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

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.

Trucks & teens: Tips for safely sharing the road


trucks on the highway

Learning the rules of the road is essential for all new drivers, both teens getting their first driver’s license and adults venturing behind the wheel for first time. More and more Americans are delaying getting their licenses, and in an age that promises self-driving cars in the near future, that makes sense. But right now driving is still an important part of our lives, and safe driving is a rewarding skill that results in fewer accidents and injuries, lower insurance premiums, and lower public safety costs.

One of the scariest things that new drivers face on the roads are 18-wheelers. Big trucks are, well, big. And powerful. And they aren’t particularly nimble. New drivers tend to take them for granted or to become distracted by them. Both mistakes can have tragic outcomes. Knowing the rules and knowing what to look for around big trucks is an important part of road safety.

Scott Felthousen, a professional truck driver with more than a decade of driving under his belt, has put together a useful guide to safe driving around semis. While his tips are aimed at keeping teen drivers safe, the advice he dispenses is applicable to everyone.

In short, he advises:

  • Be aware of blind spots. Don’t assume the truck driver is regularly checking her mirrors.
  • Don’t linger. The safest place to be is as far from the truck as reasonable. If traffic allows, slow down or speed up to avoid driving in the trucker’s blind spot right next to the trailer.
  • Before passing a semi, check your rear-view mirror. Can you see both of the truck’s headlights in the center of your mirror? When you see those there, that’s the minimum distance you need to safely move ahead.
  • Give 18-wheelers the space they need. When encountering a big truck at an intersection, remember that truck needs a whole bunch of space to safely turn. A big rig turning onto a two-lane street is always going to need more space than the lane can accommodate.

Thinking ahead and being aware of your surroundings is a key part of safe driving for everyone,not just new drivers. Recognizing situations before they become dangerous and taking the right steps to prevent them from happening is a learned skill that new drivers should start practicing from the moment they grip the steering wheel.

Keep on top of vehicle recalls


illustration of cars in a car lot

Do you ever worry that you might have missed notice of an important vehicle recall for your car or truck? Who can keep up! Experts say that going into 2018, there are open, unfixed recalls on more than one out of every five cars. Thanks to the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there’s an easy way to check if your vehicle has a recall notice.

First find your ride’s vehicle identification number( VIN). It’s unique to your car, and it’s located on the inside of the driver’s side door and on your sales documents. Snap a pic of it with your smartphone and save it with your important documents for quick retrieval. Then visit this handy NHTSA website and type in that VIN. Voila! Any recall notices you might have missed will pop up.

“Be sure that you are keeping yourself and your family safe, check your vehicle for important safety recalls today,” said Heidi King, NHTSA Deputy Administrator. “Did you know that you don’t have to pay to fix safety recalls? Please visit NHTSA.gov/recalls to find out if your car or truck has an outstanding recall, and call your dealership for your free repair.”

For another source to check, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the Association of Global Automakers and Carfax recently announced a partnership to offer a free service to check on vehicle recalls. You can check by VIN number or enroll for alerts.  According to current Carfax research, more than 57 million vehicles on U.S. roads have unfixed recalls, despite the fact that voluntary recall remedies are completed free of charge to the consumer.

Recall notices can be issued long after a vehicle’s manufacturing date, so it’s important to check regularly (twice a year is good). It just takes a moment, the repairs are free, and it ensures you and your family are riding in safety!