August 2012


Most auto policies have exemptions for accidents caused from road rage (image via flickr)

These days it seems like everyone is in a hurry to get everywhere they need to go.  By the way many of us drive, you might think we have someone in the car that is hurt and in dire need of an emergency room because we act as if mere seconds may make the difference between life and death.  Sadly, most of those times, we are just going where we need to go.  This kind of aggressive, me-first, take no prisoners style of driving often leads to road rage, which the NHTSA estimates is a contributing factor in a third of all car accidents and two-thirds of car accidents that result in a fatality.

Whether it is our busy lives, increased traffic, or just the fact that we are used to driving this way, everyone on the road needs to do their part to stop aggressive driving and eliminate road rage.  Not only is this type of driving dangerous and illegal, many auto insurance policies contain exemptions for accidents caused by road rage.  This means that if you are the one raging and you cause an accident, you are on your own; the insurance company won’t cover the damage.  Don’t let your temper get the best of you by following these tips for keeping your anger from affecting how you drive.

1.     Leave Plenty of Time

One of the most common causes of aggressive driving is being late.  When we are trying to get somewhere and the clock is ticking and there isn’t enough time to make the trip, we get stressed and try to make up the time by passing and speeding.  Don’t put yourself in this position, leave early, make sure you have plenty of time, and if you are late, remember that no matter how important it is that you get there on time, it is not more important that your life or the life of someone else.

2.     Give Them the Benefit of the Doubt

Another contributing factor to aggressive driving and road rage is when we develop an Us vs. Them attitude towards the other drivers on the road.  If they are in front of us and going slower than we want to go, we think they are doing it on purpose.  If they merge poorly, and cut us off, they did it on purpose.  If they are driving too close to us, they are tailgating us.  While sometimes these things are true, sometimes they aren’t.  Sometimes other drivers are just not paying enough attention to how their actions are affecting the cars around them.  Give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are clueless rather than deciding that they are your enemy.

3.     Pay Attention to How You are Driving

Take a few minutes to think about how you drive.  Are you the driver that drives just under the speed limit on every road?  Do you find that other drivers seem to become aggressive towards you on a regular basis?  Even if you aren’t the one who is getting mad, you might be contributing to the problem.  Pay attention to how you are driving and make sure you aren’t the one everyone else has to give the benefit of the doubt.

Aggressive driving and road rage is everyone’s problem.  Pay attention, drive courteously, and remember that everyone on the road is just trying to get where they are going in the shortest amount of time.  Winning the battle against road rage starts with you.

 

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Are you prepared in the event of an emergency? (image via flickr)

Today’s newspapers and internet sites seem to highlight some new catastrophe almost every day.  Whether it is a drought in the U.S., flooding caused by a typhoon in the Philippines, or an earthquake that destroys most of an island nation, emergency situations are all around us.  Now, more than ever, families need to take steps to be ready in case one of these catastrophic events comes to call.

September is National Preparedness Month and organizations like FEMA and the Red Cross will be working with communities and families to raise awareness about the need for emergency preparedness and to offer advice and information on what kind of preparations need to be made.  The primary goal of National Preparedness Month is to get people to understand the importance of preparing before disaster strikes.  To help increase awareness, here are 4 things every household should do in order to be ready and be able to respond.

1.     Fire Evacuation Plan

In 2010, statistics show there were more than 360,000 house fires in the U.S.  and 2,640 people lost their lives as a result.   Unlike some other natural disasters that only impact certain areas, house fires can happen to anyone.  Make sure your family has a fire evacuation plan that includes at least two ways out of every room.

2.     Emergency Contact Information

One of the scariest things family members encounter when there is a crisis is not being able to find loved ones.  Establishing an emergency communication plan that includes meeting places, important contact numbers, and how to use an out of town relay to locate and communicate with each other is your best defense.

3.     Evacuation Plan

If the time ever comes that it is no longer safe to remain in your home, you won’t likely have time to formulate the best evacuation plan either.  In order to be ready if that order ever comes, you need to know where the closest shelter is in your town as well as where emergency shelters can be found in neighboring towns or cities.  You need to have an emergency kit that contains everything your family will need for 72 hours already packed and ready to go with you in the car.

