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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Buy Only the Homeowners Coverage You Need

Saving Money on Your Insurance
Buy Only the Homeowners Coverage You Need
By José Montemayor
Commissioner of Insurance

It´s easy to pay too much for your homeowners insurance policy if you don´t understand what it pays for. It´s also possible to buy too little coverage and end up paying thousands of dollars out of your own pocket after a fire or other loss.

Some people mistakenly believe their homeowners coverage should equal their homes´ market value. The truth, however, is that a typical HO-B policy covers a home´s replacement cost, up to the policy´s dollar limit. And replacement cost may differ considerably from market value, particularly for older homes.

Market value is what a willing buyer would pay for your home, including the lot. Location is a major factor in determining market value.

Replacement cost, on the other hand, is what you would pay to rebuild your house from the foundation up. Unlike market value, replacement cost is not affected by the neighborhood where a home is located.

I know of one case in which a couple living in a desirable older neighborhood saved $600 a year in homeowners premium by reducing the amount of their coverage from market value to replacement cost.

The flip side is that replacement cost may exceed market value in many situations. In those cases, you might not have enough coverage if you insure for market value.

So how do you find out the replacement cost of your home?

Probably the easiest way is to have your insurance agent or company figure it for you by using widely accepted software and published tables. The software and tables factor in square feet, construction materials, local differences in construction costs and such special features as fireplaces, finished attics, built-in appliances and decks.
You also can find replacement cost calculators on the Internet.

A local contractor or local builders association might be able to give you a rough idea of construction costs per square foot in your area. Remember, however, that rebuilding a house is more costly than building a new house because of the added cost of tearing out the damaged materials and removing the debris.

A more expensive alternative, which in some cases may be worth the money, is to hire a real estate appraiser, who can tell you the replacement cost and the current market value of your house.

Some mortgage lenders require borrowers to insure their homes for the loan value, which may be closer to market value than replacement cost. If your home´s loan value is considerably higher than its replacement cost, your agent or appraiser might help you persuade the lender to accept less insurance. If you don´t succeed, you can still reduce the cost of insurance by buying two policies: 1) a homeowners policy for the home´s replacement cost and 2) a cheaper "dwelling" policy covering the additional market value of the land and outside improvements.

Another issue is whether to cover 100 percent of your home´s replacement cost.

A homeowners policy fully covers partial losses such as a hail-damaged roof if your house is covered for 80 percent of its replacement cost. However, such a policy can leave you short by thousands of dollars if you have a total loss. Most property insurance companies now require 100 percent replacement cost coverage.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Spoil a Car Theif's Day

It takes less time for a professional thief to break into your car, start it up and drive away as it does for you to walk into 7-11, plunk down three bucks for a bagel and coffee and emerge to watch your ride recede into the distance. And don’t presume your elderly clunker’s immune; the most stolen vehicle of 2008, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, was the 1994 Honda Accord.

“We know that thieves never miss an opportunity to make a quick buck by stealing a car,” says Joe Wehrle, president and CEO of NICB. “They work weekends, nights and holidays and ironically, they are particularly busy on New Year’s Day and Labor Day.”

While there isn’t any way to stop a crook who really wants your ride and has the tools and know-how to make it happen, the following tips can help your car become a less inviting target and slow down, discourage or actually prevent car theft.

Park in plain sight

Holiday Car Theft
Holiday Number of Thefts
New Year's Day 3,017
Labor Day 2,847
Halloween 2,727
President's Day 2,683
Memorial Day 2,599
Independence Day 2,584
Valentine's Day 2,389
Christmas Eve 1,841
Thanksgiving 1,806
Christmas Day 1,267
New Year's Eve 916

The holidays ranked by number of thefts reported to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) for 2008.
Our natural inclination is to hide something we don’t want anyone to steal, but for cars, visibility is the key to safety, say experts. Thieves prefer to work out of sight of people and electronic recording devices, so leave your car in a well-lit, populated area.

Take your keys---always.
If you think this tip falls into the “duh” section of car theft prevention, try Googling the phrase “keys in ignition” or similar and you’ll see many trusting souls leave the equivalent of a sign reading “FREE CAR!” hanging from their ignition switches on a daily basis. Car theft is often a crime of opportunity, so shut yours off and pocket your keys even if you’re only ducking into a convenience store.

Don’t hide your keys anywhere within or outside the car.
You know those magnetic key holders you can buy to store your spare key? Leave it in your house on the fridge, not under bumpers, in the glove compartment or anywhere in the car. Thieves know all the hiding places you do, and probably a few more.

Use a variety of methods to slow would-be thieves.
Car alarms are ubiquitous and often go ignored. When used in tandem with other theft prevention methods, though, they will make a thief naturally try to work faster, and if he comes across other security measures, he may give up altogether and move on. Apply the emergency brake, turn your wheels hard left or right and set the car in “park” or in gear, making it more difficult for you to be quickly towed, and consider using a vehicle recovery system like LoJack or an engine immobilizer device such as Ravelco.

Disable your battery if parking long-term
A thief won’t spend time trying to diagnose an apparent engine problem. Consider yanking one of the cable wires to your battery if you’re leaving your car parked at an airport or anywhere else where it will sit unattended for more than a few days.

Sign valuable parts
Take the time to embed your Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on the inside of your trunk, inside your doors, on your sound system components and any other pricey parts thieves like to chop. If you don’t feel like doing it yourself, contact your local police precinct or even your insurance company, some of whom offer free VIN etchings.

Go east
California is the number one state for auto theft, according to the National Insurance Crime bureau, with the town of Modesto ranking #1 with 4,235 vehicles stolen in 2008.

The good news for all of us is that auto thefts were down almost 9% overall in 2008, according to the NICB, to less than one million a year in 2008. With foresight and preventive measures that don’t take much time, you can help ensure you’ll never have to experience that unique nausea familiar to anyone finding a grease spot where their car was parked.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Aetna Commends U.S. Senate on Adoption of Health Care Reform

Chairman and CEO Ron Williams calls expanding access essential, but not a complete victory if affordability for the average American is not addressed

WASHINGTON--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Aetna (NYSE: AET) today commended the U.S. Senate for taking action to significantly expand access to health care coverage for millions of Americans. While noting progress toward meaningful reform, Aetna Chairman and CEO Ronald A. Williams said that more needs to be done to deliver on the full promise of health care system reform.

“Today, the Senate took an important step, but reform that doesn’t deal with affordability, tied to health care quality, is not a complete victory for consumers”

.“Today, the Senate took an important step, but reform that doesn’t deal with affordability, tied to health care quality, is not a complete victory for consumers,” said Williams. “Guaranteeing that Americans cannot be denied insurance and enhancing coverage for millions of people are essential actions. When consumers win, we all win, and that can only happen if health care reform addresses both access and affordability. The Senate has not done enough on addressing costs and has actually exacerbated the problem of affordability by choosing to pay for reform through billions of dollars in additional taxes on the health care system which will be transferred to the consumer through higher costs and will therefore hurt health care affordability for the average American.

“It’s imperative that the House – Senate conference committee get the final outcome right. As a company with a track record of leadership in health care policy, we stand ready to work with the committee to craft a workable outcome that addresses health care affordability and truly helps get the best out of our health care system.”

To learn more about Aetna’s position on health care reform, visit on

About Aetna

Aetna is one of the nation’s leading diversified health care benefits companies, serving approximately 36.3 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental, behavioral health, group life and disability plans, and medical management capabilities and health care management services for Medicaid plans. Our customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, see

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top Ten Stolen Vehicles During November

The following is a rundown of the “Top 10” makes of vehicles reported stolen to the Houston Police Department during the month of November 2009.

1. Chevrolet Trucks-157
2. Ford Trucks-130
3. Honda Cars-109
4. Dodge Trucks-78
5. Ford Cars-47
6. Toyota Cars-43
7. Chevrolet Cars-42
8. GMC Trucks-32
9. Dodge Cars-28
10. Nissan Cars-24

Friday, November 20, 2009

Teens and safe cars

Do you have a teen or a grandchild that is just getting a driver's license? It's an exciting time — a rite-of-passage for teens — but enough to make you frantic. Yes, the first years teenagers drive can be very risky. In fact, teen drivers have the highest death rates of any age group. In 2008, more than 4,000 teenagers (ages 13-19) died in motor vehicle crashes, and many more were left severely and permanently injured by crashes.* However, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Insurance Information Institute say there is something worried family members can do to help protect their teens — choose a safe vehicle.

