Children’s car safety seats: Are you using yours correctly?

baby in a car seat

Are you using your child’s car safety seat properly? A 2016 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) suggests you might not be. More than half the car seats looked at in the report were improperly installed or incorrectly used. Similar studies conducted independently showed even higher levels of misuse. While some of the errors found in these studies were small, others were large enough to negate the safety of the seat entirely. As Miriam Manary, senior engineering research associate at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, told the New York Times:

“… somewhere around 35 percent of it is gross misuse where they’re not going to get any protection from that system — things like not securing the child restraint into the vehicle or not harnessing the child in the child restraint system.”

Motor vehicle accidents are the number one cause of death in children, and forty percent of children killed in automobile crashes were unrestrained. Correctly using a child’s car safety seat can reduce the risk of fatal injury by more than half. The child safety group Safe Kids Worldwide offers free children’s car seat checks. Look at their website to see if they’re sponsoring an event near you. If there are no safety checks nearby, Safe Kids Worldwide also offers a list of technicians qualified to check that your children’s car safety seat is properly installed and that you’re using it right.

Here are some pointers to help make sure your children are getting the safest ride out of their car seats:

Don’t forget the top tether. All children’s car seats have at least three anchor straps. Some have five. It’s easy to forget that important top strap.

Check the expiration date. Like all good things, children’s car seats won’t last forever. Wear and tear, exposure to heat and UV light — all these things take their toll. Most convertible car seats are good for 10 years; most infant seats for 6. Check your warranty card to see when yours expires.

Been in a wreck? Throw it out. A damaged car seat is an ineffective car seat. If you’ve been in a serious accident while your child’s car seat was in the car with you, maybe toss it and get a new one.

And finally, some good news: more expensive doesn’t always mean better. All children’s car safety seats have to meet the same federal standards. They’re tested by the NHTSA to make sure that all models on the market conform to those guidelines. Some models may be more convenient, more versatile, better looking, or have a better cup holder – but they’re still providing the same baseline safety features.

So keep these tips in mind, do your homework, and before you take a spin, strap ‘em in!

Attention MA drivers: 2 important MA Registry of Motor Vehicles alerts

Car document icon

If you are a Massachusetts driver, here are two important notices from the MA Registry of Motor Vehicles.

1. Temporary shutdown this week:

The MA Registry Of Motor Vehicles is converting to a new computer system so plan accordingly if you need services. All services will be shutdown from Thursday 3/22 at 7:00 PM and will reopen on Monday 3/26 at 8:00 am.

The shutdown will affect:

  • All RMV offices
  • All RMV services offered through AAA offices
  • All online services
  • All inspection services at stations that inspect
  • All inspections through dealerships that inspect

For more information, click for the MA RMV shutdown alert.

2.  New Massachusetts Licensing & Renewal Requirements as of 3/25

On March 26, 2018, to get or renew any driver’s license, ID card, or learner’s permit, you need documentation showing U.S. citizenship or lawful presence as required by federal and state law.

Related: After October of 2020, you will need either a passport or REAL ID when you fly in the U.S. or enter certain federal buildings.

See the MA RMV Guide for more information on meeting these requirements.

Online purchase scams top the BBB list of 2017 consumer fraud

Mouse trap with dollars to depict online scams

Online purchase scams are now the riskiest form of consumer fraud, according to a new fraud report from the Better Business Bureau, jumping from #4 in 2016 to #1 in 2017. BBB says that online scams were most frequently related to pets, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, and automobiles. Free trials involving cosmetics or nutritional products were also common.

BBB’s top 10 scams of 2017 were:

1. Online purchase scam (up from #4 in 2016)
2. Investment scam (up from #6 in 2016)
3. Employment scam (no change)
4. Advance fee loan scam (up from #5 in 2016)
5. Fake check scam (down from #2 in 2016)
6. Home improvement scam (down from #1 in 2016)
7. Tech support scam (up from #8 in 2016)
8. Travel/vacation scam (new to top 10, #12 in 2016)
9. Family/friend emergency scam (no change)
10. Government grant scam (new to top 10, #11 in 2016)

This BBB chart shows the most common means of scammer contact. (See more charts from the report.)

One bit of good news is that although the number of reported incidents increased, the percentage of consumers who actually lost money fell from 18.8% to 15.8%, so maybe users are getting smarter about scams. One other interesting observation in the report is that young people are more susceptible to scams than older folks, but although susceptibility decreases with age, the dollar cost of the scam goes up with age.

To avoid scams, be on high alert for unconsolidated emails and phone calls. Some common tactics to trick you include:

• Deals that are too good to be true
• High pressure tactics
• Urgency – you must decide now; offer is expiring; etc.
• Threats or intimidation – you”re under investigation, you will be arrested if you don’t act now
• Isolation – trying to force a decision before you talk it over with someone else

To learn more about any of the top 10 scams of 2017, download a full copy of the 2017 BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report: New Trends in Scam Risk. Also, follow BBB’s scam tips to stay up-to-date on emerging threats.