4.     Sheltering in Place

Just like there are times when you must leave your home, there are times when leaving is the last thing you want to do.  Every family should have a plan for remaining in their home for several weeks without access to outside resources like the grocery store or essential services like electricity.   By stocking enough food, water, medicine, and other critical supplies ahead of time, you can feel confident that if there is a reason not to go out, you won’t have to just to survive.

You don’t need to stockpile several years of food, learn to spin your own wool thread, or spend thousands of dollars on tools and equipment it is unlikely you will ever use in order to be prepared.  It only takes a little time, a little effort, and a trip or two to the grocery store to make sure your family is ready to weather whatever storms come your way.

 

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As summer vacation fades in the rearview mirror, it’s time to take a quick look at some ways to make sure all children are as safe as possible as we head into the new school year.  According to the National SAFE KIDS Campaign, more than 2 million children under the age of 14 are injured each year while at school.  Here are 6 tips for helping keep kids safe as school goes back into session.

1.     Make them a Map

Determine which specific routes to and from school and after school activities are acceptable for your child to use and then walk those routes with them.  This is important whether they are walking, riding a bike, riding a scooter, or travelling by any other means.  Mapping out acceptable routes ahead of time helps keep your child safe in several ways.  First, they won’t be taking short cuts that require crossing busier roads or expose them to unnecessary dangers.  Second, you will always know where to look for them if they are running late or do not arrive somewhere as expected.  Mapping out more than one route ensures they have a back-up in case there is an emergency or detour.

2.     Watch for Walkers

When school is in session, there are more children walking on sidewalks and crossing streets.  Drivers need to be aware of where schools are located on their normal commutes and pay attention to school zone signs and speed limit changes.  Pay extra attention whenever there are children walking, running, playing, or waiting to cross.

3.     Remind Kids about the Rules

For the first few weeks of school, parents need to remind their children about important safety rules.  Talking about important safety topics like looking both ways before going into the street, using crosswalks, paying attention to what’s happening around them, and avoiding strangers will help make it a safe school year.

4.     Practice Prevention

With children, many of the most common serious injuries are also the most preventable.  Make sure that children who ride their bikes to school are wearing a helmet.  If your child is going to ride a scooter or skateboard back and forth each day, provide the appropriate safety gear to protect heads, wrists, and knees and instill the importance of wearing it every time.

5.     Create a Contact List

It is important that any school age child knows basic contact information like their home phone, parent cell phone, and home address.  It is also a good idea to create an emergency contact list for them that can be kept in their backpack.  This may include additional phone numbers of grandparents, babysitters, or friend’s houses.  Additionally, make sure your child knows when and how to call 911 if there is an emergency.

6.     Promote Safe Play

Children are injured everyday just by being children.  Running, jumping, and playing often leads to scrapes, bruises, and bumps.  While this is a normal part of being a kid, parents can help protect their children from serious injuries and limit the number of minor ones by promoting safe play practices.  Check out the school’s playground and talk to the school administration about any safety concerns you see.  If the playground isn’t up to par, raise money to build a new one.  Talk to your child about how to play as safely as possible and what kinds of behavior can cause injury.

 

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Are you liable if your tree falls on your neighbor’s car? (image via flickr)

Everyone knows that if you rear-end the car in front of you or start a fist fight in a bar, you are liable for the damage your actions cause.  Liability in these cases is pretty clear cut because your direct action was the cause of another’s injury.  But there are many circumstances where fault is not necessarily the determining factor in liability and where there is no direct link between your actions and the resulting injury.  In order to adequately protect yourself from damage and injury claims you need to have insurance policies that offer the coverage you need.  The key to being protected is to understand both the obvious risks you face and those that are not so obvious.  To help you identify where you may have some hidden risks, here are some common questions about who is liable for indirect injury.

Am I Liable…..If My Child Causes a Car Accident in My Car?

While there are state specific laws that govern liability and insurance, in this case the answer is most likely yes.  If your son or daughter is driving a car that lists you as the registered owner, it is very likely that you could be sued for damages if your child causes an accident.  In order to protect yourself, you need to have a solid insurance policy that lists your child as a driver on any car they may drive.  You may also need an umbrella policy which can protect your assets in the event you are sued.  Check with your insurance agent if you are concerned that allowing your child to drive your car opens you to a liability risk you are not protected against.