Avoid vehicles that encourage reckless driving. Speeding and reckless driving often go hand in hand with teen drivers. So avoid sports cars and other vehicles with high performance features such as turbochargers as they are likely to encourage speeding. Stick with the understated "Sunday sedan."
Don't let your teen drive an unstable vehicle. Ever see a young driver make an abrupt steering maneuver when fooling around or over-correcting for an error? Those are the moves that can cause a rollover, especially in some sport utility vehicles that have a higher center of gravity. A more stable car typically might only skid or spin out.
Pick a vehicle that offers good crash protection. Structural design, size and weight, and restraint systems, including front and side air bags, all play a part in how well a vehicle protects its occupants in a crash. For more information on crashworthiness, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates vehicles based on performance in high-speed front and side crash tests. Visit for more information.
Avoid older vehicles. Newer cars are better designed for crash protection than cars of six to ten years ago. Visit the U.S. Department of Transportation at or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at before you make a buying decision.

Just say Y.E.S.
If you are getting ready to hand over the keys of a brand-new or nearly new car to a teen driver and you're concerned about safety, you're not alone. So is Farmers. That's why we developed the Y.E.S. (You're Essential to Safety®) Program. This program may help to improve your teen's driving, and in many states young drivers who complete the Y.E.S. program receive a discount on their auto insurance. Also, some vehicles are more costly to insure than others, so call me before you buy. I can give you more information about safety and discounts.

Who should consider a will?

In a word — everyone. Regardless of age, regardless of wealth — we all should consider preparing a will. It could help you to control who receives your property, who will be the guardian of your children and who will manage your estate upon your death.

Wills are typically simple to create and we all have good intentions, but many die without a will — I see it happen all too often. People who die intestate — without a will — default to the one-size-fits-all will provided by the state. Our state's distribution formula may not be appropriate for your family's situation, but your survivors will have no choice in the matter. You can avoid that and protect your loved ones with an appropriate will — then your property will be distributed according to your wishes.

A guardian for your minor children
In many states, when you die, your will is the only means of stating who you want to act as legal guardian for your minor children. The court has final approval, but courts usually will approve your choice of guardian unless there are compelling reasons not to. The greatest peace of mind that parents of minor children can have is to know for sure who will care for their children if something happens to them.

If you don't have a will, consider preparing one sooner rather than later. (I suggest that you consult an attorney to discuss your individual circumstances and options.) And, if you have a will, update it every time there is a major change in your life — such as the birth of a child, adoption, marriage or divorce — or changes in the lives of those mentioned in your will. Make sure that your hard-earned assets are distributed in accordance with your wishes. And make sure you know who will take care of your minor children if you can't. Share this with a friend or loved one so they, too, can understand the importance of being prepared. Please contact your attorney, accountant or tax advisor for legal or tax questions.

Are you dreaming of a 'green' Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa?

The holidays are just around the corner — an exciting time for families and especially youngsters. Many of us will shop, decorate our homes and enjoy the festivities. Why not make your celebration "green" this year? It's easy: Here are some ways to enjoy this holiday season while helping cut global warming pollution at the same time:

Do your online and catalog shopping early. Shopping early lets you request ground shipping. Ground is more efficient than overnight, uses less fuel and helps reduce the pollution that causes global warming. It's good for the environment and your pocketbook.
Buy a live, potted tree. After the holidays you can plant it outside or donate it to a local school or park. Or buy a small potted tree that you can keep in its pot and use again next year. If you use a cut tree, go to to find a tree recycler in our area.
Use energy-efficient LED lights. Holiday lights use a lot of energy, especially when left on 24/7. So, when you're ready to decorate, start by replacing your old lights with LED bulbs. They are small, solid lightbulbs which are extremely energy efficient. New LED bulbs are grouped in clusters with diffuser lenses which have broadened the applications for LED use in the home. Then only use the lights when you are going to enjoy them — in the evening. Another green idea: Try solar LEDs — they use no electricity at all.
Look for the Energy Star label when buying electronics or appliances as gifts. They're more energy efficient than conventional models. Also look for an Energy Guide yellow sticker to check the energy use rating. The higher the number, the more energy efficient.
Use less paper and recycle. Send e-cards to friends, reuse last year's wrapping paper and save this year's unused paper. And remember to recycle all those cans, bottles and cardboard boxes.

You don't have to choose between enjoying this time of year and becoming an environmental stick-in-the-mud. As you can see, there are many simple steps that you and your family can take if you are dreaming of a "green" holiday season.

State Farm Owes $310M in Refunds, Texas Regulators Say

November 17, 2009

The Texas Department of Insurance has ordered State Farm Lloyd’s (SFL) to refund a total of $310 million to policyholders after finding that the insurer had overcharged customers beginning in 2003.

It’s a finding that the department had reached once before. State Farm was told in 2003 to cut its rates by 12 percent but the company sued the department and the case has been in limbo since then.

Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin issued the current order on Nov. 16, the result of a re-hearing after the case was remanded to TDI by the Third Court of Appeals in 2008.

"I have issued an order that completes what the Legislature started in 2003,” Geeslin said in a statement released by TDI. “As far as any commentary, anything more that I could say would be redundant to what is contained in these pages [of the order]. There is evidence, there is law, and between the two you come up with $310 million."

The refund amount ordered is significantly lower than the nearly $1 billion that the state’s Office of Public Insurance Counsel had previously estimated the company owed to policyholders, according to Associated Press reports.

Geeslin, according to a summary of the order provided by TDI, “found SFL’s rates were excessive and is ordering SFL to pay refunds amounting to 6.2 percent of premium for policyholders insured with SFL from September 2003 to August 2004.”

SFL was also ordered to refund to policyholders an amount equal to 3.4 percent of premium for those insured by the company from September 2004 through July 2008, excluding new policies written from June 1, 2008, through July 31, 2008.

The amount paid to individual policyholders will vary. The total amount of the refund is approximately $257 million, and the interest owed is approximately $53 million, according to TDI.

The company can repay the amount to policyholders via renewal credits for existing policyholders, or by check. State Farm Lloyd’s must begin “applying renewal credits, and pay refunds and interest with in 60 days” of the order date. However, the company also has the right to appeal, in which case the payments would be on hold until final resolution by the courts.

Kevin Davis, a spokesman for State Farm, said the company had not yet decided whether to appeal.

“We are deeply disappointed with this decision as we believe State Farm Lloyds rates are, and always have been, both fair and justified," Davis said. "With this decision, the Commissioner effectively created another Hurricane Ike for State Farm. The financial impact of this order is comparable to the financial strain caused by the third most destructive hurricane to ever make landfall in the U.S.

"This decision not only challenges State Farm financially, it creates an unstable environment for consumers and the insurance industry. It will impact Lloyds in a significant manner. We are examining the potential financial and business consequences.”

Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information Service, an insurer trade group, believes the order sets a bad precedent. “This precedent tells the insurance industry that regulators in Texas are not interested in the financial strength of companies."

Johns commented that “insurers who are considering entering the market in Texas and offer choices for consumers will likely take a step back and reconsider that decision."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Halloween Safety Tips

•Prevent Accidents: Remove lawn furniture, or any other obstacles, to avoid accidents or damage. Ensure your home’s entry is in good condition, free of loose or broken pieces on stairwells and walkways to avoid trick-or-treaters’ injuries on your property.

•Fire Dangers: Prevent fires by making sure pumpkins containing candles are placed at a distance where a child’s costume cannot be ignited or a curious guest may tip it over. Extinguish all candles before going to bed and use battery operated lights wherever possible.

•Costume Safety: Be careful with costumes. All disguises should be made from flame-resistant materials and shouldn’t be too long or contain sharp accessories. Try to avoid masks that may obscure vision and try to use hypo-allergenic make-up instead.

•See and Be Seen: Encourage each trick-or-treater to carry a flashlight. Apply light-reflecting material to costumes.

•Don’t be a Scary Driver: Drive sober, slowly and even more carefully than usual on Halloween. Watch for children who may be running or wearing dark costumes in the road.

•Power in Numbers: When walking, travel in groups and cross only at corners—never between parked cars—and stay on well-lit streets.

•Unwelcomed Guests: Deter property vandalism by keeping outdoor lights on.

•Pet Safety: Keep pets inside. Warn your children to stay away from animals as they visit door-to-door. Halloween night can be stressful, even on the friendliest dog or cat.

•Candy Inspection: Cavities aren’t the only candy-related risks on Halloween. Inspect children’s treats. Never eat unwrapped items, collect candy only from those you know and ask the local police department if it offers a candy x-ray service. Throw away any suspicious candy.

Texas May Drop Phone Numbers from Vehicle Accident Reports

In a blow to businesses that contact drivers after car wrecks, Texas' law enforcement and transportation agencies have agreed to drop telephone numbers from crash reports. The move is supported by the insurance industry, which says it will help prevent fraudulent claims.

