New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020


closup of sterring wheel and woman's hands holding a cell phone
You might have been distracted over Thanksgiving and missed the news: Massachusetts enacted a hands-free driving law, making Massachusetts the 21st state to ban the use of all hand-held electronic devices while driving. This follows quickly on a similar Maine law which went into effect in September. Other neighboring states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island — also have hands-free driving laws on the books.

The new Massachusetts law bans any hand-held device while driving motor vehicles and bicycles. There are limited exceptions to allow for emergency reporting provisions. The law will take effect until Sunday, February 23, 2020, 90-days after the law was enacted. For about the first month, first-time violators will be issued warnings, but after that, fines will apply.

In Massachusetts Has A Hands-Free Driving Law: Four Items Everyone Needs To Know, Agency Checklists offers more details on the law, including penalties for violation:

According to the terms laid out in the new Bill, a first-time violation with result in a $100 fine, a second offense will be a $250 fine, followed by a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. While a first or second offense is not categorized as a “surchargeable incident” under the statute, a third or subsequent office will be considered as such.

For more on the new law, see What You Need To Know About The New Distracted Driving Law In Mass.

Hands-free driving laws in the Northeast

Maine’s Hands-free Driving Law went into effect on September 19, 2019. It prohibits the use of mobile telephones, handheld electronic devices and portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, unless specifically exempted by law. Violations will be subject to no less than a $50 fine for the first offense and not less than $250 for a second or subsequent offense. The Chief Judge set the fine amount of $230.00 for a first offense and $325.00 for a second and subsequent offense.

New York state has been on the forefront of the distracted driving issue since enacting the nation’s first statewide handheld phone law, which took effect in November 2001.

Connecticut has had hands-free driving laws since 2005, prohibiting the use of any hand-held mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. Penalties range from $150 for first-time offenders to $500 for a third offense. Drivers may also be subject to demerit points on their driving record.

New Hampshire has had a hands-free driving law since 2015, prohibiting all motorists from using a handheld cellphone or other device to text message or talk while driving.

Rhode Island’s hands-free driving law went into effect on June 1, 2018. Drivers cannot hold a cell phone or other wireless device while operating a vehicle. The use of headphones or other accessories that cover both ears also is not allowed.

For laws in other states, the Governors Highway Safety Association offers a listing of Distracted Driving Laws by state (but note that most recent developments such as the MA law may not yet be reflected)

Shopping tips to avoid dangerous toys


Little boy playing with toy cars

Right now, Santa is checking his lists, but don’t leave it all up to him. If you are a parent or give gifts to kids, we encourage you to learn about common toy hazards so that you can sort out the naughty from the nice when it comes to toys. In 2018, injuries related to toys sent an estimated 226,000 kids to hospital emergency rooms, according to data recently issued by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. While stronger safety standards have significantly reduced the number of dangerous toys for sale over recent years, there are still problem toys that can hurt kids. If you are shopping for children’s holiday gifts, it’s important to be aware of the risks – particularly when shopping online.

The 34th-annual Trouble in Toyland report from U.S. PIRG Education Fund helps identify dangerous products and provides tips for parents and gift-givers. These annual reports have led to more than 150 recalls of unsafe toys, inspired legislation to strengthen toy safety and empowered parents to take key actions to ensure toys are safe. We’re offering  safety tips from the report but encourage you to visit the site at the link above and to download and read the full report. Also, check for toy recalls and follow Safety Alerts issued by the US Consumer Protection Safety Commission

