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Car Insurance

A Blog About Driving and Car Insurance in the USA

Friday, October 20, 2017

Seven Bad Driving Habits That May Also Be Illegal

Seven Bad Driving Habits That May Also Be Illegal
Seven Bad Driving Habits
This Seven Bad Driving Habits That May Also Be Illegal article (edited) was produced by the good folks at Geico:

Let’s face it: Driver’s Ed was a while ago. Over the years, our perfect double-handed grip on the steering wheel may have slipped a little; perhaps other bad habits have crept in as well.

And whether we realize it or not, some of those habits may be illegal.

It’s true that traffic laws can be confusing. They can vary by state, and even by municipality. A violation in one place -- say, turning right on red in New York City -- can be perfectly legal just over the city border.

The evolution of our traffic laws can also be a source of confusion. As the use of mobile phones has spread, for example, safety experts have recognized their role in distracting drivers, and states are adopting laws to combat the problem. Those laws are still developing. While most states have outlawed texting while driving, some have made it illegal to use a phone at all while driving, although others have barred it only for younger drivers.

Still, when it comes to driving, the patchwork quilt of traffic laws should take a back seat to safety. Here are seven habits to change today.

1. Using Your Mobile Phone While Driving

It may be difficult to ignore the ping of an incoming text message, but it’s essential to keep your eyes on the road. With distracted driving becoming an increasingly important issue, expect more states to crack down on any use of a mobile phone. In fact, Washington State just did so in an innovative way with its new DUIE (Driving Under the Influence of Electronics) regulation. But regardless of where you are, put that phone in airplane mode before you hit the gas.

2. Driving With Headphones On

Listening to music on your car radio can be distracting enough. But with headphones at your ears, you may be shutting out important noises -- like car horns, railroad-crossing alarms or emergency vehicle sirens -- as well as breaking the law in some states.

3. Tailgating

Following a car too closely can happen when a driver isn’t paying close enough attention to the surrounding traffic. It can also result in a ticket. The space you should leave depends on your speed and the local conditions (e.g., a traffic jam or rain storm); try to keep what’s generally referred to as a “reasonable and prudent” distance from other cars.

4. Changing Lanes Without Signaling

In heavy traffic, using your blinker to signal a lane change is a necessity; without it, other drivers won’t know your intention. When traffic is light, though, it’s easier to be lazy about turning it on. You may or may not be pulled over for this infraction, but good habits begin with good communication, regardless of conditions or laws.

5. Speeding

You’re running late and traffic is light.  You could shave a couple of minutes off your travel time if you speed up, right? Not so fast. High speeds make a crash more likely, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, since it takes longer to stop or slow down. Statistics prove the point: In 2015, says the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), 27 percent of all crash fatalities -- more than 9,000 deaths -- were related to speed. That appointment you’re late for can wait. Abide by the speed limit.

6. Not Having Your Headlights On

Obviously you need headlights for nighttime driving, but you may not always think to pop them on at dusk or in bad weather. Just remember to over-communicate while driving, and in this case, headlights advertise your presence as well as help you navigate. Laws vary on when to use headlights, but if there’s any question, don’t hesitate: It’s as easy as flipping a switch.

7. Not Wearing a Seat Belt

While clicking a seat belt is pretty standard practice for most drivers (more than 90% of us use one, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration [NHTSA]) at least 27 million Americans still don’t buckle up. Yet seat belts saved almost 14,000 lives in 2015 alone. And of course, “click it or ticket” is a familiar phrase for a reason. So don’t neglect the seat belt.  It’s important, even if you’re just driving around the corner.

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Friday, September 29, 2017

Five Surprising Ways You May Be Hurting Your Car

Five Surprising Ways You May Be Hurting Your Car
Parking Break
This Five Surprising Ways You May Be Hurting Your Car article (edited) was produced by the good folks at Geico:

You’re driving down the highway when you notice the gas needle creeping toward empty. Do you pull off at the next rest stop, or do you push your luck and see how far you can go?

If you’re a fan of “gas-gauge chicken,” consider this: It may actually be damaging your car.

True, modern cars are more dependable than their predecessors, but some common behaviors can put unnecessary wear and tear on a vehicle. “A car is an investment,” says Richard Reina, product training director at CARiD.com. So not only should you perform regular maintenance, he says, but you should also avoid the following.

Forgetting the Parking Brake

“With automatic transmission cars,” says Reina, “people presume that they don’t need the parking brake.” But that isn’t so. Putting the car in park engages the parking pawl, a small metal pin that disengages the transmission’s output. This can put (literally) tons of weight on that little metal pin, especially on an incline—an unintended distribution of pressure that can cause premature wear on the pawl. The job of the parking brake is to immobilize the wheels, easing the burden while also providing a measure of protection for the pawl.

Letting Your Tires Get Low

Each new vehicle today must, by law, have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), which alerts the driver when one of the tires gets low. Some drivers assume they don’t have to check their tires unless the TPMS light goes on. But this is a mistake, says Reina. Before the threshold for the TPMS is even reached, driving with an underinflated tire can affect your vehicle’s performance. “Even being a few pounds off,” says Reina, “can affect your fuel economy, as well as how the car handles and brakes.”

Keeping the Tank Near Empty

Reina says he used to run his fuel tank down near empty before he learned how much it was damaging his fuel pump, an electric tool designed to remain immersed in the car’s fuel. When gas runs very low, the fuel pump can be exposed and begin to overheat. It cools again when the tank is full, but over time, that cycle of cooling and heating can cause damage. “I try to refill my tank when I get to one quarter or one eighth of a tank, to extend the fuel pump’s life,” he says.

Ignoring Your Windshield Wipers

Failing to change your wiper blades can result in diminished performance and even in scratched windshields, which in inclement weather can pose serious safety risks due to distorted visibility. “I recommend changing your wiper blades once a year,” says Reina. “Just before winter, when you want the blades to really clean the windshield well.” Consider changing them sooner if your car usually sits outside, or if you live in a warm climate.