The Texas Transportation Commission is scheduled to consider the new reporting form at a meeting today in Fort Worth.

The inclusion of phone numbers on the reports has prompted several transportation commissioners to express concerns about privacy. If adopted by the Commission, the new form would be used starting Jan. 1.

"The need for and uses of the phone number do not outweigh the privacy concerns that the collection, storage, and release of the phone number creates," Texas Department of Transportation staff said in its recommendation to the commission. The commission oversees TxDOT.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, which also has a say on the forms, in 2008 agreed to drop the numbers after concerns were raised about insurance fraud.

The numbers were reinstated, however, after a lawsuit by a chiropractor and a business that gathers crash-report information for clients. They successfully argued the state had to follow a formal rule-making process to make the change.

This year, DPS officials changed course and said they wanted to keep the numbers on the forms for law enforcement purposes. Transportation commissioners balked; the two agencies said they'd talk.

In the latest turn, the TxDOT staff recommendation posted Monday said, "The Department of Public Safety has determined that, although the phone number can be helpful for follow up crash investigation issues, it is not vital to the form."

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said by e-mail that his agency is "confident the concerns we have previously expressed regarding the contents of the form can be adequately addressed in other ways."

An investigating officer can still put a phone number into the narrative portion of the report or into separate notes, said TxDOT spokesman Chris Lippincott.

Deleting it from the form, however, would make things difficult for businesses that purchase crash records from local law enforcement agencies so that they can call and offer medical or other services to those involved.

Insurers contend such telemarketing prompts fraud, creating or inflating claims. Insurance regulators supported removing the numbers. Businesses using the phone numbers say poor people in particular benefit from calls that allow them to get services paid for by the insurer of the at-fault driver.

Douglas Becker, attorney for the two entities that sued last year, said. "I think it's sacrificing what's good for the people in favor of what's good for the insurance companies. I just think it's disgusting and not the way government ought to act."

Mark Hanna of the Texas Committee on Insurance Fraud and the Insurance Council of Texas, which represents hundreds of insurance companies, called the proposal "a monumental step in bringing telephone solicitation of crash victims to a screeching halt. The recommendation allows Texas transportation commissioners to go with their gut feeling that no one wants this type of solicitation."

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Vehicle choice is particularly important for young drivers.

If your teenager has just gotten a driver's license, chances are he or she is looking forward to driving to school this fall. It may be hard to imagine handing them keys to your brand new car, but that may be the smartest vehicle to choose.

While getting a driver's license is an exciting rite of passage for teens, it can be enough to make a parent frantic. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the Insurance Information Institute (III) say there's something worried parents can do to protect their teens - choose a safe vehicle.

Teenagers should drive vehicles that reduce their chances of a crash and offer state-of-the-art protection in case they do crash. The first years teenagers spend as drivers are very risky. In fact, teen drivers have the highest death rates of any age group. In 1997 alone, more than 5,700 teenagers died in motor vehicle crashes, and many more were left severely and permanently injured by crashes.

Teen drivers not only lack experience, for many of them immature behavior, such as speeding and reckless driving, is common. They may drive cautiously when mom or dad is in the car, but when they're on their own or with other teens, bad driving is often the norm. Keep this in mind when you decide which vehicle your teen will drive and avoid vehicles that encourage reckless driving.

Avoid choosing vehicles with a performance image. Sports cars and other vehicles with performance features, such as turbocharging, are likely to encourage speeding. Choosing a vehicle with a more sedate image reduces the chances your teen will be in a speed-related crash.

Don't let your teen drive an unstable vehicle. Sport utility vehicles, especially the smaller ones, are inherently less stable than cars because of their higher centers of gravity. Abrupt steering maneuvers -- the kind that can occur when teens are fooling around or over-correcting a driver error -- can cause rollovers in these less stable vehicles. A more stable car would, at worst, skid or spin out.

Even if your teenager drives a car with a sedate image, chances are still high that sooner or later he or she will be in a wreck. This is why it's also important to pick a vehicle that offers good crash protection.

Don't let your teen drive a small vehicle. Small vehicles offer much less protection in crashes than larger ones. However, this doesn't mean you should put your child in the largest vehicle you can find. Many mid- and full-size cars offer more than adequate crash protection. Check out the safety ratings for mid-size and larger cars.

Most of today's cars are better designed for crash protection than cars of 6 to 10 years ago. So avoid older vehicles. For example, a newer mid-size car with airbags would be a better choice than an older, larger car without airbags. Before you make a final choice on the car your teenager will drive, take advantage of the wealth of consumer information available on car safety from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and Insurance Information Institute. Check it out -- it just may save your teen's life.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety is an independent, nonprofit research and communications organization dedicated to reducing highway crash deaths, injuries, and property damage. The Institute is wholly supported by auto insurance companies.

The Insurance Information Institute is a nonprofit communications organization supported by the property-casualty insurance industry. Its central function is to provide accurate and timely information on insurance subjects.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Safe Parking Tips

Some road rage incidents don't occur on a roadway. You are just as likely to encounter an aggressive driver while parking your vehicle, especially in suburban parking lots. Parking lot confrontations can result in violence.

You can take some basic steps to avoid involvement in an aggressive parking lot incident:

Observe common courtesy. Consciously avoid actions that may provoke other drivers.

Take measures to reduce your own stress so that you are less likely to feel aggressive yourself.

Keep your emotions in check and think about the consequences of your behavior before you react.
Use common courtesy:
Allow pedestrians to cross in front of your vehicle. Pedestrians always have the right of way in a parking lot. Watch for small children.

Always use your turn signals, even when driving very slowly.

Make sure your car takes up only one parking space.

Use parking spaces reserved for the disabled only if you are disabled yourself.

Respect drop-off zones and no-standing areas; parking in them will increase general inconvenience.

Take care when opening your door to avoid bumping the car next to you.

When parallel parking, judge your position visually (avoid tapping the vehicles in front or in back of yours).

Always look carefully before backing out of a parking space. Whenever possible, choose "pull-through" parking spots (that is, where two rows of cars are parked facing each other nose to nose, look for two connected spots so that you can drive into the further one, ending up facing the direction you will drive away in) so that you don't have to back out.

Be sure you know how to turn off the anti-theft alarm on any vehicle you are driving. If you are purchasing an alarm, buy one that turns off automatically after a short time.
Avoid behaviors likely to provoke aggression:
Stealing a parking space -- Although this behavior was treated as humorous on a recent television advertisement for the Kia Sportage, it is dangerous and may provoke aggressive reactions.

Gestures -- Obscene or offensive gestures irritate other drivers. Be aware that any gesture may be misinterpreted by another driver.

Car phones -- A car phone can easily become a distraction. Car-phone users are perceived as being poor drivers and presenting a traffic hazard. Data shows that aggressive drivers are particularly irritated by fender-benders with motorists who were talking on the phone.

Eye contact -- If a motorist tries to pick a fight, avoid eye contact. Get out of the way without acknowledging the other motorist. If the driver follows you, do not go home. Go to a police station or location where you can get help and there will be witnesses.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What Causes Car Accidents?

The dictionary defines accident as "an unexpected and undesirable event, a mishap unforeseen and without apparent cause." Strictly speaking, most accidents are not accidents at all: they are collisions that could and should have been avoided. So, what causes them, and how can you avoid them?

Four factors contribute to the vast majority of collisions. In ascending order they are:

Equipment Failure

Roadway Design

Poor Roadway Maintenance

Driver Behavior
Over 95% of motor vehicle accidents (MVAs, in the USA, or Road Traffic Accidents, RTAs, in Europe) involve some degree of driver behavior combined with one of the other three factors. Drivers always try to blame road conditions, equipment failure, or other drivers for those accidents. When the facts are truthfully presented, however, the behavior of the implicated driver is usually the primary cause. Most are caused by excessive speed or aggressive driver behavior.

Equipment Failure - Manufacturers are required by law to design and engineer cars that meet a minimum safety standard. Computers, combined with companies' extensive research and development, have produced safe vehicles that are easy and safe to drive. The most cited types of equipment failure are loss of brakes, tire blowouts or tread separation, and steering/suspension failure. With the exception of the recent rash of Firestone light-truck tire failures, combined totals for all reported equipment failure accounts for less than 5% of all motor vehicle accidents.

