Travel insurance quiz

Planning any spring or summer travel? One silver lining to the bad economy is that travel prices are dropping and there are some good deals to be found…but you might want to protect your investment with travel insurance. The Insurance Information Institute’s Travel Insurance Quiz offers a good overview of what travel insurance does and doesn’t cover:

The deadliest U.S. roads

Fox news just issued their list of The Top Ten Deadliest Stretches of Road in America. To compile this list, they analyzed five years of crash reports to determine which roads had the highest number of deadly accidents. For those of us in New England, the good news is that none of those roads are located here. California has four roads on the list; Florida and Arizona both have two roads on the list; and Texas and Nevada both have one. See a comparison chart of all states auto fatalities and fatality rates.
But New England drivers shouldn’t relax. Nearly 60% of all highway deaths occur on rural roads, and two New England states appear on a 2005 report of states with the highest percentage of rural road fatalities:

  • Maine (92%)
  • North Dakota (90%)
  • South Dakota (89%)
  • Iowa (88%)
  • Vermont (88%)
  • Montana (86%)
  • Wyoming (84%)
  • South Carolina (83%)
  • Mississippi (82%)
  • Arkansas (81%)
  • West Virginia (80%)
  • Minnesota (72%)
  • Wisconsin (68%)

If you’d like to check the safety of the roads in your neighborhood or on your commuting route, there’s a terrific tool developed by University of Minnesota researchers which allows you to do just that. It combines information from the Fatality Analysis Reporting System with Google Maps to offer a visual representation of traffic safety across the U.S. You can enter an address and view the roads that have the highest number of traffic fatalities in a specified area, or you can view data for your state.
Most dangerous road in the world
As treacherous as some U.S. roads can be, they pale in comparison with Bolivia’s Death Road, a 60 to 70 kilometer mountainous stretch between La Paz and Coroico, which is often cited as the most dangerous road in the world. It’s been the subject of numerous televised reports – watch a 6 minute clip:

Cars injure 841,000 people a year – without crashing

A new Not-in-Traffic Surveillance study sheds light on the numbers and types of injuries that occur as a result of non-crash related accidents, statistics that hadn’t previously been tracked. Annually, auto-related non-traffic accidents are estimated to cause 1,747 deaths and and 841,000 injuries, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which conducted the study.
Here are some of the study findings, as reported by the Consumer Reports Car Blog:

  • More than half of the non-crash fatalities in the study occurred when a vehicle fell on a person who was under it or from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning
  • About 20 percent of the non-crash injuries involved slamming fingers or other extremities in a car door or trunk, or resulted from overexertion when loading or unloading a vehicle or pushing a disabled vehicle
  • Across all types of tragedies, about one-third of those injured and about half of those killed were not inside the vehicle at the time
  • Other common hazards included vehicle fires, anti-freeze and battery-acid burns, and falling from a vehicle
  • A significant 221 deaths, and 14,000 injuries resulted from pedestrians being backed over by a vehicle

Backovers killed nearly 100 children and injured 2000 in 2007
About twice a week, kids are killed by being run over by a vehicle that is being backed up. Tragically enough, this often occurs in the home driveway with a parent or a relative at the wheel of the car. In 2007, nearly 100 children were killed and 2,000 injured when they were backed over by cars. In fact, one of the primary reasons for the new mandate to track non-traffic related injuries and deaths stems from a 2008 law requiring the tracking of data for incidents in which children are backed over, strangled by power windows or killed from being left in hot vehicles
A child safety advocacy organization called Kids and Cars says such accidents are predictable and preventable. The following video highlights the issue and shows Consumer Report studies on blind zones, which vary by vehicle, ranging from about 12 feet for a sedan to as much as 30 feet for a pickup-truck.

For additional information on back-up blind zones, see The danger of blind zones by Consumer Reports.