Here are “What to watch for” tips from the Trouble in Toyland Report

  • Toys with sound – If a toy is too loud for you, it could be loud enough to damage your child’s hearing. Turn off the sound, remove the batteries or return the toy.
  • Slime – Some slimes contain high levels of toxic boron. Consider making homemade alternatives without borax, or monitor your children at all times. If your child ingests a slime product, call Poison Control.
  • Fidget spinners and toys marketed to adults – Some products, such as fidget spinners or children’s makeup, are not classified as toys and avoid certain safety standards. These products could contain higher levels of lead, choking risks and other hidden dangers. Avoid these “toys,” or watch your kids closely while they play.
  • Toys with small parts – Toys marketed to ages six and older may contain small parts that are choking hazards for younger children. Parents should check all toys for age guidelines. Before your child plays with a toy for the first time, see if smaller parts fit through a toilet paper roll — indicating they pose a choking hazard. Watch our video to learn how.
  • “Hatching” toys – Toys with break-apart packaging can become choking hazards for small children. Monitor your child while they open the packaging and promptly dispose of the pieces.
  • Balloons – Never let a child under three play with balloons, and monitor any child under 8, as balloons are the number one choking hazard for children.
  • Smart toys – Sites, apps, games and smart toys may be collecting private data from your child and exposing their information to hackers. Consider running these smart toys without connections to the internet, evaluating privacy policies when you first activate them, and monitoring your child’s use. Check out this guide for more info.
  • Makeup – We found asbestos in Claire’s makeup last year. Makeup lacks necessary safety standards, which is why we recommend avoiding these products for children, or at a minimum purchasing alternatives without talc, as it can be a source of asbestos.
  • Toys with small magnets -Swallowed magnets can cause serious internal damage by bunching together. Keep away from young children and monitor older children when they are playing with toys containing magnets.
  • Toy jewelry with toxic metals – Cadmium is a toxic metal that can be used as a substitute for precious metals in inexpensive jewelry, including dress-up jewelry marketed to young children. If your child is under six, watch them carefully to confirm that they don’t swallow a piece of jewelry, chew on the item, or put it in their mouths. Also, consider avoiding cheaper, metallic jewelry that is imported.
  • Recalled toys sold secondhand – Before using an old or pre-owned toy from an online marketplace, garage sale or passed down from a family member, parents should confirm that the product has not been recalled by visiting www.SaferProducts.gov.
  • Toys already in your home, school, or childcare facility – A survey earlier this year by U.S. PIRG Education Fund found 1 in 10 surveyed childcare facilities still using recalled inclined sleepers, despite a heavily publicized recall. The same problem exists in the toy market, potentially to a greater extent, since many recalls receive less attention in the media, regardless of their risk.

2019 Worst Toy Nominees

The World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.)  recently released its 2019 Nominees for the 10 Worst Toys – check out the report for photos and descriptions so you can recognize the toys, some of which would definitely have appeal. The W.A.T.C.H. report also cautions about chopping online, which it has likened to the Wild West when it comes to outlawed toys.

W.A.T.C.H. lists the following safety tips related to toys to watch out for:

  • Toys Marketed On The Internet, with product descriptions that may omit warnings and cautions or provide incomplete or misleading information
  • Battery Operated Toys For Children Under 8 Years Of Age since batteries may leak, overheat and explode.
  • Toys With “Fur” Or “Hair”, including dolls and stuffed animals, that can be ingested and aspirated by oral age children.
  • Toys With Small Removable Attachments at the end of laces and strings (e.g., bells, knobs, etc.).
  • Projectile Toys, including dart guns, sling shots, and pea-shooters which shoot objects and can cause eye injuries or blindness
  • Toys With Pointed Tips, And Blunt Or Sharp Edges that could crush, cut or puncture children’s skin.
  • Toys With Strings Longer Than 6 Inches which could strangle small children.
  • Any Crib Or Playpen Toys which are to be strung across cribs or playpens. This type of toy has resulted in strangulation deaths and injuries.
  • Toys Marketed With Other Product Lines, such as food, clothing, books, cassettes and videos which could have dangerous designs and are often sold with no warnings, instructions or age recommendations.
  • Toys Composed Of Flammable Material which will readily ignite when exposed to heat or flame.
  • Realistic Looking Toy Weapons including guns, dart guns, Ninja weaponry, swords, toy cleavers, knives, and crossbows which promote violence.
  • Toys Which Require Electricity to function and do not have step-down transformers to reduce risk of shock and electrocution.
  • Toys With Small Parts that can be swallowed or aspirated, causing choking.
  • Long Handled Toys For Children Up To 4 Years Of Age due to a tendency of such children to place these toys in their mouths and choke.
  • Toys With Toxic Surfaces Or Components that have the potential to be ingested or cause skin irritations (e.g., some children’s’ play makeup kits have components which contain ferrocyanide, a known poison).

Tips for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday


illustrated men and women in a shopping frenzy on Black Fridat
Fast on the heels of Thanksgiving Thursday comes Frenetic Friday, better known as Black Friday – the busiest retail shopping day of the year. If throwing yourself into the fray is how you choose to work off your Thanksgiving calories, we have some tips to make the best of it (below), as well as a few shopping safety reminders. But if you’d rather pull out your fingernails one by one than brave the bargain-hunting hordes, you can choose to celebrate the day as Buy Nothing Day. Whether you choose to buy nothing out of conviction or laziness, it’s a good day to practice the fine art of relaxation with friends and family.

But Friday is just the start. What began as a single shopping day has spawned a series of themed days.