Am I Liable……If My Dog Bites Someone on My Property?

This is another case where state law dictates certain rules about liability, but it is a good bet that if your dog bites someone, regardless of where you are at the time, you may be found liable for any injury.   Here in Arizona, unlike other states, there is no “one-free-bite” law which means that pet owners can be held liable for a dog bite even if there was no reasonable expectation that the dog might bite someone.  This means the first bite could land you with a lawsuit.  The law doesn’t only apply to humans either; it also applies to if your dog bites another animal.  If you are unclear about your rights as a property owner, ask your local police department.  If you are concerned about potential liability from a dog bite, talk through your concerns with your insurance agent to ensure you have the coverage you need to protect yourself and your assets as some policies include exclusions regarding animals.

Am I Liable…..If My Tree Falls on My Neighbor’s Car?

Like the other scenarios, this one is not as cut and dry as it may seem. In most cases like this, in order to prove negligence on your part, which is what would be required in order for you to be liable for the damage, your neighbor would have to prove you had a reasonable expectation that the tree might fall and damage his property.  If there is no reason that you would believe that the tree posed a real danger to your neighbor, it is unlikely you will be found liable for the damage.  It is still a good idea to talk to your insurance agent to determine if you would be protected from this type of liability claim.  They can also offer advice on steps you can take to decrease your liability risk.

 

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Do you know how divorce may impact your insurance policies? (image via flickr)

No one likes to think that it will happen to them but with a 50% divorce rate, it is happening to a lot of us.  The last thing you want to think about while you are divvying up your life is insurance, but it should be at the top of your to do list.  In order to ensure you are protected during and after the divorce, you will need to review and make changes to the insurance policies you have individually and together.  Here are 5 of the most common ways getting divorced impacts your insurance.

Policies that Protect Home and Property

These are your homeowner’s policy or your renter’s policy and provide coverage for damage to your home and/or loss or damage to personal property.  Odds are that at least one person is changing residences as a result of the divorce and when they leave, they will be taking property with them.  It is a good idea to reassess your homeowner’s or renter’s policy to ensure you still need all the coverage you have.  For example, if you have a rider that covers an expensive piece of art you may no longer need that rider or to pay for the additional coverage if your former spouse is taking the art.  If you are moving from a home you own to a rented space, you will want to switch your homeowner’s policy for a rental policy.

Policies that Protect Your Cars

There will definitely be changes to your auto policy unless one of you doesn’t drive.  At a minimum, the policy will need to be changed so that it only includes you as an authorized driver.  If you have more than one car, the coverage for any vehicles you no longer own can be removed as well which will save you money.  Don’t wait to make these changes.  As long as you are both listed on the policy, you are both liable for any claims against that policy.

Policies that Cover Your Life

Most people think that one of your first insurance changes you would want to make would be to your life insurance.  You don’t want to take the chance that something happens to you and your former spouse gets your life insurance payout.  However, there are several reasons why you may not want to make any changes to your life insurance as part of the divorce.  First, if you have children, you may want your life insurance proceeds to go to your spouse because they will be the primary caretakers for your children.  Second, if your spouse is paying alimony and child support and something happens to them, life insurance proceeds can help replace that lost resource.  One change you may consider is changing these policies, the ones meant to provide for the care and raising of children, from whole life policies to term policies.  This would enable you to provide means for their care until they are old enough to care for themselves without having to pay premiums for life.

If you are unsure about the insurance implications of your divorce, work with your agent.  They can help you determine what insurance you need going forward and what changes you need to make in order to have the amount of protection that works for you.

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Make sure your child is properly restrained while in your vehicle. (image via Flickr)

It’s hard to remember that there was a time when children rode around in cars completely unencumbered.  No car seats, no booster seats, and much of the time, no seat belts.  It is hard to fathom how that could have been the norm now that we know just how dangerous it can be for children to be unsecured in a collision.  In fact, even now with all the safety measures we have in place, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that car accidents are the number one cause of death for children between the ages of 1 and 12.  Imagine how much higher than number would be without all the safety precautions we have in place.

While we can all agree that taking the right measures to keep kids safe in cars matters, we don’t always know the best way to keep them safe.  The NHTSA recommends all drivers who have occupants under the age 18 follow these general guidelines.