Brakes - Modern dual-circuit brake systems have made total brake failure an unlikely event. If one side of the circuit fails, the other side is usually sufficient to stop a vehicle. Disc brakes, found on the front wheels of virtually every modern vehicle, are significantly more effective than the older drum braking systems, which can fade when hot. ABS (Anti Blockier System) or anti-lock brakes prevent the wheels from locking up during emergency braking maneuvers, allowing modern vehicles to avoid many accidents that previously would have occurred.
Tires - Today's radial tires are significantly safer than the bias-ply tires of 25 years ago. They still, however, need attention regularly. Under inflation, the most frequent cause of tire failure is considered the main culprit in the recent Firestone tire-failure fatalities. Uneven or worn-out tires are the next most serious problem and can also lead to tire failure. Uneven wear is caused by improperly balanced tires, or misaligned or broken suspensions. Remember, all that keeps you connected to the roadway is your tires. If you don't check your own, have your mechanic check them every 5,000 miles.
Steering & Suspension - Your suspension keeps your tires in contact with the roadway in a stable and predictable manner. Your steering enables you to go around road obstacles and avoid potential accidents. Even a safe, well-trained driver is helpless in the event of a steering or suspension system failure. Such failures are catastrophic, especially at high speeds. Have your suspension and steering systems checked out by a mechanic every 10,000 miles.
With regular component inspections by trained individuals, equipment failures can be virtually eliminated.
Roadway Design - Motorists may blame roadway design for accidents, but it's rarely the cause. Consultants such as the Texas Transportation Institute have spent years getting road barriers, utility poles, railroad crossings, and guardrails to their current high level of safety. Civil engineers, local governments, and law enforcement agencies all contribute to the design of safe road layouts and traffic management systems. State and federal governments provide guidelines to their construction, with design flexibility to suit local conditions. Roadways are designed by engineers with special consideration given to the following:

Hazard Visibility - Permanent roadway hazards consist of intersections, merging lanes, bends, crests, school zones, and livestock or pedestrian crossings. Temporary hazards include road construction, parked or disabled vehicles, accidents, traffic jams, and wild animals (especially deer).
Roadway Surfaces - Engineers can use different surfaces (for example, grooved pavement) depending on the environment, traffic speed, traffic volume, and location of the roadway (noise barriers). Roadway markings let drivers know about their ability to pass safely (dotted & double lines), the location of the roadway in inclement weather (reflective cats-eyes & stakes), and where road surface ends and the shoulder begins.
Traffic Control Devices - Traffic light signals, speed limit signs, yield and stop signs, school & pedestrian crossings, turning lanes, police surveillance cameras, and traffic circles or roundabouts.
Behavioral Control Devices - Built-in obstacles that limit the ability of a vehicle to travel, including crash barrels, speed bumps, pedestrian islands, raised medians, high curbing, guard rails, and concrete barriers.
Traffic Flow - Interstate highways remain the safest roads because their flow of traffic is in one direction. One-way streets ease traffic congestion in city centers as well. Rural two-lane roadways are statistically the most dangerous because of a high incidence of deadly head-on collisions and the difficulty impatient drivers’ face while overtaking slower vehicles.
Roadway Identification Signs - enable someone without a detailed map to travel from one place to another. They give advance notice of intersections, destinations, hazards, route numbers, mileage estimates, street names, and points of interest.
Weather - inclement conditions can aggravate existing hazards and sometimes create new road surfaces (ice & snow).
Poor Maintenance - Roadway maintenance contributes to some motor vehicle accidents, but not to the extent that drivers use it as an excuse. Unfortunately maintenance schedules and procedures vary greatly from city to city and state to state, so nationwide standards don't exist. Below we outline some potential roadway maintenance shortcomings that you should be aware of.

Debris on the roadway can be a problem, and is the responsibility of local highway departments.
Faded road signs, and signs obscured by foliage, occasionally contribute to accidents. If you know of any offending signs, contact your local police department to see if they can get the problem remedied.
Potholes cause a small number of accidents (primarily tire & suspension failures), but the accidents usually occur at low speeds and don't cause many injuries. Call the police to get large dangerous holes attended to. Some Northern US cities have pothole complaint lines that are active during the winter and spring.
Roadway construction is an oft-mentioned reason for accidents. Again the blame usually rests on aggressive drivers who are unwilling to merge or slow down when approaching a construction zone. In most states, fines are doubled in work zones, making it expensive as well as unsafe to speed. Stop-and-go traffic requires thoughtful, alert driving to avoid a collision with the car in front of you. Too often we worry that someone will cut in front of us in a traffic jam. The real problem is that drivers forget about the vehicle directly in front, rear-ending it while looking in their rearview mirror or daydreaming. Leave plenty of room between your car and the one directly in front of you. Our 3 second rule applies to traffic jams as well. If a few people cut in front of you, let them.
Salting & Sanding - Many wintertime accidents are blamed on inadequate salting or sanding of icy roadways, but as so often, the real culprit is usually excessive speed. And salting only works if the ambient temperature stays above the middle teens. Recent environmental concerns have curbed widespread salting in recent years so less effective materials like clay, sand, and soot have replaced it in some areas. The fact remains that if highways are icy, speed needs to be reduced whether the roadway is salted or not.
Driver Behavior - Humans tend to blame somebody or something else when a mistake or accident occurs. A recent European study concluded that 80% of drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents believed that the other party could have done something to prevent the accident. A miniscule 5% admitted that they were the only one at fault. Surveys consistently reveal that the majority consider themselves more skillful and safer than the average driver. Some mistakes occur when a driver becomes distracted, perhaps by a cell phone call or a spilled cup of coffee. Very few accidents result from an 'Act of God,' like a tree falling on a vehicle.
Speed Kills - The faster the speed of a vehicle, the greater the risk of an accident. The forces experienced by the human body in a collision increase exponentially as the speed increases. Smart Motorist recommends that drivers observe our 3 second rule in everyday traffic, no matter what your speed. Most people agree that going 100 mph is foolhardy and will lead to disaster. The problem is that exceeding the speed limit by only 5 mph in the wrong place can be just as dangerous. Traffic engineers and local governments have determined the maximum speeds allowable for safe travel on the nation's roadways. Speeding is a deliberate and calculated behavior where the driver knows the risk but ignores the danger. Fully 90% of all licensed drivers speed at some point in their driving career; 75% admit to committing this offense regularly.

Consider this example: a pedestrian walks out in front of a car. If the car is traveling at just 30 mph, and the driver brakes when the pedestrian is 45 feet away, there will be enough space in which to stop without hitting the pedestrian. Increase the vehicle speed by just 5 mph and the situation changes dramatically. At 35 mph, with the pedestrian 45 feet away and the driver braking at the same point, the car will be traveling at 18 mph when it hits the pedestrian. An impact at 18 mph can seriously injure or even kill the pedestrian.

Who are the bad drivers? They are young, middle-aged, and old; men and women; they drive luxury cars, sports cars, SUVs and family cars. Almost every qualified driver I know admits to some type of risky driving behavior, most commonly speeding.

Aggressive Drivers - As we've described, modern cars are manufactured to very safe standards, and the environment they're driven in is engineered to minimize the injuries suffered during an accident. The most difficult area to change is aggressive driver behavior and selfish attitudes. A 1995 study by the Automobile Association in Great Britain found that 88% of the respondents reported at least one of the behaviors listed below directed at them (in order of descending frequency):

Aggressive tailgating
Lights flashed at them because the other motorist was annoyed
Aggressive or rude gestures
Deliberate obstruction -- preventing them from moving their vehicle
Verbal abuse
Physical assault
The same group was then asked about aggressive behavior they had displayed towards other drivers. 40% indicated that they had never behaved aggressively towards another driver. A further 60% of the survey respondents admitted to one or more of the following behaviors (listed in order of descending frequency):

Flashed lights at another motorist because they were annoyed with them
Gave aggressive or rude gestures
Gave verbal abuse
Aggressively tailgated another motorist
Deliberately obstructed or prevented another from moving their vehicle
Physically assaulted another motorist (one positive response)
These behaviors are probably under-reported, since most people are not willing to admit to the more serious actions, even if no penalty exists. The majority of these incidents happened during the daylight hours (70%), on a main road (not freeway or divided highway).

NYS Police characterize aggressive driving by the following traffic violations:
Excessive speed
Frequent or unsafe lane changes
Failure to signal
Failure to yield the right of way
Disregarding traffic controls
Impaired driving
The NYS State Police point out that there is a difference between aggressive driving and "road rage." Road Rage behaviors, such as using the vehicle as a weapon or physically assaulting a driver or their vehicle, are not aggressive driving. They are criminal offenses, and there are laws in place to address these violent crimes.

Friday, October 16, 2009


Registered 501(c)3 Organization Hopes to Collect 100,000 Cell Phones, Enough to Provide 6 Million Minutes Calling Time for Troops Serving Overseas

NORWELL, Mass., October 16, 2009 – In August, Cell Phones for Soldiers provided their 50 millionth minute of talk time to keep troops serving overseas connected with their loved ones at home.

