Bicycling safety: new bike helmet rating system from IIHS


man and woman riding bikes, wearing bike helmets

Remember learning to ride a bike? That sense of freedom, of speed, of the world suddenly opening up for you to explore with your pedaling feet? It’s a childhood milestone that most of us remember fondly, and with good reason: bicycles are just about the most efficient means of transportation we humans have yet devised. Two slim wheels attached to a tubular frame and driven by a clever set of gears that turn our churning legs into a brisk means of locomotion, bicycles are fun to ride, good exercise, great for the environment, and easy on the budget. Choosing to commute by bicycle instead of by car can save you money while burning calories. Brightly colored body-hugging Spandex bike shorts are, of course, optional. (Thank goodness.)

If you are new to commuting by bike, you’ll want to do your homework first. Will you be biking before sunup or after sundown? You’ll need lights and reflective clothing. Is your area hilly or flat? This could determine how your bike should be geared. What are the road conditions you’ll encounter? Are there dedicated bike lanes? Will you need to traverse uneven, unpaved terrain? That will affect which tires you choose for your bike. Will you be using your bike for shopping? Maybe panniers and a basket makes sense for you.

Bikes are simple machines, but they can and do break down. Do you know how to perform basic bicycle maintenance, like adjusting the seat, oiling the chain, inflating the tires, and setting the right height of the handlebars? Most of these questions are best answered by the expert at your local bike shop. He or she can walk you through all these decisions and get you on the bike that’s right for you and your commuting and recreational needs.

New bike helmet rating system

One of the first big decisions you’ll have to make regards safety equipment; specifically, choosing a bike helmet. Recent advances in materials technology and safety studies have led to a profusion of bicycle helmet styles and choices. New bicycle helmets are made of lightweight woven polymers designed with padding to absorb impact from all angles. They vary significantly in price, and cost isn’t necessarily the best predictor of performance.

To that end, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in conjunction with the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) and Virginia Tech have created a ranking system to allow bicyclists to see for themselves which helmet is best for them. According to David Zuby, the chief research officer at IIHS:

“As more people choose the bicycle as a mode of transportation, better helmet design is one of the tools that can be used to address the increasing number of cycling injuries.”

While there are federal standards that all bicycle helmets sold in the US must meet, the new standards advance the field by offering a closer analysis of more realistic accident data, gathered by researchers with experience testing other forms of protective headgear, such as hockey, football, and soccer equipment.

Steve Rowson, associate professor of biomedical engineering and mechanics and director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Labs says:

“Our goal with these ratings is to give cyclists an evidence-based tool for making informed decisions about how to reduce their risk of injury. We also hope manufacturers will use the information to make improvements.”

Their research found important differences in the levels of protection offered by “urban” and “road” -style helmets. They also found that helmets incorporating a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) (which works by reducing friction inside the helmet, alleviating the rotational forces that cause concussion in many common bike accidents) were safer than models lacking the MIPS system.

The team tested 30 popular bicycle helmets to start with and plans to add many more to their rankings, including helmets intended for off-road (BMX) biking. Check out their methodology and see their list of bike helmet ratings.

So strap on your shiny new helmet and get to pedaling! Just, please, not on the sidewalk. Some of us are still walking.

 

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!

 

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: USA.gov! 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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Survival toolkit for college students


One of the first student tips we offer is our post about college students and insurance. We also have a grab-bag of useful tools, advice, and college prep resources — a mini college survival reference guide. We cover everything from safety & security to dorm room advice, with tips from experts. Plus, we offer a variety of links to advice for how to eat healthy while in college, including recipes.

Safety & security

Campus Security Checklist

Security Safety Checklist

Campus and dorm fires

Campus and dorm fire safety tips

Common College scams

9 Ways to Stay Safe on Your College Campus

General college survival advice

Using College Checklists to Plan and Organize Move-in Weekend

What to Bring for Campus Living and How to Pack in 3 Easy Steps

List of Items Not to Bring to College: Dorm Room Contraband

Off-to-College Checklist

Surviving the College Life

36 Life Hacks Every College Student Should Know

First year tips

25 Tips to Help You Survive Your Freshman Year (PDF)

10 Tips To Survive Your First Year Of College

Your First Year of College: 25 Strategies and Tips to Help You Survive and Thrive Your Freshman Year and Beyond

42 College Tips I Learned Freshman Year

Healthy dining in the dorms

22 Healthy College Recipes You Can Make in Your Dorm Room

27 Ways To Eat Like An Adult In College

24 Easy Dorm Snacks for When You Want to Eat Healthier

10 Easy Ways to Eat Healthy in College (It’s Possible, We Promise!)

15 Essential Non-Perishable Foods to Keep In Your Dorm Room

Handy Tool: Consumer Action Handbook


cover of Consumer Action Handbook

If you’ve ever wondered what services to expect from a bank, how to choose a new doctor, scams to avoid when buying a new car, or how to deal with an unanswered complaint on a faulty product, USAGov has a handy free tool that just may help. They’ve just issued a 157-page Consumer Action Handbook (alert: 3 mb PDF) with many valuable tips, how-tos, scam avoidance advice and directories.

Here’s how they describe the resource:

“The Consumer Action Handbook brings together consumer information from across government. It includes practical questions to ask and factors to consider when you buy products and services. The Handbook features topics that affect everyone, such as credit reports and identity theft. It also addresses specific issues, like managing someone else’s finances and gas pump skimming. You’ll also find tips for detecting and reporting scams, throughout the book. Use our consumer assistance directory and sample complaint letter to file a consumer complaint.”

The guide is broken into four sections:

Part I — Be a savvy consumer – advice before you make a purchase. Covers general tips, banking, cars, credit, education, employment, food & nutrition, health care, housing, insurance, investing, privacy & identity theft, telecommunications, telemarketing & unwanted mail, travel, utilities, wills & funerals

Part II — key information resources – a list of public resources for seniors, persons
with disabilities, military families, and also for emergency preparations.

Part III — File a complaint – Suggestions on resolving consumer problems, including a sample complaint letter (page 60)

Part IV — Consumer Assistance Directory – Find contact information for corporate offices, consumer organizations, trade groups, government agencies, state authorities and more in a 70+ page directory.

You can also search for topics in the Index beginning on page 138.

You can download a copy or order a free print copy of the Consumer Action Handbook here.