Shifting Abruptly from Reverse to Drive

Have you ever noticed the way your car lurches when you shift from reverse to drive without coming to a complete stop? This abrupt change in direction puts unnecessary strain on your transmission and driveline components, and it can cause that uncomfortable shudder. If you’re not in the habit of coming to a complete stop before changing gears, give it a try—your transmission will thank you.

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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Avoiding Fender Bender Fraud

Car Accident
Car Accident
 This Avoiding Fender Bender Fraud article was produced by the good folks at Geico:

The shock of getting into a traffic accident, even a minor one, can leave a driver feeling dazed and confused, but it pays to keep your wits about you at all times. Steven Rutzebeck, director of GEICO’s Special Investigations Unit, explains how to foil potential fraudsters in the moments immediately after a car crash. Having dealt with insurance fraud throughout his career, Rutzebeck knows exactly what to look for.

GEICO More (GM): As you know, traffic accidents do happen and sometimes it’s tempting to give the other driver the benefit of the doubt. But is it ever smart to wash your hands of it and just walk away from a car crash, even a minor fender bender?

Steven Rutzebeck (SR): Not a good idea. At the scene of an accident, you need to get a clear picture of what actually happened. Use your cellphone to take photos of the damaged vehicles, license plates, the people involved, even their driver’s license, if possible. A police officer also serves as an impartial observer of the condition of the vehicles and their occupants, so you have nothing to worry about if a problem presents itself later (if the other party changes their story, for example, and all of a sudden it becomes your fault).

GM: In movies and on TV, we often see depictions of a fraudulent claimant hobbling into court on crutches or in a wheelchair, wearing bandages and a neck brace. But does that stuff really happen?

SR: You’d be surprised by what some people try to get away with. But if there’s very minor damage to the vehicle and all the occupants appear to be injured, and to an extent that doesn’t correlate to the amount of trauma created by the impact, you can be sure the injuries either do not exist or are being enhanced.
 
GM: Why do they go to such ridiculous lengths?

SR: These farces are often financially motivated. If someone’s bent on staging an accident and wants to incorporate an innocent party, they usually look for high-end vehicles; they also target elderly drivers. But with a typical fender bender, some people see an opportunity to make money out of it.

GM: In a courtroom, the judge considers many factors to determine who’s telling the truth. With insurance fraud, how can you tell when someone’s fibbing?

SR: As we like to say, “The truth never changes.” If you’re being truthful, minor aspects of the story might change slightly over time, but the basic concept will always stay the same because it’s true and you remember it. When people are telling falsehoods, it’s hard for them to keep all the particulars in line and remember what they’ve said.


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Monday, June 20, 2016

Car Insurance Rates On The Rise

A short segment on rising car insurance rates, from the Nightly Business Report (NBR):


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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Windshield Repair with Safelite: Very Good Experience

Safelite AutoGlass
Safelite AutoGlass
Since the crack in my windshield was too long for me to make an insurance claim with +GEICO Insurance, I bit the bullet and took my car to +Safelite AutoGlass for a windshield replacement.  I had no choice, as an inspection for my car was overdue, and there was no way my car would pass with the nasty and meandering fissure I had going on.

My experience at the Norristown, PA Safelite location was very positive.

Safelite in Norristown, PA: http://bit.ly/1Mck0J2

I could have paid an extra $25 to have Safelite come to the house, but since I was already quite pissed about having to pay hundreds for the replacement, I decided to conserve and drive to them.

Everyone was friendly and very professional.  I was disappointed that they did not have any free wi-fi available, but I had a thick book and the latest Wall Street Journal with me, and I was able to change the cable TV to my favorite business news station.

I was given a wait time of between 1.5 and 2 hours.  I did some reading for a while, then went for a long walk, as the weather was perfect, and I'm an exercise addict.

Returned from my walk to find my car done; took a little less than 1 hour.  I was thankful that they weren't busy.

I thought my total bill would be around $650, because I assumed I needed glass with a special tint.  I was wrong.  The Safelite folks informed me that I didn't need the special glass, and that my total would be $450.39.  Still way too much, but Yaaaay for having to pay less than expected.

Can I recommend this Safelite location?  Yes.  A+++.

=============

Learn from my mistakes people.  Fix those windshield cracks before they become costly nightmares!

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Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Don't Understand Insurance Scores

Credit Karma Car Insurance Score
Credit Karma Car Insurance Score
According to CreditKarma.com, my car insurance score is 860, which seems like a good number, but it isn't, because it translates to a "fair" credit rating.

I really don't understand this, because my other scores are high and rated "excellent."  I've been with +GEICO Insurance for many years, and have never been late with a premium payment.  This is just wrong.  I really don't like this!

I'm hoping someone can explain this to me...

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Cracked Windshield: A Very Expensive Mistake...

Cracked windshield goes from simple fix to costly nightmare...
Cracked windshield
Got home from a short drive last week and discovered a small crack in my windshield.  I showed it to my fiancee, and she recommended that I get it fixed right away, because with all the cold weather and snow we've been getting, the crack may expand quickly.

I should have taken her advice, as that is exacly what happened!

Bah!

I've had cracked windshields before, and never have they expanded so quickly, and so extensively.

I called Geico, my insurance company, and asked what I should do.

They told me that as long as the crack isn't longer than a dollar bill, they'll fix it for free, since it's my first glass claim.

            Yaay!

But my buzz was killed when I drove my car over to Safelite.  They told me that the crack was just beyond their ability to repair it, and that I'd need a new windshield!

No way, I protested, because I have a high deductible ($1,000.)  Replacing the entire windshield would cost me north of $640, all out-of-pocket!

I called up other glass shops, and they all told me the same thing.  They explained that repairing a crack that's too long renders the glass unsafe, and they don't want the liability. 

Boooooooooooo!

So I'm leaving the glass as it is, until I find someone who will fix it for cheap.

What a headache.....

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Young Texting Criminals Are Getting Worse...Much Worse

SmartphoneIs someone who sends text messages while driving a criminal?

Absolutely.

If you want to call someone who drinks and drives a criminal, then you must agree that the texting fools are just as guilty.

Had to run a bunch of errands this morning. Bank, surgical center, supermarket, etc. Between 9:30am and 12:10pm, I encountered no fewer than seven (7) individuals text messaging while driving. What did these individuals look like, you ask? You may not believe it, but they were ALL young (likely younger than 21) women. Every one. Five out of the seven looked younger than 17.

Not trying to insult anybody. Just telling it like I saw it.

What's shocking (to me, anyway) is the attitude these kids have.

While slowly making a turn into a Wal-Mart parking space, I was cutoff by a driver who was very cheerfully text messaging. She missed my car by inches and at no point acknowledged her bad driving. I gave up the parking space and followed her to until she parked. I honked, and when she rolled down her window, I let her know that she almost clipped me when she was thumbing keys on her phone (by this time she was talking on the phone, not texting.) She looked and me like I was completely mad, then left her car and made her way to Wal-Mart, still chatting on the phone, of course. I told her, in a very loud but not screaming voice, that I was going to take a picture of her license plate, and let the cops know about her crime. She was unfazed.

When I honked at another texting youngster near my house, she waved to me...with her middle finger.

When I was young, I used to quietly laugh to myself at how my dad would deal with bad drivers. Of course, there was no texting back then, but when he would get cutoff, he would pull up next to the offending car, cross his arms then shoot an extremely stern glare at the driver. I would quietly chuckle to myself, "Yeah dad...you really showed him."

My dad's response: Not good enough for today's smartphone world.

I would love to post offending license plates right here on the blog, along with a pic of the driver. But I'm sure if that's legal (please post any insight on this in the comments below, if you have any. Thanks!)

The law needs to catch up with the smartphones age we live in. In too many states, the punishment for getting caught texting behind the wheel is tantamount to a slap on the wrist. In most cases, it's essentially the same punishment as getting caught doing 40MPH in a 25MPH zone. Soooooooo weak.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Distracted Driving

distracted driving
Distracted Driving
I made some silly driving-related mistakes in my youth, from driving with a suspended license (suspended for ignoring too many speeding tickets) to driving too fast in a snowstorm (I once slid into an embankment at 15 MPH and, despite the moderate speed, still managed to flip the car over, Dukes-of-Hazard style.) Yes, with age comes maturity, experience and wisdom, and that's why insurance premiums get cheaper as we get older.

I've also learned -- the hard way -- how important it is to stay completely focused on the road at all times, with no exceptions.

About 18 years ago, when I was living in Queens, NY, I got into a minor fender bender which was totally my fault. I was distracted. I was trying to change the radio station on my car stereo, and ended up rear ending a minivan. I had taken my eyes off the road for the briefest of moments, yet it was long enough to precipitate an accident. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The accident would have dinged my driving record, and possibly caused my insurance premium to rise. However, no police report was filed. After pulling over, the driver of the minivan handed me $10 and took off. In my estimation, the driver either:

  1. Had no driver license, or
  2. Had no insurance, or
  3. Was an undocumented resident of the United States (a.k.a. an illegal alien).

My mistake didn't cost me much, but every day, people all over the world pay a much higher price for their distracted driving.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Don't Idle Next to Monstrous Tractor Trailers At Traffic Lights!

Figure A: tractor trailer accident at traffic lightYesterday, I witnessed a very ugly and senseless car accident. Thankfully, no one got hurt, but it was still very ugly to watch. I also learned a very valuable lesson from a very smart driver.

I was in the far right lane of a 4-lane road, a few cars back from a traffic light ahead. To my left was a lady in a Toyota Camry. To her left was one of the biggest tractor trailers I've ever seen. The cabin was so high off the ground that the driver was almost eye-to-eye with the traffic light, no exaggeration.

Now, this lady -- I will refer to her as Ms. Camry from now on -- was waiting for the traffic light to turn green like everyone else, except she was idling next to me, which was about 3-4 car lengths from the car in front of her. In other words, there was a huge gap between Ms. Camry, who was next to me, and the car in front of her, which was a green Cadillac (Mr. Cadi) sedan waiting at the light. Mr. Cadi was idling in pole position at the light, right next to the tractor section of the massive tractor trailer (Monster TT.) Ms. Camry had positioned herself to the right of, and next to the rear wheels of, the Monster TT. I realize that my description of this scene may not be adequate to get the right picture in your head, so I put together a quick diagram (see Figure A at the top left of this entry.)

OK, so as soon as the light turned green, another very strange thing happened: Ms Camry started blaring her horn repeatedly, as if trying to get someone's attention. I scanned the scene and saw nothing that would justify her repeated honking. I was beginning to think that Ms. Camry was playing with a few toys in the attic.

Figure B: tractor trailer accident at traffic light
Then I saw what she was honking at. Monster TT had started to turn into the lane next him, but the driver hadn't bothered to check if there was a car in that spot. Carelessly, the driver of the truck began turning into the lane to the right of him, and -- you guessed it -- he struck the side of Mr. Cadi's car, in the left-front quarter panel (see Figure B to the right.)

The very wise Ms. Camry had seen the accident coming. That's why she had been idling a few cars lengths behind Mr. Cadi, and it's also why she had been honking her horn in earnest when the truck started moving. What else could she do? Prior to the accident, she probably wanted to step out of her car and warn the truck driver, but then she probably thought, "but he's a professional. He's not going to do anything stupid like turn into the next lane without checking first." Unfortunately for Mr. Cadi, her worst fears came true.

You would think that a driver of such a massive vehicle would have more sense. Aren't these folks trained to avoid such accidents? I know what he was trying to do: e was trying to get over to the right side of the road so that he could enter the parking lot of a Wawa store. But he was very stupid for assuming that the lane next to him would be empty.


Back in the early 90's, I witnessed a terrible tractor trailer accident on my way back from Ohio. A similar truck inadvertently force a car off the interstate and into a deep ravine. The truck driver wasn't aware that he had just caused a serious accident. A number of drivers on the highway signaled him to stop, which he eventually did. My friend and I pulled over to check on the accident victims. They were fine, but very rattled. There was a look in their eyes: it was the look of stark realization that they'd come as close as anyone can get to meeting their maker. Their car was totaled. They refused our help, and insisted that we leave them alone. They may have thought that our intention was to try and take advantage of their fractured and vulnerable state and do something evil like rob them, or worse. They were shaking with fear and had gone into total defense mode. They said they'd be OK, so after offering assistance one more time, we left them and called for help. I felt bad for them, because the car was full of household items and many items looked damaged.

So, yeah: I've learned to stay as far away from tractor trailers as possible when I'm driving. It doesn't matter if I'm on the highway or on a local road, I either downshift and pass them or I stay behind them in an adjacent lane. I NEVER driver next to them. And now, thanks to Ms. Camry, I've learned to avoid idling next to one at a traffic light.

I've also leaned to avoid driving directly behind big trucks. Trucks often kick up stones and other hard road debris that tend to hit my windshield with force, which on more than one occasion has resulted in an annoying chip in my glass (and, of course, the chip seems to always end up in my functional field of view!)tractor trailer accident But there's another far more serious reason for avoiding the rear of a big truck while driving: trailers tend to have massive wheels and beds set high in the air, so if you end up smashing into the back end of one of these monsters, the trailer's extremely solid bed will likely make contact with your windshield instead of the front end of your car (see image to the left.) So, instead of your airbags deploying and you surviving, your car's front end could slide under the trailer's rear, and you could easily lose your head, literally. "Underride accidents" are not uncommon, despite the fact that modern trucks are required to have safety bumpers installed. The unfortunate truth is that many older tractor trailers don't have underride additions, and these add-on bumpers often collapse when they make contact with another vehicle.



I hope the careless driver who ruined Mr. Cadi's day got a heavy suspension and a fine for his nonsense. He needs a serious reminder of just how responsible one must be to drive a 20 ton commercial vehicle. I don't mean to be negative, but large vehicles should only be entrusted to the most professional drivers.

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Monday, October 19, 2009

The Right Choice Got Me Two Traffic Tickets

fighting an unjust traffic ticketThe other day I was cruising down a local boulevard, a three-lane road that's peppered with traffic lights. I was on my way to a supermarket to do some food shopping, so I wasn't in any kind of hurry.

I came upon an extremely busy intersection, an intersection that just happens to be famous for being one of the most dangerous intersection in the country, due to the number of accidents that happen there. It's 4 lanes of traffic, with a local and express lane for each direction. If you've never driven on this boulevard before, turning onto this road from an intersecting one can be very confusing and very hazardous. Drivers often end up turning into the wrong lane, and then have to deal with driving up a road where everyone else driving in the opposite direction. It's sound ugly and scary, and it is. When you add lots of impatient drivers trying to get home during rush hour to the mix, it a recipe for disaster.

I was not new to this intersection, so I knew how to handle it. Whenever I reach this intersection and the traffic light has just turned green, I generally slow down a little and cross it without a hitch. If I'm not sure if the traffic light is about to turn yellow, I take it easy and start slowing down a good distance from the light, so that I don't have to worry about hesitating or stopping hard and possibly causing an accident.

I was very close to passing through the traffic light when an extremely aggressive driver showed up on my tail, seemingly out of nowhere. He was tailgating me hard, and I have no tolerance for tailgaters. My plan was to go through the traffic light, change lanes, then pull up next to him and give him a lesson on why it's really stupid to tailgate. At that point, the traffic light turned yellow, and I eased through the intersection. To my surprise, the aggressive tailgater slammed on his brakes, and came to a complete stop. He slammed his brakes so hard that a small plume of smoke rose from his tires, and there was a loud screech.

Then it was time for surprise #2: a police van turned onto the boulevard behind me, and pulled me over. I was cool, because I had done nothing wrong. I released my seat belt, reached over to the glove compartment and retrieved my driver license and vehicle registration. Just trying to be efficient. A police officer came to the driver-side window and asked, "Didn't you see the traffic light?"

"Oh, I know all about that traffic light. It had just turned yellow when the front of my car passed through the intersection," I replied.

"License and registration," she demanded.

"Sure," I answered, and handed her my documents.

"OK. Wait here," she grunted.

When the police officer returned, she gave me two tickets: one for running a red light, and another for driving without a seat belt. As you might have already guessed, I was outraged.

"First of all, the light was yellow. Second, I was wearing my belt. I took it off to get my driver documents," I said firmly, without yelling.

"If you get another ticket from the traffic camera system, you can ignore it. Just pay the ticket I gave you," she advised as she simultaneously ignored my protests.

And at that, the police officer turned and walked back to the police van before I could get another word in. I switched on my interior light to examine the tickets further, at which point I heard a short blast from the siren of the police van. It was the cops telling me to move along. Lovely.

My instincts prompted me to get out of my car and confront the officers in the van, but then I ran through a number of possible outcomes in my head, and decided that temperance was the better choice of action. I turned off my hazards, and made my to the supermarket.

I will be fighting both tickets, of course. I'm good at it. The last time I was in traffic court, it was to fight a ticket given to me for making a right turn at a red light at an intersection that doesn't allow it. My defense was that the No Turn On Red sign was blocked by a bus so I wasn't able to see it. It was the truth. I took a few pictures with my digital camera to support my case. I had to stand and wait at a street corner for a few minutes for bus to show up, so that I could show the before and after shots, but it was summer so I didn't mind. I won the case, easily.

In my opinion, I made the right choice by going through the yellow light. If I had decided to brake instead, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would have been involved in an accident. The accident would have resulted in:

  • Costly repairs: I have comprehensive insurance coverage, but I would still have to pay a deductible.
  • Ruined vehicle history report: my car has never been involved in an accident, which adds to it's resale value. An accident would have been noted on my car's vehicle history report (CarFax, AutoCheck, etc.)
  • Higher insurance premium: my car insurance premium would go up, no doubt.
  • Serious injuries, or death: the accident could have caused a multi-car pileup, which could cause serious injuries and perhaps even cause a fatality or two.

So, readers, I ask you: what would you have done? stopped hard and let the tailgater slam into your rear causing a serious accident, or cruised through what was clearly a yellow light?

So here's the funny part. I posted the above story to a popular Internet forum where all kinds of police officers (county, state, etc.) hang out. Most cops wrote that I should just go to court and let a judge decide. I was OK with those responses. But one police officer actually posted that if he had been in my shoes, he would have stopped at the light and let the accident happen. He wrote that he would have preferred that because it might have resulted in a generous insurance settlement. Yep: I guess there's one in every bunch. A sickening example of just how perversely litigious our society has become.

Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Don't Forget To Ask Your Agent About A Good-Student Discount

Ask you car insurance agent about a good-student discountHard to believe that it's "back to school" season again. In this deep recession we're in, parents will be looking to save money as much as they can on college expenses. One often overlooked way to save on car insurance is the good-student discount that many insurance companies offer. However, like most discounts, your agent probably won't volunteer the savings information. You have to ask for it.

Good-student discounts can be significant. Here's a clip from a recent WSJ article:

"...don't be shy about touting your child's grades to your insurer. Most companies offer "good student" discounts. For instance, State Farm takes 9% to 35% off a premium, depending on the student's gender and whether he or she is kept on the policy as an occasional driver or is at school..."

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Friday, May 15, 2009

The Police Should Always Lead by Example

policeEarlier today, I was driving home from the supermarket and happened to pull up next to a police car at a traffic light. The cop driving the car was yapping on a cell phone. His windows were rolled up so I couldn't hear what he was talking about, but I assumed it wasn't a serious call, because he was doing a lot of laughing and smiling. When the light turned green, I noticed that this cop was still talking on his phone, while driving. I gave him a you-should-know-better look, then made a turn, which took me away from the police car and down a road near my home.

A few seconds later, I looked into my rear-view mirror to find that the same police car was now tailgating me. The officer hadn't done anything to signal me to stop. He was just following me very closely. I immediately recognized the game he was playing, so instead of driving to my place, I circled the block a number of times, being very careful not to make any driving-related mistakes. The officer followed, patiently and intimidatingly. Tired of this game, I parked in a parking lot far from my front door, and waited for him to make his move. Of course, he couldn't do anything, since I did nothing wrong, so he took off.

I do not regret giving that police officer that look.

For some years now, I've been hoping that cops get a lot more serious about cracking down on people chatting on the cell phones while driving, but based on my own anecdotal experience, it doesn't look like I'm gonna' get my wish. Yep: it's time to write a letter to the Mayor.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

How Driving Distracted Can Affect the Lives of Others

Driving Distracted
Driving Distracted
With the rush-rush-rush mentality most people have these days, it's no surprise that more and more people are driving while distracted. Eating, talking or texting on a mobile phone, making adjustments to the radio, talking with passengers -- all take a driver's focus off of the road. Driver inattention is a leading factor in many crashes. I'd like to share a couple of stories with you, so that you'll be a little more aware of how driving while distracted can affect the lives of others. If this prevents one accident, it will be worth it to me.

In May of 2002, my aunt Sandra was coming home from a late shift at the local convenience store. It was a little before 7 in the morning, and all she wanted was to get home, take a hot shower, grab a bite to eat, and get some sleep. Suddenly, her car was hit head-on at nearly 60 miles per hour. She was killed instantly. Her car was hit with such force that the transmission was nearly in the back seat. The other driver was in intensive care for two weeks, and when he finally left the hospital there were careless driving charges waiting for him. He admitted that he'd been on the phone, arguing with his wife, when the accident happened. The state of Georgia suspended his license for six months, and that's it.

My uncle was both grief-stricken and furious. How could the other driver's only punishment for causing a fatality be losing his license for six months? He refused to let it stand, and brought a civil suit against the other driver. My uncle prevailed in court, and was awarded a judgment of $550,000. To date, he has collected less than $25,000 of that money.

Distracted drivers cause more than 26% of all traffic fatalities. Here are some other important facts on driving while distracted:

  • Distracted driving is the #1 killer of American teens. While alcohol-related crashes among teens have dropped, the number of teen-related traffic fatalities remains unchanged, because distracted driving is on the rise. (Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and State Farm Insurance Study and NHTSA study)
  • According to a national survey of teen drivers, over 90% say that they don't drink and drive. However, that same nine out of 10 say they've seen passengers distracting the driver, or witnessed a driver talking on the phone.
  • Brain power used while driving decreases by 40% when a driver listens to conversation or music.(Carnegie-Mellon University study)
  • More than 80% of drivers admit to hazardous behavior such as steering with their feet or knees, shaving, applying make-up, or changing clothes while driving. (Nationwide Mutual Insurance survey)
  • Driving distracted can slow reaction time as much as, if not more than, being drunk. A University of Utah study reports that a driver on a cell phone is just as impaired as a driver with a blood alcohol content (BAC) of .08 (the legal limit in most states).
  • Over the past few years, almost every state has passed some sort of legislation against distracted driving. New Jersey is considering a law that would mandate the same penalty for cell phone use as they would for a drunk driver that caused a fatal crash.

