July 2012

Be safe while bicycling this summer (image via The Coalition of Arizona Bicyclists)

Arizona’s natural beauty and climate make it the perfect place to ride a bike.  The blue skies, warm weather, and breathtaking vistas elevate a bike ride to a cycling experience.  But while you are out, relishing the feel of the wind on your face and the warmth of the sun on your back, make sure you are taking steps to stay safe and secure.

Be Safe

Whenever you are on your bike, safety has to be a top concern.  The dangers of cycling are inherent wherever you choose to ride, but here in Arizona you are also dealing with the dangers of the desert like dehydration and heat stroke.  Sharing the road with automobiles also increases the risk of riding your bike.  In 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicates that 2% of all traffic fatalities involved cyclists.  Be safe whenever and wherever you ride by following these simple safety rules.

  1. Use your head and wear a helmet.  Never, ever ride without a helmet.  According to the NHTSA, 70% of fatal bicycle accidents involve brain injuries and bike helmets are 85% effective at preventing these types of injuries.
  2. Follow the rules.  When you are on the road, even if you are on a bike, you need to follow the rules of the road just as you would if you were driving a car.  This helps keep you safe by making your behavior predictable to those you are sharing the road with.  Always stay as far to the right side of the road as you can safely ride.
  3. See and be seen.  The unfortunate fact is that some automobile drivers won’t see you which means you must assume that none of them see you and make sure you do everything you can to ensure motorists and other cyclists see you.
  4. Pay attention.  Don’t let yourself become distracted.  Don’t wear headphones which block out the sounds of oncoming traffic which could alert you to a dangerous situation.  Don’t talk or text on your cell phone.  Don’t try to visit with your friend while you are riding together.  The best way to stay safe is to stay focused and remain alert to potential dangers around you.

Be Secure

Even when you are not on your bike, security should be your top concern.  Bikes range in cost from a hundred dollars to several thousand dollars and are easier to steal and resell than a car.  The good news is that most standard homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies cover losses to bicycles.  Your policy should cover the same kinds of losses that are covered if you have comprehensive car insurance like damage caused by weather, fire, or theft.  Although this is generally the case, you should check your policy or speak to your representative to make sure this coverage is provided in your policy.

As part of this check, you also need to ask if there is a limit on the recoverable amount for bicycles under your policy.  Even though your homeowner’s or renter’s policy covers damage to bicycles, the amount of coverage may be less than the actual limits on your policy.  This is especially important for anyone with expensive bicycles.  Don’t assume your policy will automatically cover the cost of a new bike.  If there is a limit, ask your agent to explain what options are available to you to increase coverage to cover the full cost of replacement.

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Are your belongings insured while they’re stored in a storage unit? (image via google)

Being able to rent storage space can be a godsend in certain situations.  You might be downsizing to a smaller home but want to keep family heirlooms for your children.  You may be moving from one place to another and need a temporary place to keep your stuff safe and secure.  You might have outgrown the house you have now and need the extra room while you search for a house that better meets your needs.  No matter the reason you need it, having the option to store your things in a rented space can be the difference between keeping things you love and being forced to sell, giveaway, or toss things you would really rather keep.

When it comes to solving these problems, self-storage units and even those storage solutions that offer amenities like climate control and added security provide an easy solution.  This is why so many of us, nearly 1 in 10 according to the Self Storage Association, have rented storage space separate from our primary housing.  When looking for the right storage space, many of us consider things like location, cost, security, and the reputation of the company managing the storage units.  We often go to great lengths to ensure we are storing our belongings in a safe, secure location without ever asking the most obvious security-related question: “If there is a fire and the items I store in my storage unit are damaged, will my loss be covered by insurance?”

The answer is… it depends.

1.     Storage Company

Start with the storage company where you are planning to store your possessions.  It is important to ask the right questions because the answers provided may be true but may lead you to believe you are protected when you are not.  First, ask about if the company is insured.  You are trying to determine if the company is covered by basic insurance policies any business should have like liability and property.  Once you have established that they are insured, ask if their policy provides any protection for your property in the event that fire, nature, or theft damages or destroys your property.  If the answer is yes, verify how much coverage your personal property is provided under their policy and check that against what you plan to store to ensure it is enough to cover any potential losses.

2.     Homeowner’s and Renter’s Policies

If the storage company does not have insurance that covers your property, this is your next stop.  Any items that you store off your property may be covered by your homeowner/renter policy which makes that a good starting point.  Talk to your agent to find out if offsite storage is covered by your policy.  If it isn’t, you will need to secure this coverage somewhere else.  If it is, you aren’t out of the woods yet.  Some insurance companies limit the value of property that can be stored offsite and still covered.  In order to determine if you have the insurance protection you need, you will need to know if your policy includes this provision and what that maximum value is.  You also want to make sure that there aren’t any other provisions in your policy specific to stored property like higher deductibles.