  1. Pick a car seat that is the right type for your child’s age and that is the right size to fit them.
  2. Pick a car seat that fits in your car and is easy to use so that you will use it every time.
  3. Follow the car seat manufacturer’s instructions for installation and use.
  4. Read the owner’s manual for your car to determine if there are any special features for use with car seats or special practices related to their use.
  5. Don’t let children under the age of 12 sit in the front seat.

The ever changing array of child safety seats and laws that are different in each state, you may be unsure if your child or grandchild is properly secured.  Car seats are specifically designed to keep children of specific ages and sizes safe during a collision.  The basic recommendations are as follows?

Birth to 1 Year – Children in this age group should always ride in a rear facing car seat.  As there can be significant differences in size and weight between infants and children approaching their first birthday, there are different kinds of car seats that enable safe riding in the rear facing position.  You can also get car seats that can grow with your child and can be converted to accommodate rear facing positions and forward facing positions.

Age 1-3 – While it is best to keep your child in the rear-facing position as long as possible, once they reach the height or weight limit for the rear facing seat, they are ready to move up to a forward facing seat.

Age 4-7 – Children should ride in the forward facing seat with a harness until they reach the maximum height or weight limit for their seat.  At that point they can transition to a booster seat.

Age 8-12 – It is best for children to ride in a booster seat until they are big enough to fit in a regular seat belt properly.  This means that the lap belt fits snugly across the upper thighs and the shoulder belt goes across the chest and shoulders.

For all the ages above, the child should still ride in the backseat as that is the safest place for them to ride.

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Are you adequately insured? (image via wikipedia)

Most of the time when people talk about specialty insurance, they are talking about insurance coverage that provides companies with specialized protection based on their industry or on specific risks they are face.  However, there is also a side of specialty insurance that is all about covering personal interests.  Many people believe that their auto, renter, or homeowner’s policy provides coverage for these specialty risks and depending on the policy, it might.  But in many cases these specialty items actually indicate a gap in coverage that leaves them open to liability claims and property loss.  To help you understand if you have any of these specialty risks, here is information on some of the most common types of specialty personal coverage.

Boat/Watercraft Insurance

If you own a boat, you may have some coverage under your existing homeowner’s or renter’s policy.  Many companies will provide limited coverage for small boats like canoes as part of their base homeowner’s protection but it would be a mistake to assume any and all watercraft related risks are covered this way.  Even if minimal property coverage is included in your homeowner’s policy, it is unlikely that liability protection will be included.  Additionally, if you have a boat with an engine that can go more than 25 mile per hour, you may need to obtain additional coverage.

Flood Insurance

While most homeowner’s know that damage caused by floods is not covered by their homeowner’s insurance policy, there are still many homes that remain unprotected against this specialized risk.  Additionally, flood damage is also excluded from most renters insurance policies which means that even renters need to secure this specialty protection, especially if they are in a flood zone.

Earthquake Insurance

Damage from earthquakes and other natural disasters is generally excluded from personal insurance coverage which means it must be purchased separately in order for you to be protected.  Most earthquake policies or riders carry a much larger deductible than other personal policies.  If you live in an area where earthquakes happen often, having this insurance is critical to protecting your financial future.  But remember, earthquakes can happen almost everywhere and in areas with low risk, the cost of adding this coverage is often minimal.

Motorcycle Insurance

Riding a motorcycle, just like driving a car, carries certain risks and responsibilities and most states require drivers to carry a certain amount of insurance.  However, your motorcycle is not always automatically covered under your existing auto policy.   A motorcycle insurance policy protects you from property loss or damage if something happens to your bike and with liability coverage in the event you are responsible for causing damage to something or someone else.   In addition to this base coverage, you may also need to add coverage for accessories or specialized equipment.

Recreational Vehicle Insurance

Like other types of specialty coverage, recreational vehicle insurance provides additional protection from risks specific to your RV.   This type of insurance goes beyond what is covered by auto policies, property damage and liability coverage, and often offers additional protection from breakdowns and travel related risks.

If you are concerned that you have a specialty risk that may not be covered by your existing policies, talk to your insurance agent.  They can walk through the details of your policies and help you determine if you need additional coverage and which type you need.

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