your student to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street – traffic does not always stop as required. Practice with your child how to cross the street several times prior to the first day of school.
  • Teach your child to respect all the bus rules, including staying seated and listening to the driver.
  • If your child’s school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child uses one at all times when in the bus. (If your child’s school bus does not have lap/shoulder belts, encourage the school system to buy or lease buses with lap/shoulder belts).
  • Check on the school’s policy regarding food on the bus.  Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergy and also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.
  • If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan, if possible, prior to the first day of class.

MOTORISTS, TAKE HEED!

Train yourself to be as alert for school bus lights as you are for traffic lights. Motorists need to a complete stop when lights are flashing. Failure to do so can result in steep fines and points added to your driving record for years to come. In Massachusetts, failure to stop can result in a ticket of up to $250. That fine can go up to $2,000 and a suspended license of up to a year for subsequent offenses. In Florida, the minimum fine is $165, or $265  if you pass on the side where children enter and exit, In Connecticut, failure to stop for a school bus with flashing red warning lights can result in a hefty fine of $465 for a first offense. See state school bus laws for motorists and state motorist fines for school bus violations.

KIDS AS PEDESTRIANS OR BIKERS

If your kids are walking or riding a bike to school, they need to learn how to be safe around vehicles and traffic. Here are more tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics about walking or biking to and from school:

WALKING TO SCHOOL

  • Children are generally ready to start walking to school at 9 to 11 years of age as long as they are at the right developmental skill level and show good judgment.
  • Make sure your child’s walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.
  • Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision. If the route home requires crossing busier streets than your child can reasonably do safely, have an adult, older friend or sibling escort them home.
  • If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them or have another adult walk with them the first week or until you are sure they know the route and can do it safely. If your child will need to cross a street on the way to school, practice safe street crossing with them before the start of school.
  • Identify other children in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school.  In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organizing a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.
  • Bright-colored clothing or a visibility device, like a vest or armband with reflectors, will make your child more visible to drivers.

BIKING

  • Practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure your child can manage it.
  • Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.
  • Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present.
  • Use appropriate hand signals.
  • Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.
  • Know the “rules of the road.”