It isn’t difficult to protect all of your property, regardless of where it is kept.  You just need to make sure you have proper coverage or take the steps to get the coverage you need.

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Does your business need umbrella coverage? (Image via FreeFoto)

When it comes to buying the insurance you need to protect your small business, the wide range of options can be confusing and overwhelming.  There are so many different types of policies and different level of coverage that it isn’t always easy to know if you have all the coverage you need, if you are underinsured, or if you have policies that provide coverage for risks you don’t face.  One of the most common questions small business owners ask about the coverage they need is about umbrella coverage and whether or not they need it.

Surprisingly, although it is the type of insurance almost everyone and almost every business should have, it is not as well understood as the other common coverage types like auto, liability, and worker’s comp.  This can have serious, long lasting consequences for business owners of all types.  To understand why Umbrella coverage is so critical to small businesses, you need to first understand what it is and what it does.

Umbrella insurance is a kind of liability coverage.  These policies extend, like an umbrella, over most of your other liability policies like your business auto and your general liability.  If there is a claim that breaches the upper limit of one of your base policies, the Umbrella policy provides coverage over and above that limit.  For example, if you or one of your employees were at fault in an auto accident where your company’s car caused damage in excess of the $50,000 property damage limit on your business auto policy, your company would be responsible for paying every dollar over that limit out of pocket.  The insurance company pays $50,000, you pay the rest.   Now, if your business has a $5M Umbrella policy, the insurance company for your base policy would pay for any damages up to $50,000 and then the Umbrella carrier would pay for any damages from $50,001 to $5M.  To break this down, having that Umbrella policy in place could mean the difference between your company paying nothing and your company being responsible for millions of dollars of damages.

When looked at from this perspective, it is clear why many businesses must have an Umbrella policy in place to protect the viability of the business.  In order to determine if your business needs this type of coverage, here are some things to consider.

If your business requires you or any employee to operate a motor vehicle as part of doing business, you must have an umbrella policy over your business auto policy.  Car accidents can lead to incredibly expensive liability lawsuits and even minor accidents can result in medical bills that exceed your business auto policy limits.  Don’t take the risk; if your business has auto coverage, you need an umbrella policy.

If your business has assets, you need umbrella coverage.  It doesn’t take much these days for someone to file a lawsuit and even if you win, the cost of defending yourself can wipe out your available cash and even your businesses assets.  If you lose, the situation can quickly compromise your entire business.  Umbrella coverage protects you from the high costs associated with getting sued.

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Are your custom car parts covered by your insurance policy? (image via Beaulieu_Hants on Flickr)

You have a sweet ride.  You have spent a lot of money making it as unique as you are including a custom paint job, an aftermarket exhaust, and custom alloy wheels with chrome rims.   You installed a hi-end stereo system with subwoofer, amp, and speakers.  You park your car in the same place every day while you are at work.  You just left work and are heading across the parking lot to your space.  At first, you are merely confused to find some other car in your spot.  But as minutes tick by and you look around for your car, confused, understanding settles over you.  You had a sweet ride.  Now, someone else is driving it.

This is not the moment that you want to find out that all those custom parts aren’t covered by your auto insurance policy.  Unfortunately for you, that is most likely what you will find out when the auto adjuster meets with you to talk about your car.   Standard policies do not generally cover add-ons and upgrades like custom wheels and special speakers.  This means that any loss to your vehicle that damages these parts won’t be covered by your insurance company.

How to Determine What is Covered and What is Not

The best way to figure out what your auto policy covers is to read the entire policy that was provided with your policy when you bought it.  Your auto policy usually comes with at least two standard pieces, the Dec Page (Declaration Page) and the full policy document.  Each year at renewal, your insurance company likely sends you a new Dec Page which lists start and end dates, limits, coverage’s, and deductibles.  Most insurance companies do not provide the full policy document at renewal unless it has fundamentally changed.  If you have had your policy for several years, it is likely a good idea to call the insurance company and request a new copy.  This saves you from having to dig through old paperwork to find it and also ensures you have the most up to date version.

The policy document outlines every detail about your policy and includes what it covered and what is excluded.  Most insurance companies have a standard policy form that they use for all policies.  Unless you requested additional coverage’s or different limits, it is likely that your policy follows this standard form.

You can also discuss your policy with your agent and ask them to walk you through your policy and explain what is covered and what is not.