The efforts of thousands of Americans throughout the country are enabling Cell Phones for Soldiers to distribute over 7,000 calling cards per week to our deployed warriors. They are asking for everyone to donate their used cell phones so that they can honor even more of our deployed in observance of upcoming Veteran’s Day on November 11th. They are hoping to collect 100,000 phones in the next two months. The ambitious goal is only one and a half percent of the estimated 7.2 million cell phones Americans will retire during the month of September. The vast majority of these phones will be added to landfills, where they pose a toxic risk to the surrounding environment.

Cell Phones for Soldiers safely recycles retired cell phones, and uses the proceeds to provide prepaid calling cards for the brave men and women serving in the Armed Forces abroad. The average recycled cell phone is worth enough to provide a 60 minute calling card for international use.

“Donating your old cell phone is a small, easy sacrifice to make to support our troops.” says Brittany Bergquist, Cell Phones for Soldiers co-founder. “But for the troops overseas, it provides a priceless connection to their loved ones at home.”

The donated phones are sent to ReCellular, which reimburses Cell Phones for Soldiers for recycled phones. Approximately half of the phones ReCellular processes are reconditioned and resold to wholesale companies in over 40 countries around the world. Phones and components that cannot be refurbished are dismantled and recycled to reclaim materials, including:
• Gold, silver and platinum from circuit boards
• Copper wiring from phone chargers
• Nickel, iron, cadmium and lead from battery packs
• Plastic from phone cases and accessories

One Drop Off location is at Farmers Insurance By David Lorms, at 2200 N Loop W, Ste. 122, Houston, TX 77018, 713-688-8669.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Protect Your Kids in the Car

The safest place for any child 12 years old and under is in the back seat. Every child should be buckled in a child safety seat, a booster seat, or with a lap/shoulder belt, if it fits.

Riding with Babies
Infants up to about 20 pounds and up to 1 year old should ride in a rear-facing child seat. The child seat must be in the BACK seat and face the rear of the car, van, or truck.
Babies riding in a car must never face front. In a crash or sudden stop, the baby's neck can be hurt badly.
Infants in car seats must never ride in the front seat of a car with air bags. In a crash, the air bag can hit the car seat and hurt or kill the baby.
Never hold your baby in your lap when you are riding in the car. In a crash or sudden stop, your child can be hurt badly or killed.
Riding with Young Kids
Kids over 20 pounds and at least 1 year old should ride in a car seat that faces the front of the car, van, or truck.
It is best to keep kids in the forward facing car seat for as long as they fit comfortably in it.
Older kids over 40 pounds should ride in a booster seat until the car's lap and shoulder belts fit right. The lap belt must fit low and snug on their hips. The shoulder belt must not cross their face or neck.
Never put the shoulder belt behind their back or under their arm.
All kids are safest in the back seat, in a safety seat or seat belt.
Always read the child seat instructions and the car owner's manual. Test the child seat to ensure a snug fit by pulling the base to either side or toward the front of the car.
Transport Your Children Safely
When correctly used and installed, car seats can reduce children's fatalities by about 90%, with injuries reduced by 70%. A big problem is that many parents don't know the proper method of restraining their children. Fit for a Kid is a free program offered by Daimler-Chrysler dealers that allows customers to learn how to strap their children in safely, using their own vehicle and car seat.

Kids should ride in car seats on every trip -- even short neighborhood journeys. When a vehicle stops unexpectedly, its passengers are thrown towards the point of impact. An unrestrained child may be thrown into the dashboard, through the windshield, or completely out of the vehicle through a broken window or door. Holding them on a lap or in an adult's arms might seem like a good compromise -- but car seats are substantially safer: an adult's arms aren't strong enough to hold on to a child during a collision, and the weight of an adult can easily crush a small child or infant.

Because of their size, small children and infants can't benefit from most safety features found inside a modern vehicle. Unrestrained, they're much more likely to strike their heads on the inside of a vehicle than adults, who are protected by airbags and safety belts. Children need the protection they get from child car seats. Their soft bone structures, weaker muscles, heavy heads and smaller bodies expose them to greater risk of injury in collisions.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Hydroplaning (Aquaplaning)

Hydroplaning (called aquaplaning in Europe and Asia) occurs when water on the roadway accumulates in front of your vehicle's tires faster that the weight of your vehicle can push it out of the way. The water pressure can cause your car to rise up and slide on top of a thin layer of water between your tires and the road. While hydroplaning your vehicle rides on top of the water, like a water skier on a lake. In less than a second, your car can completely lose contact with the road, putting you in immediate danger of sliding out of your lane. This usually happens at higher speeds, over 40 miles per hour. Try to imagine your vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed on a sheet of ice: that image approximates what will happen if you try to brake or steer while hydroplaning.

The 3 main factors that contribute to hydroplaning:

Vehicle speed. As speed increases, wet traction is considerably reduced. Since hydroplaning can result in a complete loss of traction and vehicle control, you should always reduce speed, paying attention to the traffic around you.
Tire treads depth. As your tires become worn, their ability to resist hydroplaning is reduced.
Water depth. The deeper the water, the sooner you will lose traction, although even thin water layers can cause a loss of traction, including at low speeds.
Let's examine what happens to a tire in the midst of a hydroplane. When entering a puddle, the surface of the tire must moves the water out of the way in order for the tire to stay in contact with the pavement. The tire compresses some of the water to the sides, and forces the remaining water through the tire treads. With good tires, a moderate rate of precipitation, and a well-drained roadway surface, hydroplaning rarely occurs below 55 mph. However, if any of those conditions are not met, it can happen at speeds as low as 35 mph.

On a smooth polished road in moderate rain at 60 mph, each tire has to displace about a gallon of water every second from beneath a contact patch no bigger than a size nine shoe. Each gripping element of the tread is on the ground for only 1/150th of a second; during this time it must displace the bulk of the water, press through the remaining thin film, and then begin to grip the road surface. Although bald tires give better grip on dry roads than treaded tires, they are unsafe in rain because water is a lubricant on rubber. (Also, punctures are more common in the rain.)

Hydroplaning science - Hydroplaning is the result of your tires moving quickly across a wet surface - so fast that they do not have sufficient time to channel that moisture away from the center of the tire. The result is that the tire is lifted by the water away from the road, losing all traction.

Of course the word 'quickly' is a relative term. Tread design, tread depth, weight of your vehicle, tire pressure, depth of water and even the consistency of that water - (whether it is highly aerated or not, for example) - all play a part in determining at what speed the tire will begin to hydroplane. It is a pretty safe bet to assume that any speed in excess of 60 MPH is fast enough to support hydroplaning regardless of the other variables. This is not to say that at 55 MPH you are safe, however.

The exact point at which your vehicle becomes waterborne (transition point in the above diagram) is complicated and depends on all of the following variables:

Tire size - the size and shape of a tire's contact patch has a direct influence on the probability of a hydroplane. The wider the contact patch is relative to its length, the higher the speed required to support hydroplaning.
Tire tread pattern - certain tread patterns channel water more effectively, reducing the risk of hydroplaning.
Tire tread depth - as your tires become worn, their ability to resist hydroplaning is reduced.
Tire pressure - keep your tire pressure within the manufacturers recommended pressures.
Water depth - the deeper the water, the sooner you will lose traction, although at higher speeds even thin water layers can cause a loss of traction.
Water composition (oil, temperature, dirt, & salt can change its properties and density)
Vehicle drive-train: because of their computer-assisted differentials, all-wheel-drive vehicles are more likely to hydroplane than two wheel drive vehicles in certain situations. A sudden uncontrolled transfer of power from the front tires to the rear tires can put a hydroplaning AWD vehicle out of control.
Vehicle speed - as speed increases, wet traction is considerably reduced. Since hydroplaning can result in a complete loss of traction and vehicle control, you should always reduce speed.
Vehicle weight - the lighter the vehicle, the more likely it is to hydroplane.
Road surface type - non-grooved asphalt is considerably more hydroplane-prone than ribbed or grooved concrete surfaces.
How can you tell that you're hydroplaning? It is often hard to tell when you are hydroplaning. The rear end of your vehicle may feel a little squirrelly (loose, giving you the sensation that it has moved to one side or the other), especially in a high crosswind. The steering may also suddenly feel loose or little too easy. Watch the road ahead for standing or running water. You can also pay attention to the spray being kicked up by the cars in front. If it suddenly increases it's possible that the driver has hit a patch of water that could cause you to hydroplane.

