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.

Emerging risks: Car hacking


illustration of vehicle cybersecurity

As our cars and trucks become more computerized, the potential risk of a cyber attack increases. We have an increasing array of technologies in our vehicles designed to improve our safety, our convenience and our comfort – from electronics, sensors and wireless connectivity to assistive technologies for crash prevention and parking assist. Technologists say that the modern car has at least 100 million lines of code in various computer systems. That increases our potential risks for bad actors to hack our cars.

Innovation & Tech Today discusses these vehicle cybersecurity risks and gives examples of our increasing exposure:

  • Mobile apps used to control car features (like remote start) are proliferating and can expose data and vehicle functions if they’re not properly secured.

  • Apps can now be downloaded to your car’s infotainment system, potentially including embedded malware.

  • On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) dongles are harder to get to (typically, you have to be in the car), but they provide access to the critical CAN bus that controls the car’s operating functions.

  • Key fobs that use a signal to open car doors are vulnerable to hacking, giving access to the vehicle.

To see some of these risks in action, check out this video where Consumer Reports and the National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration (NHTSA) team up in the test field.

There was also a famous example of jeep that was attacked by a hack that brought it to a standstill on the highway. This was a controlled experiment but it is pretty dramatic. The experiment had wide attention and led to a recall of 1/4 million vehicles.

So what can you do to prevent your car from being hacked?

If you drive an old beater with minimal technology, your risks are on the low side, but if you are an early adapter of new technologies and conveniences, you need to be alert and informed about the potential – that’s step one. Keyless car systems, for example, up the risk ante so be an informed consumer. Security firm AVG offers the following 6 steps to protect your car from hacks.

  • Keep in touch with your car’s manufacturer

  • Update your car’s software

  • Store your keyless remote in the fridge (or faraday bag)

  • Turn off your car’s Bluetooth and Wi-Fi when not in use

  • Hide your car’s Wi-Fi password

  • Scan USB drives before plugging them into your car

If storing your keyless remote in the fridge sounds wacky, check their tips in the linked article to learn more about each recommendation. They also offer steps you should take if you think your car has been hacked.

In addition to taking your own steps to increase security, the industry and security watchdogs are monitoring this issue and taking regulatory steps. Follow NHTSA – vehicle cybersecurity for ongoing reports and updates.

Keyless car owner alert: Carbon monoxide poisonings


keyless ignition photo

If you have a keyless car system, you may be at heightened risk of a potentially deadly problem: More than two dozen people have died and another several dozen others have debilitating illnesses such as brain injuries related to carbon monoxide poisoning, according to a new York Times report: Deadly Convenience: Keyless Cars and Their Carbon Monoxide Toll.

Keyless ignitions are very popular. Citing the auto information website Edmunds, the NYT says keyless systems are now standard in over half of the 17 million new vehicles sold annually in the United States. But because the cars are so easy to turn on and off with the flick of a button, it can be all too easy to become distracted and not turn the car off – or to think it has been turned off when it hasn’t. Consumer Reports describes the problem : “If the car is parked in a closed garage attached to a house, especially a basement-level garage, carbon monoxide fumes from the idling engine may seep into the living area, possibly harming anyone in the house.”

The problem can be even worse with silent hybrids:

“A subset of keyless-ignition cars, hybrids and plug-in hybrids, pose an even stealthier problem, because they are virtually silent when in electric mode, which they may well be when sitting still after parking. A driver doesn’t have to be absent-minded to assume that the car is shut down—after all, the engine isn’t running. But the car may not be truly off. The engine could restart itself, say to address a climate control need, potentially sending carbon monoxide into the residence.”

The risk was identified early by safety advocates. From the NYT article:

“The risk identified initially was theft, because drivers might leave the key fob in the vehicle by accident. (In conventional ignitions, under regulations adopted in the 1990s, the key cannot be removed unless the car is in park.) The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s general counsel warned automakers in 2002 that keyless ignitions would be prone to mishaps arising from human error. In 2006, the agency updated its regulations to state that with keyless ignitions, “a warning must be sufficient to catch a driver’s attention before he or she exits the vehicle without the keys.”

Many safety advocates such as Consumer Reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are asking automakers to add safety features to prevent this, such as an audible alert or an automatic shutoff when a driver leaves the car. Some cars have safety features but most don’t – ” … a survey of 17 car companies by The New York Times found that while some automakers go beyond the features recommended by the standards group, others fall short.”