How to Cover Your Customizations

Once you understand what is covered, you can talk to your insurance agent about how to get your custom parts and features covered.  The extra coverage you need and which insurance company you use will determine how the additional items you need to insure will be covered.  You may need to schedule the items, which will add them as covered items to your original policy.  You may need to purchase a rider which adds additional coverage to your policy to provide coverage for your custom items.  You may also need to buy a separate policy in order to secure the coverage you need.  You agent can assist you in determining the best way to meet your needs.

Don’t wait until the worst happens to determine if your custom car has the coverage you need.  Check your policy and talk to an agent today.

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What are you looking for in a new car? (image via Technosailor on flickr)

In 2010, statistics show that more than 700 people lost their lives in automobile accidents on Arizona roads according to ADOT.   There were more than 100,000 accidents that year that also resulted in more than 50,000 reported injuries.  These statistics are the reason that one of the most important things families must look for when shopping for a new car is safety features.  Many people assume that mandatory government safety standards mean that one car is just as safe as another.  However, while there are minimum safety standards required by the government, this does not mean that all cars are created equal.  Manufacturers meet those minimum standards in different ways.  Some meet the minimum and no more.  Others invest in more advanced safety measures.  In order to find the car that meets your safety requirements, you need to know what to look for.  Here are 4 tips to help you shop for a safe car.

1.    Passenger Restraints

It wasn’t that long ago that not every car came with seatbelts, but unlike the cars of the past, today’s cars come with comprehensive passenger safety restraint systems(SRS).  The SRS starts with the seatbelt and also includes air bags, head rests, and even the windshield.  These components all work together to protect drivers and passengers during collisions.  The seatbelt helps keep you in your seat, the air bags help keep you from hitting anything inside the car, the head rest protects your neck from whiplash or other injury, and the windshield, in some cars, helps maintain the structural integrity of the passenger compartment.

2.     Anti-Lock Brakes

Anti-lock brakes are crucial to helping the driver maintain control of the vehicle in certain circumstances.  In older cars, slamming on the brakes would often cause the brakes to lock up, sending the car into an uncontrolled skid.  Anti-lock brakes keep that from happening.  However, it is important for all drivers to understand that anti-lock brakes help you maintain control of the car in a skid, but they do not help you stop more quickly.

3.     Weight

Heavier cars are safer, especially in crashes between two vehicles.  Collision damage is all about physics, the transferring of force from one state to another.  In an accident with a large heavy vehicle and a small light vehicle, the heavier car has more force behind it.  This is why it takes longer to stop your car if you have it fully loaded.  Because it has more force, the heavier car wins, pushing the lighter car backwards increasing the gravitational force on the occupants of the smaller car.  This force, all by itself, can cause serious injuries.

4.     Crash Test Rating

When it comes down to it, the primary danger of being in a car only occurs when there is an accident.  This is why it is important to understand the crash test rating of any car you are considering purchasing.   The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) is the government agency responsible for conducting all crash tests on new cars.  They assess each car on how much protection it offers occupants of the passenger compartment during front impact collisions, side impact collisions, and roll-over accidents.  Using crash test dummies, the NHTSA tests and rates vehicles based on how likely it is that a person in the front seat of the vehicle who is wearing their seatbelt will suffer a serious head or chest injury during a front impact collision or a serious chest injury in a side impact collision.  Rollover testing rates how likely a vehicle is to rollover if involved in a single car accident.  These ratings are provided for all new cars each year at www.safercar.gov.

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Be safe on the lakes this summer (image via macbiff on Flickr)

Summer is here which means the temps are high, the skies are clear, and people across the state can’t wait to take their boats out every chance they get.  We may not have as many options for boating and water sports as some other states, but our lakes and waterways have some of the highest activity levels in the country.  Unfortunately, with so many boats and watercrafts in the water, accidents happen.  Even seasoned boaters need to refresh themselves on safe operation and common sense safety precautions.   Despite having few lakes and waterways, in 2010 Arizona ranked thirteenth in the nation for both the number of boating accidents and the number of boating injuries.

Here is a picture of Arizona’s Boating accidents in 2010 based on the information provided in the 2010 Boating Safety Report.