What to do if you start to hydroplane - There are two absolutely essential no-no's to remember should you experience the beginning of hydroplaning:

Do not apply your brakes
Do not turn your steering wheel
If you find yourself hydroplaning, do not brake or turn suddenly. This could throw your car into a skid. Think of your steering wheel as the rudder of a boat (your vehicle is a boat when in the middle of a hydroplane). Hold the wheel firmly and don't steer in any other direction but straight ahead. Ease your foot off the gas until the car slows and your steering returns to normal. If you need to brake, do it gently with light pumping actions. If your car has anti-lock brakes, then brake normally; the car's computer will mimic a pumping action, when necessary. If your vehicle's tires are still in partial contact with the road surface, you should be able to regain control of the vehicle in the same way that you would on snow or ice.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rainy driving tips

Rainy driving tips - Smart Motorist offers the following suggestions for safer driving in wet weather. In stormy conditions, it is more difficult to see other vehicles, road signs and the road itself. It is critical to make sure you can see and be seen.

First and foremost: slow down! It takes longer to stop or adjust in wet weather.
Stay toward the middle lanes - water tends to pool in the outside lanes.
Maintain proper following distance (3 Second Rule). This needs to be increased in wet weather.
Drive in the tracks of a car ahead of you.
Don't follow large trucks or busses too closely. The spray created by their large tires reduces your vision. Take care when passing them as well; if you must pass, do so quickly and safely.
Be more alert when driving in wet or slippery conditions. Watch out for brake lights in front of you.
Avoid using your brakes; if possible, take your foot off the accelerator to slow down.
Turn your headlights on even in a light rain, or in gloomy, foggy or overcast conditions. Not only do they help you see the road, but they'll help other drivers see you. If your car has daytime running lights you still should put them on, so vehicles behind you can see you better.
Before it starts to rain, replace old or brittle wipers.
Avoid off-road driving: it's hard to judge the actual depth of puddles and you can easily become stuck, even in an SUV.
Never drive beyond the limits of visibility. At night rainy roads become especially treacherous. The glare of oncoming lights, amplified by the rain on your windscreen, can cause temporary loss of visibility while substantially increasing driver fatigue. In rainy conditions pedestrians, livestock, and wildlife are extremely hard to spot and even harder to avoid.
Never drive through moving water if you can't see the ground through it; your car could be swept off the road.
When driving through a puddle of uncertain depth, go slow. If it's deeper than the bottom of your doors, turn around and find another route. Deep water can cause serious damage to a modern car's electrical system.
Avoid splashing pedestrians.
If possible, stay off the road during heavy thunderstorms. Large flashes of lightning can temporarily blind and disorient drivers, and the accompanying high winds and heavy rain can create deadly driving conditions.
Slow down! This should be obvious but it also very important. People are so used to driving certain speeds on certain roads that sometimes they forget the need to slow down when inclement weather presents itself.

Before you go - Wet-weather driving demands gentle use of all the main controls - steering, clutch, brake and accelerator - and a larger allowance for errors and emergencies. When you begin a journey in rain, your shoes will be wet and liable to slip off the pedals. Scuff the soles on the rubber matting or carpeting of the car before you start the engine. All motorists should regularly check that their headlights, tail lights, brake lights and turn signals are working properly.

How are your tires? - Check your tires on a regular basis. Bald tires significantly reduce your traction on wet roadways, and offer little resistance to hydroplaning. When your tires run over water, the water is displaced and it needs somewhere to go quickly. The best place is between the treads of your tires. If your tires are bald, the water has no place to go and you end up riding on a layer of water, like a boat. (See Hydroplaning, below.)

Turn on your wipers - Replace your wipers regularly, at least once a year. Wiper blades in bad condition don't clear water from the windshield very well and distort your view. Older vehicles may need to have the whole wiper arm replaced. The arms bend over time and sometimes can't keep enough downward pressure to clear the windscreen, even with new blades installed. Wipers will often clear light rain from the windscreen with a few sweeps, then run on an almost-dry screen and leave smears of drying dirt. Don't be afraid to use the windscreen washers liberally: the fluid is cheap (99 cents a gallon) and the safety benefit is high. Carry extra during the winter.

Don't follow large trucks or busses closely. Splash and spray from these vehicles can obscure your vision, creating a potentially disastrous driving situation. Keep your distance, and your windshield wipers on, when other traffic is in front of you.

Turn on your lights - Whenever visibility is poor or it rains, headlights are a good way to let other drivers know where you are. It's both helpful to other travelers and makes you more safe. Remember, you are not the only one affected by poor visibility. You may be able to see cars without their headlights on but others may not have vision or windshield wipers as good as yours. Many states require headlights to be turned on when it is raining or when visibility is reduced to less than 500 feet.

Heavy rain - Heavy rain can overload the wiper blades, allowing an almost continuous sheet of water to flow over the screen. When visibility is so limited that the edges of the road or other vehicles cannot be seen at a safe distance, it is time to pull over and wait for the rain to ease up. It is best to stop at rest areas or other protected areas. If the roadside is your only option, pull off as far as possible, preferably past the end of a guard rail, and wait until the storm passes, seldom more than a few minutes. Keep your headlights on and turn on emergency flashers to alert other drivers.

Foggy windows - Rain or high humidity can quickly cause windows to mist up inside the car. In a car equipped with air conditioning, turn up the heat and direct the airflow to your defrosters with the AC switch engaged. (Many cars automatically engage the AC when switched to the defrost mode.) In a car without AC the procedure is the same, but you may need to open your side windows to get the air moving. Most modern cars have a built-in rear window defroster that easily clears a misted rear windscreen by heating up electrodes embedded in the glass. If you don't have one, put your defroster on high and its hot air will eventually follow the inside of the roof down to the rear window. If the car has swiveling dashboard vents, adjust them so that the air flow strikes the upper edge of the side windows. The airflow will clear the side windows first, finally traveling to the rear of the car. If all else fails, a rag or article of clothing will work as well; you'll just need to clear the window more often. Drivers should regularly clean their windshield and windows, both on the inside and outside, to help them see in good and bad weather. Smokers need to take extra care to make sure their interior windows are clear of a buildup of smoke residue.

Handling a skid - Losing control of your car on wet pavement is a frightening experience. You can prevent skids by driving slowly and carefully, especially on curves. Brake before entering the curves. Steer and brake with a light touch. If you find yourself in a skid, remain calm, ease your foot off the gas, and carefully steer in the direction you want the front of the car to go. This procedure, known as "steering into the skid," will bring the back end of your car in line with the front. For cars without anti-lock brakes, avoid using your brakes. If your car has ABS, brake firmly as you "steer into the skid."

Expressway driving - Leave lots of space between you and the car in front because it takes longer to stop. You're supposed to leave a few seconds between cars in dry weather. Make sure you add space in wet weather because if you have to hit the brakes hard, your tires will lock up, you will hydroplane and you will most likely hit the car in front of you. If available, drive in the fast lane, where there are fewer cars and less oil deposited on the road. Also, because of the built-in slope of the road, water drains towards the slower lanes. Avoid lane changes, as water tends to build up between the tire ruts in the lanes.

Oily deposits - Watch for intersections because of the oil spots in the road. Rain is most dangerous when it falls after a long, dry spell on to roads that have become polished and smooth: the rain blends with oil and rubber-dust deposits on the road surface to form a highly dangerous skid mixture. That mixture builds up at intersections, where cars stop and start frequently. Be extra careful immediately after it starts raining because it takes a while for the worst of the dirt and oil to get washed off the road.

Driving Through Water - Where water has flooded onto the road, drive very slowly and cautiously. Never drive through moving water if you can't see the ground through it: you and your car could be swept off the road, possibly finishing you both. Stop the car before entering the flooded area and check the water level ahead. Generally, if the water is deeper than the bottom of your doors or the bottom third of your wheels, it is inadvisable to attempt driving through it. Seek a detour rather than braving the flood and risking damage to your electronic control systems. Attempting to go through deep water can ruin any of these systems, creating a repair bill in the thousands of dollars.

At night it's much harder to see water hazards. You'll need good road observational skills to notice the difference between a wet road surface and flood water. Watch the contours not only of the road but also of fences, trees, hedges and buildings at the side of the road ahead. If they appear to be unnaturally low, slow down at once as the road is probably flooded. If you don't slow down and hit flood water at speed, the effect is almost like hitting a wall: you will first lose control, then come to a violent stop, possibly injuring your passengers as well. Watch out for places where floodwater collects, particularly low-lying roads adjacent to streams, and dips under rail or highway bridges.