Insurance fraud hall of shame

Doctors and dentists do it. Judges do it. Even little old ladies do it. Welcome to the 2008 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame, a dirty dozen of “America’s most brazen, vicious or plain klutzy insurance crooks.”
Insurance fraud is a crime that is estimated at as much as $80 billion a year – some would put the figure higher. Unfortunately, honest people pick up the slack for cheaters and criminals in the form of higher insurance costs. While few would argue that organized criminal scams to bilk insurers – often also harming other individuals in the process – constitute fraud, the public has mixed opinions about so-called “soft fraud.” Soft fraud might be intentionally padding the value of losses in a homeowner’s claim or underestimating the number of employees on payroll for workers comp. Various surveys on the public attitude to insurance fraud taken over the years have shown that many people – possibly as many as one in three – think that type of soft fraud is OK. In a recent survey in Great Britain, 4.7 million people indicated that insurance fraud is more acceptable now because of the challenging economy. But this type of fraud adds very real dollars to the amount we all pay in premiums for our insurance coverage.
Don’t be an insurance fraud victim
Besides paying higher premiums, fraud can hurt individuals in many ways. Staged car crashes injure and kill innocent victims. Employers who fail to carry workers comp mean jeopardizes benefits for employees who are injured at work. Identity fraud hurts innocent people’s credit and their reputations.
Here are some steps you can take to avoid being an insurance fraud victim:

  • Know who you are dealing with. Use only licensed agents and licensed insurers. Contact your state insurance bureau if in doubt.
  • Shop around. Ask your agent to get more than one quote.
  • Don’t pay premiums in cash. Get a receipt for payments.
  • Get a written copy of your insurance policy and review it. Yes, even the fine print.
  • Don’t sign a blank form.
  • Don’t accept “on the spot” cash for an accident.
  • Be leery of any “helpful” strangers who surface at the scene of an auto crash who offer advice on body shops, doctors, or lawyers.
  • Get detailed bills for any repairs or medical services.
  • Keep that old adage in mind: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
  • Be guarded about giving out your Social Security number – don’t give it out to anyone you don’t know.
  • Check with your state insurance bureau to be sure your employer has workers compensation insurance that would protect you in the event of an on-the-job injury.
  • If you don’t understand something or question the validity of something, don’t be afraid to check with your state’s insurance bureau.
  • Report fraud when you see it.

Helpful resources:
State insurance department links
State fraud bureau links

Do traffic tickets go up as economy goes down?

A word to the wise: keep to the speed limit. While that’s always good advice from both a safety and an economic perspective, it may be even more significant in the light of a recent study:

“A new study to be published in next month’s Journal of Law and Economics finds statistical evidence that local governments use traffic citations to make up for revenue shortfalls. So as the economy tanks, motorists may be more likely to see red and blue in the rearview.”

The study, which controlled for demographic and economic differences in the sample, included an analysis of data from 96 North Carolina counties over a 14 year period. The study authors stated, “Specifically, a one percentage point decrease in last year’s local government revenue results in roughly a 0.32 percentage point increase in the number of traffic tickets in the following year.
Other news reports seem to indicate that the volume of traffic tickets has risen in some states. For example, Connecticut police issued 78,000 speeding tickets in 2008. This 16% increase over the prior year added $327,000 in revenue to the state. And as a way to offset budget shortfalls, some other states are looking to increase fines for traffic violations. Florida basic traffic fines recently went up by $10, with some fines increasing by as much as $35 to $60.
Now many public officials would deny any link between the municipal budget and traffic tickets. Officials in Denver attribute last year’s 20% spike in parking ticket revenue not to the economy, but to increased fines, a spate of special events such as the Democratic Convention, and an increase in the number of personnel writing tickets.
It may well be true that any increase in local revenues from traffic-related tickets is coincidental. On the other hand, cash-strapped states and municipalities may see enhanced enforcement as a win-win that increases public safety while helping with a budget crunch. So next time you consider putting more pressure on the gas pedal or pulling into that illegal parking space because “you’ll only be a minute,” consider the fact that the odds might be working against you. And remember, a moving traffic violation is not just the matter of a one-time fine – in terms of your insurance rates, tickets can be a drain for several years to come since your rates are partially based on your experience.
Related reading
State Traffic Laws from FindLaw
Traffic Tickets, A to Z from FindLaw
How Traffic Tickets Work from How Stuff Works