  • In 2010, there were 142 watercraft accidents on Arizona’s waterways.
  • Those 142 accidents involved 197 vessels, causing 89 injuries and 6 fatalities.
  • The 142 accidents resulted in almost $500,000 in damages.
  • The most common causes of boating accidents were operator inattention, operator inexperience, and passenger/behavior.
  • 34% of all accidents in 2010 involved colliding with other vessels.
  • Open motor boats and personal watercraft like jet skis were the type of vessel most commonly involved in an accident, accounting for 43% and 40% of all vessels respectively.
  • Watercraft spanning 9’ to 11’ in length accounted for the highest number of vessels (37%) involved in accidents.
  • The majority of accidents (42%) happen between noon and 4PM on clear, calm days.
  • The most dangerous days are Saturday which saw 35% of all accidents and Sunday, which saw 27%.
  • The most dangerous month for boating was May which saw 22% of the accidents for the entire year.  July was a close second with 19% and third by June with 18%.
  • Most accidents, nearly 76%, involved operators from either Arizona or California.
  • The Middle Colorado River span, which goes from David Dam to 1-40 was the most accident prone waterway in the state.  There were 29 accidents on this span which accounted for 20% of the annual total.
  • The most dangerous waterways, those resulting in the highest ratio of casualties per accident were the Verde River with an average 3 casualties per accident, Parker Canyon Lake and Lake Mary which both averaged two casualties per accident, and Bartlett Lake and the Upper span of the Colorado River which both average 1 casualty per accident.
  • The most deadly waterways were Verde River which only had one accident but that resulted in three deaths and Parker Canton Lake which also only had one accident but that resulted in 2 fatalities.
  • Since 1998, the numbers show that almost half of all fatal boating accidents in Arizona involve alcohol.
  • In 2010, law enforcement officials arrested almost 300 people for operating a watercraft under the influence.

Making Our Waterways Safer

Education is the best way to decrease the number of accidents and save lives on our lakes and rivers.  Although boater safety training is not mandatory in Arizona, it is provided by the state.  There is an 8 hour core boating safety class offered at several locations.  Additionally, in an effort to reverse the growing trend of paddle craft related fatalities, Arizona is one of the first states to create and provide a boating safety course specifically designed around safe operation of paddle craft.  You can find a schedule of the classes being offered here.

With the July 4th holiday and summer vacations upon us, the lakes and rivers will be full of those celebrating the holiday.  If you or someone you love will be boating, please take all precautions to follow the rules of the waterways, don’t operate a boat if you’ve consumed alcohol, and ensure everyone onboard has a lifejacket accessible to them.

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Don’t Drink and Drive (image via google)

Everyone knows that fireworks are dangerous and must be handled appropriately if they are going to be part of your July 4th celebration.  The same holds true for alcohol.  It can be dangerous if not handled appropriately.  This July 4th, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to make sure you are being as careful around alcohol as you are around fireworks.

As people across the country get ready to celebrate Independence Day, officers at all levels of law enforcement are preparing for one of the deadliest holidays of the year.  In 2010, nearly 400 people lost their lives over the July 4th holiday and 39%of those fatalities involved one or more drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of more than .08 according to the NHTSA.  Here in Arizona, the NHTSA reports that July 4th, 2010 was the deadliest holiday of the year with 6 alcohol-related fatal accidents resulting in 7 fatalities, almost twice the number of any other holiday that year.

This year, police departments all over the country will be participating in an enforcement campaign designed to crack down on impaired driving of all kinds and reduce the loss of life over the holiday.  The motto this year is “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” which highlights the nationwide zero tolerance for impaired driving.  Law enforcement officers will be manning additional sobriety checkpoints, heading out on patrol, and participating in other activities to raise awareness of the danger and encourage drivers to make the right choice.

Here are some tips to help you and the other drivers in your life celebrate Independence Day without risking your life or the lives of others by getting behind the wheel when you are too impaired to drive safely.

1.     Stay Sober or Stay the Night

Making plans ahead of time to spend the night wherever you are going to be celebrating allows you to drink and make merry without worrying about having to drive.  Night driving during the holiday is even more dangerous than driving during the day and driving fatalities involving impaired drivers go up as soon as the sun goes down.  According to the NHTSA, over the 2010 July 4th holiday 80% of nearly 400 alcohol related fatalities happened at night.  Staying the night, even if you aren’t drinking, can save your life.

2.     Designate a Driver

The best way to make sure everyone gets to have fun and get home safely is to make sure there is someone designated to drive.  If you are heading out for the day, the afternoon, or all night, decide ahead of time who is going to be getting you back home.  This is important even if you are going out and have no intention of drinking or getting drunk.  Having a designated driver every time ensures you will never be behind the wheel because you are the “most sober” one.

3.     Don’t Play the Odds

Many people think that if they just drive this one time, it will be fine.  They think that the odds are in their favor because they are focusing on whether or not they will get caught, rather than whether or not they will get killed.  If someone told you that you could stay the night and be fine but if you walked out the front door you stood a 26% (1 in 4) chance that something would fall on you, would you walk out the door?  What if you knew that 40% of the time that something falling on you would kill you?  Would you take the risk?  The odds of getting pulled over, losing your license, and going to jail may not be high enough to make you stay out of the game, but maybe understanding that you are playing with your life will.

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