Cool tools for drivers


toy car on an interstate map

Are you planning a summer road trip? Does your work take you on the road for frequent state-to-state travel? Do you regularly visit family that live in another part of the country? If so, you might find this tool handy: The AAA Digest of Motor Laws. It’s an online compendium of laws and rules related to driving and owning a motor vehicle in the 50 U.S. states, territories, and the provinces of Canada. AAA began producing this digest in paper form in 1930. In 2011, it eliminated the paper version and brought it online.

The online version allows you to search by location or by law. You can view laws by specific topics, such as accident reporting, distracted driving, window tinting, “move over” laws, headlight use, impaired driving, licensing requirements, seat belt use and much more.

AAA says that it sources its content by compiling statutes and regulations and submissions from local and state jurisdictions. The digest principally covers general interest subjects on private passenger vehicles, but some limited coverage of laws governing commercial vehicles is included, as are some special laws relating to motorcycles, mopeds, and trailers. AAA also offers a note of caution: “The state laws reflected on this website do not necessarily reflect traffic safety best practices.”

If you’ll be living in another state for a period of time or you have an out-of-state student on your auto policy, you might want to talk insurance implications over with your independent insurance agent.

More useful driver tools

AAA has other handy tools for drivers such as Gas Prices, which monitors pricing nationally and by state, and offers a gas cost calculator to help you gauge the cost of a planned trip. They also sponsor the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, which offers information, research and tools on a variety of road safety issues. Here are three that we think are very useful:

  • Keys2Drive – tools to help parents and teens throughout the whole learning-to-drive process.
  • Senior Driver Licensing Policies and Practices – “one stop shopping” for information on state driver licensing policies and practices affecting older and medically-at-risk drivers.
  • RoadwiseRx – a tool for understanding how medications may affect you and your driving. Type a name of a prescribed or over-the-counter medication you are taking to learn about any potential driver warnings.

Get rid of that junk: where and how to recycle your stuff


couch loaded with junk

Maybe you’ve recently jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon and decided to get rid of all your stuff. Or maybe your closets, cellars and attics are bursting at the seams and you are afraid you’ll be anonymously reported to your local fire department as a hoarder. Having a build-up of unwanted stuff is not only unsightly, it can also be a fire hazard – particularly with chemicals, cleaners and paints.

Sometimes we hang on to junk for sentimental reasons or because we think we may someday find a use for the article again. News flash: You may never fit in that beloved college sweater again. If you haven’t used it or worn in in the last few years, why not give it a second life somewhere?

Often, it’s simply because we don’t know how to get rid of it. We hang on to old phones and computers because we don’t know where to get rid of them or how to clean them of our personal data.

Consumer Reports to the rescue: They have a very useful article about How to Get Rid of Practically Anything – from bicycles and books to tools and appliances. They offer ideas for how to recycle, sell or donate your goods, along with handy links.

It’s great when you can give something a second life. Here are a few of our favorite “get rid of stuff” links, which might duplicate a few in the above article:

Earth911.com – Learn where to recycle and how to recycle. Look up almost anything, from hazardous waste to electronics, enter your zip code and find out where and how to recycle or dispose at a location near you. Very handy!

call2recycle.com – recycling batteries and cell phones. Also see state battery recycling laws and safety information.

Electronics Donation and Recycling – The EPA lists 17 retailers where you can donate or recycle TVs, mobile devices and PCs.

7 Retailers with impressive recycling programs for consumers

Free recycling programs

It’s a win-win when your old stuff can actually be repurposed for someone in need. Many people need help getting back on their feet and setting up a new home: victims of fires or natural disasters, people fleeing domestic abuse, immigrants, homeless veterans or the disabled, for example. Research to see if there are charities or organizations near you that accept donations. Household Goods (Acton MA) and Habitat for Humanity ReStore (nationwide) are great examples. See charities that will pick up various household goods from your house.

If all else fails and you just need to get rid of your stuff expeditiously, you can always use Bagster – Buy the Bagster bag at your local home improvement retailer. Fill it. Bags are strong enough to hold up to 3,300 lb of debris or waste. Schedule your collection online or by phone, and it’s gone!