If you determine it's safe to go on, proceed slowly and avoid making large waves in the water. If you have a manual transmission, engage first gear and keep the engine running fast by releasing the clutch just enough to partially engage gear and giving more acceleration than usual. This keeps the exhaust gases moving, helping to prevent water from entering your tailpipe. Vehicles with automatic transmissions should place the car in first gear and feather your brake, slowing the vehicle while at the same time keeping your revs up. Doing this for longer than a few seconds can seriously damage your vehicle and is not recommended. If you're submerged too deeply, your engine will stall and water might enter your engine through your air intake, causing a condition known engine hydro-lock, forcing you to replace it.

What to do if you stall in deep water - If possible, have someone pull your vehicle out using a tow rope or cable winch. It may be possible to drive a manual transmission car out using the starter motor. You can make the job easier by removing your spark-plugs, thereby lowering your compression and making your starter turn more easily. Take great care not to let water enter the cylinders, as it will hydro-lock your engine, ruining it. This is a last resort for rescuing a flooded vehicle and is not recommended.

Check your brakes - If you successfully pass through a deep water hazard, test your brakes. They may be saturated, and only driving very slowly and braking lightly at the same time will generate enough heat to dry them out. Be sure they are pulling evenly on all wheels before building up speed again.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Understanding The Valuations Of Condo Association Property

By Chris Boggs
October 07, 2009

Statutes and even associational declarations differ on the valuation method required when placing insurance coverage on the association's property. Actual cash value (ACV), replacement cost (RC) and even market value are mandated options in statute and associational declarations and bylaws.
Most statutes require actual cash value as recommended by the Uniform Common Interest Act. Ohio statute (5311.16) requires the association property be insured based on fair market value and other statutes mandate replacement cost.
Again, statutes are only the default setting. Insurance limits should be no less than the amount developed when the valuation method required by the declarations is applied to the property. However, replacement cost is recommended regardless of the amount required by statute or covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&R's).
Defined Values
Three distinctly different property "values" can be assigned to associational property: actual cash value, replacement cost and market value. Two are common to insurance, and one generally has no relevance in insurance, until the government or an unknowing attorney gets involved.
Actual cash value (ACV) is the cost new (replacement cost) on the date of the loss minus physical depreciation. Physical depreciation results from use and ultimate wear and tear meaning that the insured does not get paid for the "used up" value of the property.
Attention must be paid to the beginning point in the calculation of ACV, the cost new on the date of the loss. ACV is not based on the value when it was built or at any point between the construction date and the date of the loss. Only the cost new on the date of the loss matters; this is key when choosing limits.
Replacement cost is the cost to replace with new material of like kind and quality on the date of the loss. There is no allowance or penalty for age, depreciation or condition. The insured must simply insure the property at what it will cost to buy or build it today.
Market value is negotiated between and agreed to by a willing buyer and a willing seller. It can fluctuate up and down based on the economy, condition, use or need and has little relation to the true cost to rebuild a particular structure. Normally market value has little relationship to insurance. The rise and fall of the market value does not necessarily change the cost to rebuild a building following a loss.
If the market value is the rule applied in a particular state or association's declarations, the agent must be prepared for and be able to explain this concept regardless of the fact that such value is not normally associated with property insurance values.
Values and Coverage Provided by the Unit-Owners Form (HO 00 06)
Unendorsed the Unit-Owners Form provides replacement cost coverage on the building (Coverage "A") and actual cash value on personal property (Coverage "C"). Coverage "A" is limited to a specified amount ($1,000 or $5,000) unless specifically increased by the unit owner. The owner's need to increase Coverage "A" is a function of the coverage required to be provided by the association based on the level of associational responsibility defined above.
Both Coverage "A" and Coverage "C" apply Broad Form Named Perils coverage unless endorsed to cover "Special" causes of loss. Expansion to "open perils" coverage can be accomplished by attaching HO 17 31 to Coverage "C" and the HO 17 32 to Coverage "A."
Coverage "C" can be transformed from actual cash value to replacement cost with the attachment of the HO 04 90 - Personal Property Replacement Cost Loss Settlement endorsement.

Allstate to agents: Bulk up

By Steve Daniels
Sept. 28, 2009

Allstate Corp. is setting ambitious new revenue standards for its massive
salesforce, sparking agent fears that a large-scale culling of their ranks
is beginning.

The Northbrook-based insurance giant, addressing marketshare losses to
on-line insurers such as Geico Corp. as well as lagging customer
satisfaction, in recent months has set a new expectation that Allstate
agencies have at least $4 million in annual premiums and 4,000 policies
within the next three to five years, according to internal company
communications obtained by Crain's.

With more than 14,000 agents in the U.S. who generated $27 billion in 2008
premiums and deposits, that $4-million standard is more than double
Allstate's current average premium per agency of $1.9 million. It's also
60% higher than the $2.5-million average per agent at the country's largest
auto and home insurer, Bloomington-based State Farm Insurance Cos., which
has more than 17,000 agents.

No one forecasts that Allstate, whose premiums have been essentially flat
in recent years, will double them in the next five years. So the agent
initiative — dubbed the "ideal agency model" by the company — is likely
slash the number of agents.

"The agents are fearful their jobs are at stake," says Jim Fish, a former
Allstate agent and executive director of the National Assn. of Professional
Allstate Agents Inc. in Gulfport, Miss., a group representing more than
1,000 agents that has criticized the company over its treatment of its
salesforce. "From the numbers, it appears as though the company wants to
reduce the size of the agency force substantially."

Some agents privately say they think this will be Allstate's biggest agent
initiative since the late 1990s, when former CEO Edward Liddy forced
employee reps to become independent contractors, a move that provoked a
flurry of lawsuits.

An Allstate spokeswoman declines to comment other than to provide a
statement: "Our goal is to help Allstate agencies grow and succeed by
giving them the incentives and tools to provide superior customer service."

Allstate appears to be betting that larger, better-staffed agencies —

albeit fewer of them — will provide better service to customers and keep

them from straying to competitors despite rates that generally are higher
than its rivals'. Larger agencies also could be better able to provide
service to the growing number of U.S. consumers who prefer to buy insurance
directly from insurer Web sites rather than agents, a trend analysts expect
will persist.

"It is strikingly impressive that the company has so many feet in the
street selling the Allstate brand," says Gregory Peters, an analyst at
Raymond James & Associates Inc. in Chicago who has a strong "buy" rating on
Allstate stock. "But the reality is some of those people are coasting. . .
. They're just drawing a renewal check."

"(Allstate) is trying to consolidate them," Mr. Peters says.

Allstate has suffered as the economy has tanked, spurring more consumers to
shop for cheaper policies. Its number of auto policies has declined for six
straight quarters, while those of Maryland-based Geico, Ohio-based
Progressive Corp. and even State Farm, which pursues the same agent-led
sales model as Allstate, have risen.

In Illinois, Allstate's auto-liability insurance revenue fell last year for
the first time this decade, dropping 3.6% to $338 million, according to
data filed with the Illinois Department of Insurance. Geico's, by contrast,
rose by 15%, and State Farm's increased 2%.

"We cannot make just incremental progress, we need dramatic change," wrote
Joe Richardson, Allstate's senior vice-president for sales and customer
service, in an August note to agents. "Regardless of how we measure it, our
customer loyalty is below average."

Allstate is betting improved customer service, and better integration of
its Web site and call-center operations with its agents, will lure more
customers despite its higher prices. Its refusal to match rivals' past rate
cuts has made its auto insurance business the most profitable of the four
biggest players in the business.

But some analysts believe Allstate will find it tough to reverse its
marketshare slide in auto, by far its biggest business, accounting for
nearly 60% of revenue last year.

Sales of auto insurance online or over the phone accounted for 24% of total
sales in 2007 vs. 17% a decade earlier, New York-based Goldman Sachs Group
Inc. analyst Christopher Neczypor noted in a Sept. 11 report. "Captive
agents appear to be at the biggest disadvantage. Allstate is thus losing
share in personal auto, a trend that may accelerate as consumer shopping
remains elevated," he wrote.

He slapped a "sell" rating on Allstate stock, which has more than doubled
since March — it closed at $29.23 on Friday — on improved investment


©2009 by Crain Communications Inc.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Drivers beware: Latest insurance scam could cost you

Mitch Lipka
Oct 7th 2009 at 5:45PM

Crooks really don't know any bounds to how low they can go. Video aired on Good Morning America showing members of an insurance fraud ring setting up motorists -- mainly women -- for collisions is a demonstration of the depths they are willing to plumb.

The crooks stage accidents that make the victim look to be at fault and then, working with doctors who write up bogus medical reports, they go on to collect big insurance payouts. Video footage of the scammers in action shows just how devious the criminals are and how reckless they are with other people's lives. What's scarier, according to the report, is this type of crime appears to be on the increase.

In one incident caught on tape, a white SUV idles in front of a driveway to a parking lot on a busy street. As a woman in an oncoming vehicle looks to make a left turn into the lot from the other side of the road, the idling motorist waves that it's OK to turn. But when the woman starts to turn, the once idling SUV pulls forward, forcing her to stop halfway into the opposing traffic lanes. By then, the SUV driver had already signaled with his brake lights to an accomplice in another car that it was time. The accomplice then barrels down the road and rams the woman's car. The SUV that started the whole incident, drives away.

That scenario -- with the same white SUV playing the same role -- was also captured by security cameras on another occasion. None of the crooks in those Los Angeles crashes were arrested, according to the report.

USAA, an insurance company that caters to military members and their families, also demonstrated some less complex accidents that are not accidents at all, but rather insurance fraud set-ups. In one such scam, the crook drives in front of the victim and suddenly hits the brakes, causing the victim to rear-end them. In each case, the target -- typically women driving alone -- appears to be the cause of the accident.

Fraudulent and "abusive" insurance claims lead to between $4.8 billion and $6.8 billion in added payouts each year, according to the Insurance Research Council. An estimated one in 10 claims is fraudulent, according to insurance industry research.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau, which also works for the insurance industry, has an anti-fraud toll-free hotline (800-835-6422) for anyone with information about an insurance fraud that has taken place. Some callers could be eligible for rewards.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

New Trends in Home Owners Insurance for Replacement Cost Dwelling Coverage.....

New Trends in Home Owners Insurance for Replacement Cost Dwelling Coverage.....

There is a trend happening in Harris County regarding Tenant Occupied Homes, especially wood frame homes. To get replacement cost on a tenant occupied home in Harris County and the home is more than 20 years old, the following should be 100% completely replaced:
1. Roof
2. Wiring
3. Plumbing
4. A/C
Proof will be required by city permits, a contractors letter or inspection report.

If none of the above, or at least 3 out of the 4 haven't been done, then the purchaser / owner of the home will qualify for Actual Cash Value Dwelling Coverage on the home only. In other words, the replacement cost will be determined and depreciated. The same will apply on repairs. The repairs will be determined at 100%, depreciation taken and the deductible applied.

If a home is on pier and beam, the crawlspace must be enclosed by a solid material (with the proper venting per codes) to as close to the ground as possible. Companies are quickly moving from insuring or at least providing replacement cost on homes with open crawlspace, either owner or tenant occupied.

If you have any questions about this new trend please let me know. I hope you have found this information helpful!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

7 Reasons you need Life Insurance

Life Insurance...
1. Buys time – Allows loved ones to focus on their grief by helping to pay for the funeral and other final expenses.

2. Provides a fresh start – Lets loved ones start with a clean slate by helping to pay off credit card bills, outstanding loans and even the mortgage.

3. Generates income – Helps replace lost income for years to come so that surviving family members can continue to pay for life’s necessities.

4. Offers flexibility – Gives a surviving spouse the chance to take time off from work or to switch to a job that offers a more flexible work schedule.

5. Creates opportunities – Can provide funding to start a business, or pay for schooling so surviving family members can train for a new career.

6. Funds the future – Offers a way to fund longer-range goals like a college education for the kids or a secure retirement for a surviving spouse.

7. Leaves a legacy – Gives parents the chance to leave future generations with the legacy of long-term financial security.

In these challenging times, many people have been hit with painful losses in the value of their homes and savings. With less to fall back on than in years past, life insurance can be that safety net that catches our loved ones if the worst were to happen before we’ve had the chance to rebuild lost savings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Teens With Own Cars Have More Crashes, Study Finds

Teens With Own Cars Have More Crashes, Study Finds
By Lindsey Tanner
September 28, 2009

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Parents beware: Giving in to teens' demands for their own cars can have dangerous consequences, new research suggests.

Teenagers with their own cars or free use of one are much more likely to get in crashes than those who share a car. And crashes are much less common among teens whose parents set clear driving safety rules.

The findings are in two studies by researchers at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and funded by State Farm Insurance Co. They are in the October issue of Pediatrics.

The researchers say the findings can help parents keep their kids from becoming a grim statistic: Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens, killing more than 5,000 each year.

Getting a driver's license and car are often viewed as rite of passage for U.S. teens, and many parents underestimate the risks.

More than 7,000 people nationwide were killed in crashes involving teen drivers in 2007, government data show. More than 3,000 of these deaths were teen drivers, and more than 250,000 teen drivers were injured.

"With teen drivers, you have to recognize that it's a public health issue,'' said Dr. Jeffrey Weiss, a Phoenix pediatrician who co-wrote an American Academy of Pediatrics report on teen drivers.

The 2006 report encourages parents to highlight the seriousness of driving privileges by requiring teens to sign driving contracts promising to abide by safety rules.

The new research shows that kind of hands-on approach pays off.

"Families need to know that driving is different'' from other steps toward independence,said Dr. Flaura Koplin Winston, the study's lead author. "Just at the time their teen is pulling away, they need to get back involved to spare them heartache.''

The research is based on a nationally representative survey of more than 5,500 teens in grades nine through 11. Students at 68 high schools answered questionnaires in 2006.

More than 2,000 students who reported driving on their own were the focus of one study; 70 percent said they had their own cars or were the main drivers of cars they used.

Winston said it's alarming that so many kids have their own cars or feel that they have free use of one. She said that freedom can lead to "a sense of entitlement about driving'' that may make them less cautious.

Among these "main'' drivers, 25 percent had been involved in crashes, versus just 10 percent of teens who shared driving access. Winston said the lower crash rate doesn't reflect less driving time, but is likely due to having to ask for the car keys, which helps parents monitor their kids' driving.

Compared with teens whose parents were uninvolved, kids who said their parents set clear rules and monitored their whereabouts without being overly controlling had half as many crashes and much better driving habits.

These teens were 71 percent less likely to drive while drunk and 30 percent less likely to use a cell phone while driving than kids with uninvolved parents.

Dr. Niranjan Karnik, a University of Chicago specialist in adolescent mental health, said the research underscores the importance of appropriate parenting and widely enacted graduated licensing laws for teens.

Debby Hendricks of Hatfield, Pa. made her daughters wait until age 17 to get their licenses, and gave them lots of driving practice beforehand.

The girls, aged 17 and 19, also share a family car, and can't "just grab the keys and leave'' without saying where they're going and with whom, Hendricks said.

So far so good -- neither girl has been in an accident, although the younger one, Leslie, has only had her license for a few months.

Leslie considers herself a safe driver, but adds, "I probably do underestimate the risks.''

Friday, September 25, 2009

Answers to Possible Questions Regarding the October 2009 Change

On October 1, 2009, important changes to the NFIP will take effect. There will be an increase in rates, the standard deductibles, and the basic insurance limits. These combined changes will result in an average premium increase of 8 percent . Many policyholders will have questions about these changes. To help you best serve your clients, we have developed a number of “answers to possible questions” to help your customers better understand how these changes will affect them.

Q: Why are my premiums going up?

A: It is not uncommon for insurance companies to implement annual rate increases to help offset their increased costs, including inflation. The NFIP, like most insurance companies, has found it necessary to implement these important program changes to ensure that current premiums more accurately reflect the current risks.

Q: Are the rates increasing to collect the premium dollars that were used to pay for claims as a result of Hurricane Katrina?

A: No. It is a misconception that rate increases happen to offset debts attributed to Hurricane Katrina or any past event. Actually, Federal regulations clearly state that the NFIP cannot raise rates to recoup for previous losses. Simply put, NFIP premiums only reflect expected future losses and expenses. There is no charge contained in the premium to recoup past losses.

Q: Why is my deductible doubling?

A: The NFIP’s previous minimum deductibles were in place for more than 10 years. The NFIP found it necessary to discontinue the minimum deductible of $500 and increase the new standard deductibles to avoid overall larger premium increases.

It is important to remember, that in most cases the deductible is only a fraction of the average flood insurance claim, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Q: Why are the basic limits of coverage on the Standard Flood Insurance Policy (SFIP) for residential and non-residential buildings increasing?

A: The NFIP takes many steps to financially prepare for future flooding. In order to do so, the basic limit of coverage, the level which sustains the most damage in a flood, needs to be brought into better alignment with the typical NFIP paid claim.

If you purchase flood insurance beyond the basic limit, you will receive more coverage at a lesser charge. And, to get full replacement cost for your primary residence in the event of a flood, you must insure your building to at least 80 percent of its replacement value (or $250,000, whichever is less).

Click here for the new Flood Insurance Rate Manual that reflects these changes as well as additional information from the NFIP. Please email us at with any questions.