Insurance basics: filing claims for home and auto

It’s smart to review insurance basics every now and again and the Insurance Information Institute has produced some quick, simple videos on what you need to do to file a home or an auto claim. One important first step is to take the time to review your policies each year and understand what your policy does and doesn’t cover – ask your local agent if you have any gaps or exposures that leave you vulnerable. For example, most homeowners policies don’t include flood coverage. Or if you have valuables such as antiques, jewelry, or special collections, you may want to add coverage for those because your standard homeowners has coverage limits.

As for autos, here’s an interesting post on Gap Insurance and when it might make sense. Today’s long-financing options mean that you might owe more than your car is worth and you could be stuck should you total your car unless you have Guaranteed Replacement Cost coverage or Guaranteed Auto Protection (Gap insurance).

One other option is an umbrella policy, which would boost your coverage on your home and auto should you have a large lawsuit. Umbrella policies typically kick in after your regular insurance is exhausted. Learn more here.

OK, with those reminders, here are some basics about filing home or auto claims.

Useful and fun: Free app roundup

illustration of phone with apps

Smartphones are cool. These little slabs of glass and circuitry have rapidly made themselves the most useful of tech toys (and the most pernicious of time-sinks, as anyone who’s ever nursed a Candy Crush habit will testify). But a smartphone is only as good as the software it’s running, and most of that software comes in bite-sized chunks called apps. Some apps duplicate functions found on our tablets, laptops, and desktop computers, doing everything from word processing to photo manipulation to web design. Other apps are for fun and for friends, like texting, multi-player games, and popular social apps like Twitter and Snapchat. (Snapchat is still cool, right?)

While many apps are free and supported by in-app advertising, some of the more useful apps cost real money. In general, the more productive an app makes you, the more likely you are to have to pay for it. But there are exceptions! Many government agencies and non-profits offer apps that are both useful and free, so let’s take a look at some of those.

We’ll start with the motherlode, the official app repository of Uncle Sam himself:! From finding housing to staying in touch with astronauts, the US government is now in your back pocket (and not just to get at your wallet). Check out the list of available apps freshly updated for 2018. The CDC also has health-related apps worth checking out. There’s quite a few, ranging from a child development Milestone Tracker to a “Can I eat this?” app for travelers to foreign lands.

Not to be outdone by the Feds, many states offer free helpful apps, too. They range from tourist guides to public transit and everything in between! Here’s New York  and California. Other states don’t have their apps so well-organized. You’ll have to get your google on to find them. For you policy wonks, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has a few state-specific apps to help you keep track of pending legislation.

The American Red Cross has quite a few useful apps as well. They range from instructions in first aid (including first aid for pets!) to emergency bulletins to scheduling blood donations. Find all the Red Cross apps listed in one place.

Speaking of pets, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has an app to help you in pet emergencies, locate lost pets, and maintain your pet’s health records..

Now that you’ve got the doggos and fluffsters squared away, how about the birds? There’s a gaggle of birding apps out there, but one of the best happens also to be free! Merlin Bird ID is from the Cornell University Department Of Ornithology. It helps you identify and track birds by appearance, call, habitat, and season. It’s a great app for new birders, walking you through a five-step process of simple questions to identify the bird you’ve sighted. Or snap a photo of a mystery bird and Merlin will identify it! Listen to bird calls, get acquainted with the birds in your area, and learn which migratory visitors are just passing through. All for free! Plus, using Merlin sends birding data back to the ornithologists at Cornell, helping them track migratory patterns and changes in habitat. It’s available for iPhone and Android.

But don’t get lost in the woods while you’re out there chasing down yellow-bellied sap-suckers! The clever app What3Words has divided the planet (yes, the whole planet) into 9’x9’ squares and assigned each individual square a three-word name. Once you know your three-word identifier you can use it to direct anyone to your location to within 9 feet away! Anywhere on the globe! It’s compatible with Google Maps, Apple Maps, Navmii, and Citymapper, and is increasingly being built in to many car navigation systems. Useful in developing countries without fixed postal addresses, What3Words is also great for having pinpointing your tent at a festival, connecting with your kids at a local festival, finding your friends at an arena, or arranging a group meetup in any big, crowded space. It’s available for Android and iPhone.

We’ll end with an app that you should have on your phone just for emergencies. FireChat is texting app that communicates peer-to-peer via WiFi or Bluetooth. That means no internet connection or mobile phone connection is required. If there’s another device in range, FireChat will leapfrog your message (and any other FireChat messages that have used your device as a node) to that next device, and so forth, propagating messages outward like ripples in a pond, device-to-device. It’s called mesh networking, and in emergencies it can save your bacon. Of course, it only works if other devices are using FireChat (and on iPhones it requires AirDrop, so it’ll only work with iPhones 5 and up). Plus, it’s not exactly what you’d describe as “secure,” though that’s getting better as the app develops. But in a pinch, you never know when it might come in handy, and it doesn’t take up much space. Grab it for Android or iPhone from developer Open Garden. 

Finally, don’t forget to check with your local insurance agent or your insurance company to see if they have an app. If you have an emergency, you want to be able to report your claim quickly!

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