An alternative that we haven’t tried yet but intent to is Grunts Move Junk – this service is owned and staffed by vets to haul your junk. They do everything from from removing all unwanted junk – big and small – to loading it on trailers, cleaning your vacant spaces, and disposing of goods. They also offer moving services.

Unusual perils in your morning commute: will your insurance cover this?


How’s your morning commute? This commuter encountered an unusual peril, a unique example of road rage, with the Nissan Pathfinder coming out on the losing side.

This clip is dramatic evidence of the size of an American bison in relation to a car – pretty formidable. Below is a clip of an Alaskan moose ambling down the highway to give you a dramatic size perspective.

Wildlife and vehicular collisions are pretty common, and while they peak in October through December, they can occur at any time of the year. State Farm tracks wildlife-vehicle collisions, reporting in October 2018:

The 16th annual State Farm deer-vehicle collision study has some good news. Overall in the U.S., drivers were less likely — one in 167 — to have a crash involving a collision with deer, elk, moose, or caribou. Last year’s survey put that chance at one in 162. It is estimated deer, elk, moose, and caribou collisions dropped slightly to 1.33 million in the U.S. between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018 — down from 1.34 million in 2017. And, this is despite the fact that there are nearly four million more licensed drivers.

Those odds are in about the same range as being audited by the IRS (1 in 175) so when you think of it that way, it’s worth thinking about how you’d react to this hazard in a driving situation.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tracks fatalities in animal-vehicle crashes, marking 211 in 2017. They include a breakdown by state.

If you see a deer in the road, should you swerve or not? Here’s some advice from safety expert Mike Winterle, who advises you not to swerve.

“The leading cause of accidents, injuries, and deaths from deer-related accidents is when vehicles swerve in an attempt to avoid hitting a deer. Swerving can result in vehicles moving into oncoming traffic, crashing into trees and other objects, or evening rolling over. While it may be against a driver’s first instinct, the safest thing to do is slow down as much as possible and let your vehicle strike the deer. Instincts tell us to avoid an obstruction in the road, but if you can train yourself to not swerve to avoid deer in the road you will keep yourself, your passengers, and other drivers much safer.”

Here’s some other good advice:

AAA: Wildlife Crossing: Tips to Avoid Animal-Vehicle Collisions
Insurance Information Institute: Avoid a deer-car collision

Does insurance cover animal-vehicle collision damage?

Will the damage caused to the Nissan Pathfinder be covered by their auto insurance? That depends on whether they have comprehensive, which is an optional not a mandatory coverage. See The Insurance Information Institute: Cars and Deer – A Risky Combination; Consider Including Comprehensive Coverage on Your Auto Policy

Damage caused by an accident with deer or other animals is covered under the optional comprehensive portion (not the collision portion) of an automobile insurance policy. Comprehensive auto insurance includes coverage for: fire, theft, vandalism or malicious damage, riot, flood, earthquake or explosion, hail, windstorm, falling or flying objects, damage due to contact with a bird or animal, and sometimes, depending on the policy, windshield damage.

Do you need comprehensive insurance? That probably depends on a lot of factors such as the age of your car and how much you depend on your vehicle. Could you afford to repair or replace it if you have a collision with moose or damage from weather-related perils or human-generated vandalism? Your independent insurance agent can get you a quote and help you think through such scenarios to assess the cost-benefit in your particular situation.

Never plug a space heater into a power strip


burnt power strip cord

The recent frigid weather from the polar vortex prompted fire officials to issue warnings about space heaters, which are a frequent source of home fires: Never plug a space heater into a power strip or an extension cord. Space heaters have a high energy load and should be plugged directly into a wall outlet. Power strips are not designed to handle the energy load of a space heater and can overheat and cause a fire.

Check out this screen grab of a recent tweet from the Deer Lake Fire Rescue department:

Heating equipment is responsible for nearly half of home heating fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

Energy.gov says that when buying and installing an electric space heater, you should follow these general safety guidelines:

  • Electric heaters should be plugged directly into the wall outlet. If an extension cord is necessary, use the shortest possible heavy-duty cord of 14-gauge wire or larger.
  • Always check and follow any manufacturer’s instructions pertaining to the use of extension cords.
  • Buy a unit with a tip-over safety switch, which automatically shuts off the heater if the unit is tipped over.

The Electrical Safety Foundation International offers this safety infographic.

Home Heating Fire Prevention infographic