For now in many keyless cars, the burden of safety falls directly on the driver. Here are a few tips:

  • When purchasing a car with a keyless system, ask about safety features
  • Read your owner’s manual to understand how your system works
  • Be aware of the problem and take extra precautions to shut vehicles down
  • Have a working carbon monoxide detector in your home

NHTSA offers more safety tips in this short video:

Thanksgiving travel planning: best & worst times to drive


Thanksgiving Pies on Cooling Racks

Heading out  to Grandma’s for a home-cooked meal this Thanksgiving? Two words: leave early. This Thanksgiving, AAA says to expect more of everything this year over last year. Expect heavier traffic and higher gas prices when you hit the road. Gas rates are expected to be the highest in four years, with a national average of $2.79 as of November 1, 31-cents more than a year ago. And as for traffic:

“AAA projects 54.3 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home this Thanksgiving, a 4.8 percent increase over last year. The 2018 holiday weekend will see the highest Thanksgiving travel volume in more than a dozen years (since 2005), with 2.5 million more people taking to the nation’s roads, skies, rails and waterways compared with last year. For the 48.5 million Americans planning a Thanksgiving road trip, INRIX, a global mobility analytics company, predicts travel times in the most congested cities in the U.S. could be as much as four times longer than a normal trip.”

The AAA Thanksgiving press release offers a chart with the worst time to hit the road in America’s largest cities and the worst travel times to the nation’s busiest airports. For Boston, they suggest that the worst time to hit the road is between 4 to 6 PM, noting that I-495 S from exits 41 to 33 will be the most congested. All in all, they say to expect a 3.5x delay multiplier.

As for factoring in weather conditions while you travel, AccuWeather says the northeast should expect bouts of snow and slick travel ahead of a frigid Thanksgiving. See maps for when and where the wintry mix is expected.

For another cool planning tool, Google’s Mapping Thanksgiving 2018 is an interactive feature that uses data from 2017 to offer insight into the places people visit around the holidays, when to visit them, and the best times to get on (or stay off) the road. You can search by state, view traffic patterns in key metropolitan areas and use an interactive feature to find out the best time to start your road travel.

 

DUI Laws, Insurance Rates, and Interlock Devices


DUI check - policeman holding a breathalyzer

Don’t drive drunk. Don’t drive while impaired. Just… don’t.

It’s sound advice you’ve heard a million times before. It’s common sense. And it’s one of the best ways to avoid taking a significant hit to the wallet when it comes to auto insurance.

There’s no way around it. Having a DUI on your driving record flags you as a high-risk driver. High-risk drivers pay more for auto insurance. If you have a poor driving history, a DUI may cause your insurance company to cancel your policy. Even with a previously perfect driving record, a DUI will at the very least cause your insurance rates to go up.

SR-22s and rate increases

Every state in New England requires that you report your DUI to your insurer. A DUI is considered a major violation, like reckless driving or hit-and-run. You will be required to get what’s called an SR-22, a form filed on your behalf by your insurance company which constitutes proof that you are carrying the required amount of liability insurance. It’s also a red-flag that you are a high risk driver. (In Virginia and Florida, the required form is called an FR-44.) There will be a filing fee, usually between $20-$50. Not all insurance companies will file an SR-22. Some insurance companies will not insure high risk drivers, so if yours does not file, you will likely need a new policy with a company that will file the form. Depending on the state in which you live, you will be required to carry SR-22 insurance for three to five years.

After filing an SR-22, brace yourself: your insurance rates are going up. A recent study showed that on average insurance rates increased by more than 56% – a $1000 yearly rate would become $1560 after a first DUI offense.

Average Insurance Rate Increases in New England:

  • Connecticut: 1.75x
  • Maine: 1.67x
  • Massachusetts: 2.17x
  • New Hampshire: 2.30x
  • Rhode Island: 1.31x
  • Vermont: 2.83x

Note that these estimates are for a first offense. Multiple DUIs will result in concomitantly larger rate increases or, more likely, policy cancellation. Note also that rate increases are contingent on other factors such as age and driving record – a 50-year-old with a clean driving record will likely face a lower rate hike than a 25-year-old with multiple moving violations.

Ignition interlock device laws

In addition to requiring an SR-22, you may also be required to install (at your expense) an ignition interlock device. The cost to install these devices varies by jurisdiction, but is usually around $175-$300. These devices are basically breathalyzers attached to your vehicle’s starter. They won’t let the car start if they detect alcohol on your breath (the base limit of alcohol allowed varies between jurisdictions, but is almost always “none”). Also, at random times while the vehicle is in motion, the system will require another puff into the analyzer. This “rolling retest” is designed to prevent non-drivers from providing a breath sample and to prevent consumption of alcohol behind the wheel.

Depending on where your DUI occurred and the severity of the charge, you may be required to keep an ignition interlock on your vehicle as part of your DUI plea. In other jurisdictions, installing an ignition interlock device may shorten the duration that your driving privileges are suspended. Your insurance advisor can help sort out these details and make sure you’re in legal compliance and on the best path toward repairing your driving record.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) offers a handy chart that summarizes state laws related to impaired driving. They note that all states have some type of ignition interlock program. Also see the National Conference of State Legislatures for a 50-state overview of ignition interlock regulations.  We’ve included links below for more detail on how each state in New England approaches drunk/impaired driving and how they deal with ignition interlock devices:

As with any insurance matter, your independent insurance agent is there to answer questions and walk you through the tangle of insurance-related problems arising from a DUI.

But the best solution is still the simplest: don’t drive impaired. Have a designated driver, take a cab home, use a ride-sharing service like Lyft or Uber. A little planning and foresight now can make a world of difference.