Of course nothing will bring my aunt back, but if these tougher laws can prevent one more family from going through the pain that my family has experienced, I'm all for it.

While not as traumatic as my uncle's story, I have also had a run-in with a distracted driver. About two months ago, I was in a grocery store parking lot when my car was hit in the driver's side door by a man who was backing up. Thankfully I wasn't hurt, but my car was damaged pretty badly. He obviously wasn't paying attention to his driving, and I believe it was because of text messaging, because after I called the police, he was texting back and forth the whole time -- even AFTER the officers arrived! The officer asked him if he'd been texting while driving. I'm not sure why he would admit to text messaging while he was driving. I believe he was just nervous, and blurted it out without thinking. I was livid, but rather than get angry at him I decided to let the insurance companies handle it. As it turns out, that was a mistake. The other driver didn't have insurance! I found out through a letter from his insurance company that he'd let his coverage lapse. My husband and I paid $700 out of our own pockets for the repairs, because we didn't have uninsured motorist coverage. We definitely do now, though.

Distracted drivers contribute to tens of thousands of crashes, and thousands of fatalities each year. Many of these accidents, including the one that took my aunt's life, could have been avoided if the driver had given their undivided attention to the road. E-mail, text messaging, that phone call, changing the station on the radio- that can all wait until the next time you stop. Please, for your own safety and that of the motorists around you, pay attention to the road, and drive safely.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Car Insurance: Technicalities Can Catch You!

If you have a car, you have to have insurance-it's the law. But what you don't know about insurance can hurt you. I'll tell you what happened to me. A little over a year ago, I was driving my husband's car (for only the second or third time, ever), and I was involved in an accident. I was making a left turn in front of oncoming traffic, and a Ford Expedition hit the car on the right side near the front tire. My vehicle was picked up, pushed another fifty feet, and came to rest against a cement telephone pole. I was judged to be at fault, and my husband's insurance company dropped his coverage because I was not registered as a second driver on his policy. It turns out that insurance companies frown on that sort of thing.

After the accident, I got a letter from the DMV requesting proof of insurance coverage in force at the time of the crash. I figured, "Hey, no problem- I can fill this paper out, with his policy number, name, and all the other necessary information, and that will be the end of it!" It was far from over. A week later, I got another letter (not quite so nice this time) stating that my driver's license had been suspended because I'd failed to provide proof of coverage.

I was confused. I thought that I had fulfilled all their requirements. However, the DMV had a different take on the situation. They thought that I was trying to get out of my responsibility for the accident, by supplying the insurance information that was in my husband's name. The insurance company was no help, as technically I shouldn't have been driving the car to begin with.

The car was totaled. The other person's vehicle had over $12,000 in damage, which probably contributed to the insurance company dropping my husband's coverage like a hot potato. Since the insurance company only paid the other driver $10,000, that person sued me for the balance. I'm just now paying that off.

I eventually got the situation straightened out, though. I provided an affidavit to the DMV that I had only been driving the car for an emergency reason (I was on my way to the hospital because my sister was having a baby). They then accepted the proof of insurance that I had supplied to them before, and I was able to get my license back three weeks and $350 later.

That little oversight on my husband's part ended up costing both of us. He didn't feel the need to have me on the policy because I didn't drive the car that often, and he thought it would save money to exclude me from it. Turns out, it would have been cheaper to just add me as a driver.

All's well that ends well, however. I am more careful in the way that I drive now, and I am in the process of restoring my "daily driver" - a 1969 Pontiac LeMans. The insurance (which is higher due to the company considering my vehicle a "muscle car", but that's a story for another post) is in my name, so there's no mistaking who's covered in case of an accident.

To sum it up, what you don't know CAN come back to bite you later. If you are married, make sure that you are on the car insurance policy. If I had known the importance of that issue a year ago, I wouldn't have lost my driver's license, or been sued. It may only be a technicality, but it's an important one.

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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Not Having Affordable Auto Insurance Could Get Your Vehicle Repossessed

If you watch TV or surf the internet at all, chances are you have seen one of the many commercials aimed at convincing consumers to compare rates for their car insurance. Everyone says that they have the best coverage for the best price, but some companies even offer rate comparisons at their expense to help you make the right decision. All of the geckos and Jackie-O-esque spokespersons can make one shy away from actually getting the quotes because of the constant bombardment of advertising. But what if the big corporations have a point?

My husband discovered a while back that maybe all of that pushing is actually a push in the right direction. He learned the hard way that not having affordable auto insurance can ultimately lead to getting your car repossessed. It sounds like a stretch, but it really happens, as it happened to my husband Lee once upon a time.

The story goes like this: Lee was performing a juggling act with his debts, and soon realized that he simply had more expenses than he had income. The automobile insurance he had on his SUV was too high for him to keep up with, so he let it lapse. His intentions were to catch up as soon as he could and stay off the road as much as possible until the situation was cleared up. Unfortunately, he didn’t get the opportunity to put his plan to the test. Midwestern-based ALF Insurance had a different plan in mind.

The insurance company reported to Lee's credit union that he was uninsured.

In a surprising but completely legal move, ALF Insurance gave LSI Credit Union the heads up on how Lee's insurance had lapsed, which took things from bad to worse. We all know that if a lending institution holding a lien finds that the borrower does not have proper insurance, they can slap their own expensive insurance plan on them without warning. LSI Credit Union did just that, and told Lee that if he didn’t want their sky high rates he should find his own insurance. Needless to say, that was easier said than done, not because the geckos and 60s receptionists weren’t there waiting with a quote, but because he couldn't afford what he had before, much less the new payment. Now the newly imposed car insurance was attached to Lee’s car note, which put the vehicle in jeopardy. He couldn’t manage to get a new policy and pay for the one that was now attached to his car loan. After months of struggling to make the new, inflated note, he had to submit to a voluntary repossession of his truck.

As a married guy with a pretty smart wife (if I must say so myself), Lee has grown from the experience and does a different juggling act these days. Instead of juggling debts, he is a bargain shopper, always with an ear to the ground on the best deals in commodities, food, retail items, and insurance, making 'the switch' whenever it is advantageous to do so. Considering the circus that is our current American marketplace, it's an act that's a lot more fun to watch.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Switched to Geico

I recently switched my car insurance to Geico. Sure, this sounds like a commercial, but it's true.

The company that used to insure me, State Farm®, was adequate, but they had a problem with me and my out-of-state driver's license. I tried to get my license transferred to my new state when I moved but, in my current state of residence, the ID requirements are way too rigid, so the whole process ground to a halt. If I had moved before September 11, 2001, I wouldn't have had any problems transferring my license.

So, because of the license issue, State Farm eventually decided that they no longer want my business . I didn't shed any tears when I got the news that I was being dumped. The customer service at the State Farm office where I was insured wasn't very cordial. I often got an "attitude" whenever I would ask simple questions about how my insurance policy works, and I don't like that. The way I see it, when you are paying a company good money for a service, and they give you an attitude like you are their employee, then it's time to go. Yup.

To be fair to State Farm, I can report that there is a different State Farm office near my current residence, and from what I can tell the service there is quite good. I went into this office some months ago to get a document notarized. I had to wait for the next available agent, since at that moment there were other motorists being helped. I sat down and listened to the conversations (I'm not nosy; the office was small and I could not help but hear the chatter.) The agents were polite and they took the time to explain things in detail, which is the way it should be. An agent eventually notarized my document, and didn't charge me anything for the service. The agent seemed a bit stressed with paperwork, a constant stream of walk-in clients and a phone that just kept ringing, but she still managed to smile and provide gracious service regardless.

Since each State Farm office is independently owned, I guess you just have to find the right office if you are going to insure with them.

Another reason why I wasn't too upset about State Farm's decision: there's so much competition out there that I knew I wouldn't have any trouble finding a new carrier, even with the time pressure (I needed a policy fast because a lapse of insurance coverage is serious matter. Most car insurance companies won't even consider insuring you if you have an insurance lapse.)

So I shopped around online, and eventually ended up with Geico. I signed up online, but made a phone call to Geico before executing that final mouse click to seal the deal. I needed to be sure that they wouldn't have a problem with my out-of-state license before I finalized my order. A very helpful agent told me that he understood my situation and that Geico didn't have a problem insuring me. So the deal was done.

So I'm now a Geico customer. My premium is reasonable (I'm paying about $200 less per cycle than I was paying with State Farm) because I'm over 35, I have a good credit score and a I have a clean driving record. I've never had to file an insurance claim, and I hope this trend continues. If I have to file a claim with Geico at some point, I'll be sure to blog in depth about it here.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Insurance Claim or Pay Out-of-Pocket?

Last week, a mechanic at the dealership where I take my car for servicing told me that my car did not pass inspection because it had a problem which they could not fix. Turns out the right spring pocket was so rusted that it was ready to fall off, and, she explained, if it was to dislodge while driving at high speed, I could end up in the hospital, or worse. The fix involved some welding, so only an auto-body shop could do the repairs. The mechanic recommended a place nearby for the job, so I made my way over there.

The owner of the auto-body place -- let's call him Ed -- told me that the fix would cost me about $870. I couldn't understand how such a small welding job could cost so much. I told Ed that I needed the job done so that my car can pass inspection, and I explained that my insurance company would not be involved. I unsuccessfully pushed for a discount. My understanding was that a discount is the norm when the vehicle owner isn't going to make an insurance claim. There goes that theory.

Ed then told me that I could simply submit a claim to my insurance company, since I have comprehensive coverage. I asked if this was legal, since the damage was caused by aging and not a specific incident, and he chuckled at my ignorance. "That's what comprehensive coverage is for," he said. I thought about it for a minute, then told him that I would pay cash for the repairs. I was worried about my insurance rates going up.

In hindsight, I'm not sure if paying cash was the right move. I can't work the numbers, because I have no idea how much my premium would rise as a result of a claim. I'm not losing sleep over my decision, but next time, if the bill is $800 or higher, I'll probably make the claim.

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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

A Dual of Wills At A Highway Offramp

I was on my way to pick up my daughter from school. I had just started to make my way onto a single-lane offramp when I noticed a small, sporty vehicle in my rear-view mirror that was closing in on my car really fast. I drive a large sedan, so I certainly wasn't physically intimidated by the fast-approaching car. But I've learned to be a defensive driver over the years, so any situation that has the potential of ending in a car accident causes me to go into alert mode.

I didn't slow down or move to the side, but my gaze was locked onto the car, since I wanted to be prepared for any dangerously erratic moves by the driver. I wasn't doing anything wrong, so adjusting my driving would have been the wrong move.

To my surprise, the approaching car came right up to my bumper, then tried to squeeze past me on the right side, even though the lane had already narrowed to the point that only one car could realistically maneuver safely in the lane. I glanced to my right to see if I could catch a glimpse of the driver, but all the windows had dark tinting. I came to the conclusion that I was most likely dealing with a young, brazen and possibly drunk driver (the driver didn't even have his lights on, and it was way past dusk.)

Of course, I still had done nothing wrong, but at this point, I concluded that defensive driving -- i.e. letting the nutcase pass -- was the best way to handle this situation. So I applied my brakes to let the idiot pass (I'll refer to the crazy driver as Mad Max from this point forward), and, to my utter astonishment, Mad Max applied his brakes as well, slowing his car and matching my car's pace of deceleration. The next thing I knew, we had both braked to a complete stop. He didn't roll down his window, or honk, or anything. He just sat there, as if waiting for me to make my move.

At this point, I concluded that Mad Max realized how silly he was behaving, and tried to make right by not actually passing me.

But then an alternative explanation popped into my head: maybe Mad Max was in fact an insurance scammer who was trying to stage an accident. I'm familiar with some of the scams out there, like the guy who waves you out of a parking space then hits your car, or the scam where a car full of people swooshes in front of you on the highway, at which point the driver brakes hard, causing you to bash his rear, giving the driver and his/her passengers lots of fake yet expensive injuries.

Was Mad Max's strange behavior the preliminary steps of an insurance scam I wasn't familiar with? Or maybe it was a brand new scam, and I was to be it's first victim.

I really wasn't interested in sticking around to find out why Mr. Max was driving like a jackass, so I stepped on the pedal and quickly made my way around the tight curve of the exit ramp.

At the end of this particular exit ramp, one has to merge onto a three-lane boulevard. I merged, then crossed over to the center lane, at which point I stopped at a traffic light. About two seconds later, Max pulled up next to me and, after coming to a screeching stop, started to race his engine in a way that made it clear that he was interested in a quick and dirty drag race.

So, in the end, all this fool wanted was a good old-fashioned drag race. Ha! I guess some kids see the word "turbo" on the back of a car and make certain assumptions. I was surprised that my salt n' pepper hair and extra large baby seat in the back wasn't enough to sour Max's enthusiasm.

When the traffic light turned green, Max, as expected, burned some rubber and launched his car to the next traffic light -- which was red, and was only about 20 feet away. I drove at a snail's pace to the next light where Max was waiting, and he continued to challenge me by revving his engine. I stopped my car so that my front bumper aligned with his car's midsection, a clear sign that I had no interest in dancing, I thought. But this tactic wasn't necessary in the end, because another small, tricked-out sports car pulled up on the other side of Max, and, when the light turned green, the two raced down the boulevard until they disappeared from view.

One day, Max will learn just how costly bad driving can be, and he'll recall the stunts he used to pull with some embarrassment. I sincerely hope the inevitable accident that teaches him to drive sensibly is a minor fender bender, and not a 3-car pileup, or worse.


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Friday, August 04, 2006

Most Car Accidents Are Caused by Driver Distraction!

Just the other day, I was driving with some family in the car. My mother received a phone call from her sister--my aunt--and they had a brief conversation. Just before the conversation ended, my mom instructed me to take the cell phone and say hello to my aunt. I quickly turned my head away--keeping my eyes on the road, of course--and told her that there was no way I was going to talk on a cell phone while driving.

You see, I learned my lesson a few years ago, when I got into a minor accident caused by some carelessness on my part. I was driving to the airport to pickup my brother, and, as I slowly approached a bunch of cars that were stopped at a red light, I somehow arrived at the conclusion that it would be a good time to change the radio station. I took my eyes off the road for a split second to check the FM frequency I was currently listening to, and, suddenly: bam! I hit the minivan in front of me. I was only traveling at about 5 MPH, and because I hit the minivan's bumper, the only damage to that car was a small area of scratched paint. My car, on the other hand, experienced some serious damage. The hood was crumpled, my grill was mangled beyond repair and one of my headlights was smashed. If I possessed the power to take you back in time and place you at the scene of the accident, I doubt I could convince you that my car and the minivan were involved in the same accident. The damage would have cost me at least $1,000 to fix if I had taken the car to a body shop, so I decided to fix the light myself, and drive the car with the dented hood (not pretty.)

That was a very sobering experience.

Since that accident, I don't let anything distract me while I'm driving. Nothing. If I need to use the phone, I pull over, put the car in "park," and then start dialing. Or, if it's not an emergency, I simply wait until I've arrived at my chosen destination, then make the call. Furthermore, whenever I'm on the highway, and I find myself near a car that's being driven by a motorist who's chatting on the phone, I move away from that car, either by speeding up, changing lanes or by slowing down, because I've learned--the hard way--that:

Driving + Any Distraction = Accident Waiting to Happen.

Yup.

Driver Distraction Is To Blame for Almost 80% of All Traffic Accidents

That's right, folks: almost 80%, according to the good folks at InsureMe (Click here to get a free auto insurance quote) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). A recently issued press release contains some interesting facts and advice related to the driver distraction. Details below:

" Prompted by recent reports on the hazards of cell phone use and overall driver distraction, InsureMe, a leading online insurance shopping service, is offering tips to reduce one’s risk behind the wheel.

According to a recent study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver distraction is the culprit behind nearly 80 percent of all traffic accidents -- a much higher percentage than previously thought. The government agency credits cell phones with causing the highest number of driver distractions.

Additionally, researchers from the University of Utah say chatting on a cell phone makes a person five times more likely to have an accident and impairs driving ability as much as drinking alcoholic beverages.

With those stats in mind, InsureMe recommends limiting phone conversations while driving. Although many are loathe to give up their phones for even a minute, the benefit of hanging up is clear: safer roads for everyone (and lower phone bills.)

Even though they top the administration’s list of distractions, cell phones aren’t the only gadgets that distract drivers from the business of driving. The ever-growing list of electronic gizmos includes: DVD players, satellite radios, hand-held organizers, iPods, and global positioning systems. According to the NHTSA, 'drivers engaging in visually and/or manually complex tasks have a three times higher near-crash/crash risk than drivers who are attentive.'

There are also the constant, low-tech distractions: kids, pets, fast food, hot beverages, newspapers, road side accidents, signs and billboards. The NHTSA’s 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study revealed that reaching for a moving object, such as a falling frappuccino, increased the likelihood of a crash by nine times.

Limiting distractions is relatively easy and will immediately result in safer roads for all motorists. InsureMe recommends that drivers curb their cars before: making and taking calls; changing the music; wolfing down a burrito; applying makeup; writing a text message; or replaying a young one’s favorite Lion King scene.

For most drivers, avoiding accidents is its own reward. But for those who need economic incentives to be safe, InsureMe notes that a person’s driving record is one of the most important factors in determining how much he or she pays for auto insurance."


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