  • Saturday is the 10th annual Small Business Saturday – and we really like that idea. It’s less crowded and crazy and it focuses on small local businesses in your home community. Small businesses are the lifeblood and personality of every community so we encourage you to get out and support your neighbors. Find a Small Business near you.
  • Cyber Monday is a huge online shopping day. A little know alternate name for the day is Low Productivity Monday because employees everywhere are surreptitiously shopping for deals at their desks.
  • Our favorite day is Giving Tuesday, December 03, 2019, a global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world on December 3, 2019 and every day. It was created in 2012 as a simple idea: a day that encourages people to do good, and since its founding, it has raised more than $1 billion in online donations in the U.S. alone. If you’d like to give something back after all that shopping, search for an organization near you to help you find organizations, events, and ways to give back in your own community. The Better Business Bureau has some Giving Tuesday tips to ensure you don’t fall for fake charities:

If you plan to shop online or off over the holiday weekend, here are a few pointers for getting the most out of Black Friday and Cyber Monday

And a few tips to be safe and secure while shopping:

  • Keep packages out of site in your car. Lock them in your trunk and keep car doors locked
  • Be aware of your purse and wallet at all times – pickpockets love crowds. If you can, avoid a purse or wallet entirely and store phone, cash, credit cards and IDs in a secure inner pocket.
  • Carry only the money and credit cards you need. Don’t flash cash.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Thieves and con-artists specialize in distraction techniques.
  • Don’t overload yourself with packages and impair your awareness, mobility or vision – take some to the car.
  • Remember where you parked your car. Have your keys ready and be alert for strangers when you approach it.
  • Shop with a friend or family member, particularly at night. There’s safety in numbers.

Here are a few safe online shopping tips:

  • Update your web security, anti-virus and malware detection programs snf be sure your firewall is on.
  • Be on alert for email phishing offers, the spoofed mails look authentic. Don’t click the link, type in the website.
  • Purchase only in a secure environment – check for “https” in the address in your web browser – the “s” stands for “secure” – never conduct a transaction without it.
  • Public Wi-Fi is not secure so avoid doing banking and transactions that would expose your credit cards, passwords, or personal info.
  • Update your passwords before shopping. Create unique passwords for each site.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Watch out for “free” gift offers and contests from unknown sites.
  • Don’t give away any personal information or credit card numbers to anyone you don’t know.

 

Turkey terror: When wildlife attacks


three wild turkeys running across a road

Here in New England, this is a season when drivers have to be on the alert for wildlife. October to November is peak season for deer-animal collisions. Your normal odds of a ruminant-related collision claim is about 1 in 169, but the likelihood rises in this season – particularly at dawn and dusk. The Insurance Information Institute offers good tips on avoiding a deer-car collision, and advises that you think about including Comprehensive Coverage on your auto policy if you don’t already have it.

But there’s no safety in being a pedestrian, either – wild turkeys band together to brazenly terrorize cities and towns. Right now there’s a huge flock of birds behaving badly and taking over a New Jersey town.

This is a good news bad news story. A few decades ago, the US wild turkey population was dangerously dwindling. The good news is, the wild turkeys are back. And the bad news is the wild turkeys are back. When they are in the wild, they are fearful of humans – but when they get used to us, watch out. They can be very aggressive and chase people down. They are a particular threat to kids and the elderly, but grown adults are intimidated by 25-30 lb. birds that run at 15-20 mph, fly in short spurts and sport sharp talons and beaks. The best advice we’ve heard is that if turkeys adopt your neighborhood, when taking walks, carry an umbrella which you can open and close to look bigger in a show of dominance they might understand.

For your seasonal amusement, we bring you some clips of turkey terror. But be warned, there may be a bit of cussing.

For some reason, they are particularly aggressive to mail carriers

Here’s an overly dramatic but amusing compilation…

Here’s a good example why you should NEVER feed turkeys.


For more turkeys, see our prior post Real Life Angry Birds.

And geese are no better ….

 

Thanksgiving on the road: best driving times & tips


illustration woamn driving with turkey tied ot the roof of her car

Will your Thanksgiving festivities entail traveling 50 miles or more? If so, you’ll be joining 55 million other folks, according to AAA, who predicts this will be the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since they began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005. That’s up by about a million over last year. Of those travelers, 49.3 will be motorists.

If you will be driving to your destination, try to get your car checked now. Be sure to check windshield wipers and fluid, tire pressure and oil and gas levels. AAA predicts they will respond to 368,000+ calls for roadside assistance over the holiday, with the top three reasons being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. In addition to car maintenance, Gas Buddy will help you find the best gas prices wherever you are – and you can plan out expenses in advance using their Trip Cost Calculator. If you will be driving in states beyond your home state, brush up on traffic laws with the AAA Digest of Motorist Laws. This handy tool covers everything: headline use, distracted and impaired driving laws, accident reporting and more.

Best times for Thanksgiving road travel

If you’ll be on the road, AAA says that in the Boston metro area, avoid traveling between 4:30-6:30 PM. Google offers tools that might help you avoid the worst traffic times. Below, see the heaviest times mapped for major metro areas (click above link for larger). You can also use their calculator for avoiding traffic – enter the major metro departure city for various days to see predicted traffic patterns based on prior years.

chart illustrating worst traffic over Thanksgiving weekend
Here are some other safe Thanksgiving traveling tips: