Uncovering Common Misconceptions About Flood Insurance Coverage

According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), flooding is this country’s most prevalent natural disaster. In the years between 1995 and 2004, flood losses in the U.S. averaged $867 million annually. There are about 4.7 million citizens who have taken advantage of the government’s flood insurance protection, however large numbers of at-risk Americans still refuse to find coverage.  After hurricane Katrina last summer, when nearly 80% of New Orleans was underwater, it is surprising that people would not seek such coverage, since their homeowner’s policies do not insure them against floods.

Part of the problem stems from the innate sense that if it’s offered by the federal government, applying for it must be: a) tied up in red tape, and b) too complicated due to all the exclusions. Both of these statements, however, are not true. Let’s examine some of the commonly held beliefs about flood insurance:

·   You can’t buy flood insurance if you are in a high-risk area.  Flood insurance is available to all homeowners and businesses in any community that participates in the NFIP. You can check to see if your community participates by visiting http://www.fema.gov/fema/csb.shtm. The only issue which would prevent you from obtaining flood insurance is if you reside in a Coastal Barrier Resource System location, or a location that is designated as an Otherwise Protected Area. Land that falls under these two categories are undeveloped areas along coastlines. The flood insurance program doesn’t provide coverage in these areas to discourage settlement where there is an extreme risk not only for flooding, but potential loss of life.

·   You can only get flood insurance if you are a homeowner.  Condominium/co-op owners, apartment dwellers, and commercial/non-residential building owners can purchase NFIP coverage. There is a maximum of $250,000 worth of coverage on a one-family residential building. The maximum per-unit coverage limit on a residential condominium/co-op association building is also $250,000. Contents coverage for any residential building is limited to $100,000. Commercial/non-residential structures can be insured for a maximum of $500,000. You can also insure the contents of commercial buildings up to $500,000.

·    You have to wait 30 days for flood insurance protection to take effect. Usually there is a 30-day waiting period from the time a policy is purchased until you are covered. However, there are some exceptions. There is no waiting period if you already have a flood insurance policy, but need more coverage to increase, extend or renew a loan, such as a second mortgage, home equity loan, or refinance. Coverage is effective immediately, as long as you pay the premium at or prior to loan closing. There is a one-day waiting period when additional coverage is requested because of a map revision. This applies when the NFIP revises the map so that a non-Special Flood Hazard Area becomes a Special Flood Hazard Area. Coverage must be purchased within 13 months following the map revision to be applicable for the reduced waiting period.

·   You can get Federal Disaster Assistance even if you don’t have your own flood insurance policy.  The Federal Disaster Program will only provide coverage to uninsured individuals or businesses if the affected area is declared a federal disaster area, which occurs less than 50% of the time.  Statistics show the awards average about $4000 dollars and most are made in the form of a Small Business Administration Loan, which must be paid back with interest.  Furthermore, the award recipient must carry flood insurance for the duration of the loan.

To learn more about the terms of flood insurance coverage, log on to http://www.floodsmart.gov/floodsmart/pages/faq_policy.jsp.

Source: FEMA Publication F-216 (08/04) and www.floodsmart.gov

Does Your Builders Risk Policy Cover Soft Costs?

Work on the new office complex was progressing on schedule. The owner had lined up tenants for two-thirds of the space and was in talks with several others. The general contractor expected to finish construction on time. All that changed when fire broke out on the first floor late one afternoon. It spread from a stack of drywall awaiting installation to a pile of scrap plywood, where the wind picked up the flames and carried them to the structure. Drywall, insulation and plastic wiring all soon ignited. Firefighters were able to contain the blaze and limit the damage. However, it would now take an additional two months to complete the project because the contractors would have to clean up the debris from the fire and ensuing water damage, order replacement materials, and re-do much of the first floor’s construction. The owner faced the certainty of thousands of dollars in lost rents and additional interest on the construction loans.

The owner and general contractor had purchased a builders risk insurance policy to cover damage to the project. They would have coverage for the lost rents and interest expenses if the policy included special protection known as “soft costs coverage.”

Soft costs are costs or reduced income resulting from a delay in a project’s completion. They include expenses such as:

* Lost rents

* Additional interest on loans

* Additional real estate taxes

* Additional advertising costs

* Additional insurance premiums

Some builders risk policies have this coverage built in, while others provide it only if the insurance company adds it and charges an additional premium. The insurance covers the named insured for loss of income and additional expenses that result from direct physical loss of or damage to the covered property. There is no coverage unless the peril causing the loss is one that the policy covers for direct damage. For example, the policy will cover losses caused by fire but not losses caused by faulty workmanship. The lost revenue and extra expenses must accrue during the period starting a specified number of days after construction would have been complete if no loss had occurred and the date construction actually was complete. Some policies limit this period to no more than six or 12 months.

Soft costs coverage may provide one limit of insurance that applies to all covered losses, or it may have separate limits for different types of losses. For example, one company’s policy defines “soft costs” as loss of rental income, loss of gross earnings, additional interest and finance expenses, and additional expenses. The policy could have separate limits for each of these categories. A waiting period deductible applies, though some policies may apply a dollar deductible to losses that occur in a lump sum, such as legal fees. Some policies may also set a maximum amount that they will pay for any one month. They do not cover certain types of losses, such as those caused by strikes, breach of contract, design errors and omissions, lack of funds for repair or reconstruction, building laws and ordinances, and others.

The insurance company will determine the value of a loss by calculating the actual amount of income lost or extra expenses incurred during the delay period because of the delay. It will pay the amount of the loss or the amount of the insurance purchased, whichever is less.

A contractor should work with a professional insurance agent or broker experienced in arranging builders risk insurance. To make sure that the coverage terms and limits are appropriate, the contractor and broker should review the building contract, financing agreements, construction schedules, and other related documents. The type and amount of coverage will vary from one project to another, so it is important to give careful attention to each job’s particular circumstances.

The Impact of Moving Violations and Driver’s License Points on Your Insurance Premiums

Americans love to hear about point systems. After all, many involve us earning desirable rewards, discounts, and freebies. However, not all point systems are about earning something desirable.

In most states, you earn points on your driver’s license after being ticketed for moving violations like running a red light or stop sign, illegal u-turns, unsafe lane changes, and so forth. While no driver relishes the thought of paying moving violation tickets, the financial implications are actually much broader when the points accumulate. This could be in the form of higher insurance premiums or even the suspension of your driving privileges. The details of the point system vary by state. For example, some states assess points to drivers that are at fault in an auto accident. That said, most point systems will assess points one of two ways:

1. One point per basic moving violation, with two points being assessed for speeding violations that involve the driver substantially exceeding the posted speed limit. Drivers assessed either eight points over three years, six points over two years, or four points over one year will have their license suspended.

2. Two points for incidences like slightly breaking the speed limit, an illegal turn, or other minor driving violation. Drivers with more serious moving violations, such as running a red light or stop sign, will be assessed three to five points. Drivers that are assessed 12 points within a three year period will have their license suspended.

Should you get a moving violation ticket, you’ll want to look for the vehicle code violation number on the front of your ticket and contact your state department of motor vehicles. Be sure to ask the number of points, if any, the violation carries; how many points you already have; and how many points will result in a license suspension.

These points can cause your insurance premiums to increase by 20% to 30%. Most insurers will regularly review the driving records for all their customers. Depending on your insurer’s policy and state’s laws, some insurers may be able to raise your premiums for just a single point. Most insurers will allow one moving violation every couple of years before they raise your premiums, but check with your insurer to determine their specific policy.

Can I Avoid/Remove Points?

You can contest the ticket. This may be especially prudent if your points are nearly suspension levels. Keep in mind that contesting the ticket is an iffy proposition in that avoiding the point will depend on you being successful.

An option that offers more certainty in avoiding the point is paying the ticket and attending traffic school. However, some jurisdictions will not allow anyone ticketed for driving fifteen m.p.h. or more over the speed limit to attend traffic school. If you’re eligible, then you may need to attend anywhere from once a year to once every two years, depending on your jurisdiction. Some states will require a court appearance or visit to the court’s clerk to enroll in the class, while other traffic schools are completed online. Some traffic schools give you the basic information with a splash of humor to make it less boring, while others may require you to sit through eight hours of lecture and films on gruesome accidents. In any case, it shouldn’t be too big a sacrifice when you consider the alternative higher insurance premiums from the point(s) going on your record.

Driver education courses, such as a defensive driving class, can help you remove existing points from your license. The department of motor vehicles for your state can give you a listing of applicable options.

In closing, insurers typically either avoid risk or charge exorbitant premiums to take it on. Having a number of moving violations is a strong indicator that you have habits that could lead to costly accidents and claims, and would therefore be a risk to insure. Most insurers do understand that humans err occasionally, but you’ll have the best chance at keeping your rates down by avoiding traffic violations altogether. 

Taking the Mystery Out of Surplus Lines

It is probably safe to say that most people do not know the difference between “surplus” (also referred to as Non-Admitted, E & S or Excess & Surplus) and “admitted” lines.  However, understanding the important similarities and differences will help make you an informed insurance consumer.

Many insurance consumers are completely untouched by the surplus lines marketplace.  Still others purchase coverage from surplus lines carriers unaware of that fact.  If you buy coverage from a Lloyds of London syndicate, you may think you are simply buying from a foreign insurer, but in fact, you may be buying coverage from a US based subsidiary of a large insurance company. 

Surplus lines insurers operate in hard and soft markets, but they thrive when admitted companies withdraw from the marketplace leaving them to fill the void in certain coverage lines.  According to the National Association of Professional Surplus Lines Offices, Ltd.(NAPSLO), while the property/casualty industry grew by 11% during 2001, the surplus lines portion of the industry grew by nearly 35%, reflecting the hardening of the market and the contribution of the events of 9/11.    

Following are a few highlights of the differences between surplus lines and admitted:

·        Admitted insurers usually have to file and receive approval for their rates and policy forms in most states in which they operate.  Some states only require that rates be filed, others require only forms.  Some require the insurer to withhold a product from the marketplace until they have received approval. Other states allow what is called “use and file” meaning the insurer is free to use the form and rates, but must file them with the state and if necessary, make any changes that the state requests in order to comply with its rules and regulations.  Surplus lines insurers do not have to go through this rigorous process and can react more quickly to changing internal and external conditions and events.

·        Surplus lines insurers must work with surplus lines brokers to comply with certain state required filings such as surplus lines taxes, which vary, but usually range between 2 – 4% of the premium.  Surplus lines brokers also file affidavits acknowledging what is called a diligent search that states the insured risk was submitted to the admitted market but received declinations from those specific carriers.  Admitted insurers bear the responsibility of paying whatever state taxes are required.  These taxes are figured into their pricing models so the premium you pay includes any tax payable to the state.  In the case of surplus lines, all taxes and fees are built on top of the basic premium.

·        Admitted carriers must comply with state requirements for policy language, most notably, cancellation and non-renewal requirements.  While most admitted policies require a 30 or 60 day notice to the insured if the carrier intends to cancel or non-renew the policy, most surplus lines insurers reserve the right to cancel or non-renew for any appropriate reason.  Despite this difference, and the language to this effect built into the admitted policy, surplus lines insurers are in many states required to adhere to the same standards. Despite the freedoms they enjoy, there are a myriad of rules and regulations that surplus lines insurers must contend with, including a rigorous and costly state licensing system that puts the insurer on the map as a “white-listed” carrier.

·        Probably the most noticeable difference between the two insurance types is the availability of funds to pay for claims should the carrier become insolvent.  If you buy a policy from a surplus lines insurer, you should be aware that the state guaranty funds will not apply should your carrier’s insolvency leave you stranded when a claim occurs.  Not so with admitted carriers.  However, NAPSLO points out that in 2002, as has been the case in previous years, the median Best’s Rating for surplus lines carriers was A, versus the industry as a whole, which maintained a median rating of A-.   Naturally, it becomes more important to monitor your carrier’s rating with a surplus lines policy.

While the differences are many, the nuts and bolts of both types of policies are virtually identical.  Different compliance endorsements attached to admitted or surplus lines policies will be the only differences you notice.  While the preference, all other things being equal, should always be admitted, there are many reasons to feel comfortable with a surplus lines policy, particularly if it is backed by a financially sound and stable insurance company.  Many surplus lines companies have been paying claims for decades, and in some cases, centuries!

Just Because You’re a Renter Doesn’t Mean You Don’t Have Insurance Needs

Many renters mistakenly believe that they don’t need renter’s insurance or view it as an expensive luxury. However, insurance needs aren’t negated just because one happens to be renting their home.

For those not familiar with renter’s insurance, it’s an insurance coverage that protects the renter from property losses from damages like water and fire. It also provides protection for liability risks, such as lawsuits brought by the landlord of the property, pet attacks, falls and slips, and guest accidents. This type of coverage is available in most areas and has an average $20 monthly premium rate for around $500,000 dollars worth of liability coverage and $20,000 dollars worth of property coverage.

Trusted Choice, a network of financial and insurance service firms, recently found in a survey that almost 25 million American home renters didn’t have any insurance coverage to protect themselves from losses and that most renters have limited, if any, knowledge of renter’s insurance.

Eight percent of the respondents without renter’s insurance had never heard about renter’s insurance before. Meanwhile, 17% said they weren’t aware that they needed renter’s insurance and 26% percent felt that renter’s insurance was too costly.

According to the study, some renters also mistakenly believed that their insurance needs were covered under the insurance policy held by their landlord. In reality, landlords don’t typically insure anything other than the building and infrastructural elements like HVAC systems and elevators. Other losses incurred will be directly on the renter’s shoulders. Even negligent actions caused by one tenant, such as a fire, that affects other innocent tenants in the building aren’t typically covered by the landlord’s insurance.

Other key findings of the study included:

* Fifty percent of the surveyed renters owned pets. Thirty-two percent of the non-pet owners had renter’s insurance. Although renters that own pets have a higher liability exposure than renters without pets, a mere 26% of the pet owners had renter’s insurance.

* Eighty-nine percent of the surveyed renters owned at least one expensive electronic device, such as a computer, camera, digital recorder, or home theater system. This group was more likely to have a renter’s insurance policy than those that didn’t own such devices.

* Fifty-three percent of the surveyed renters owned at least one form of exercise or sports equipment, such as a skis, bicycles, or a home gym system. This group was more likely to own renter’s insurance than those that didn’t own such equipment.

* Only thirty-one percent of the renters operating a home business from their apartment, condo, or other type of rental unit had renter’s insurance.

What Should You Consider When Shopping for Lawyer’s Professional Liability Insurance?

Controlling expenses is an important consideration in the management of any law firm, so it isn’t unusual that a firm shopping for liability coverage would take premium rates into consideration. However, even though rates are important, they shouldn’t be the overriding factor in your decision to purchase a particular policy. There are a number of other aspects you should consider to ensure you receive the best coverage for your premium dollar.

The first of these considerations is whether your policy has eroding coverage.  In some liability policies, the coverage limits include defense costs. When you file a claim, the amount of coverage for settling the claim or paying a judgment against you decreases as you incur defense costs. This type of policy is referred to as having defense costs “inside” the policy. There are policies in which the defense costs are “outside” the policy, which means they are not subtracted from the amount of coverage. In some cases, policies with outside defense costs have a cap after which the defense costs are subtracted from coverage limits.

The second consideration is whether the policy deductible includes defense costs. If the deductible is only applied to liability, the insured firm doesn’t have to pay it until there is a settlement/judgment. However, if the deductible includes defense costs, the insured pays as soon as defense expenses begin to mount until the deductible is paid in full.

Another condition that you will want to note is whether your carrier can settle a claim without your consent. Some policies have what is known as a “hammer” clause that prevents the insurance company from settling without the consent of the insured. There is an extenuating circumstance to this clause in that, if the insured refuses to consent, the carrier is only liable for the amount for which it would have settled.

You also need to determine if your policy gives you the right to select your own defense counsel. More than likely, if you are a small firm your carrier will retain the right to choose your defense counsel. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have any input at all. Most insurance companies have a panel of defense attorneys and generally allow the insured to select from this panel. Larger firms can typically select their own counsel but the carrier must approve.

All current Lawyer’s Professional Liability policies are issued as “claims-made” policies, which means that a claim must be made and reported to the carrier within the life of the policy. To prevent coverage gaps if your firm is changing policies, you should select a new policy that has a “prior acts coverage” clause. This will extend your coverage so that any claims that existed before the new policy started will be covered. If you don’t have prior acts coverage, your former claims-made policy will not cover claims that developed after it expired and your firm will be without coverage for those claims.

A number of changes in both federal and state court procedures have made sanctioning more commonplace. The cost to defend your firm against a sanction or to pay the monetary penalty associated with it can be extremely expensive. That’s why you will want to ensure your liability policy provides coverage for these occurrences.

The final consideration is whether the policy requires a new deductible if there are multiple claims made in the same policy year. Some policies only require the deductible to be applied to the first claim made in a given policy year. Other policies treat the deductible on an aggregate basis. The policy will stipulate a specific deductible dollar amount per claim, with a cap on the total deductible dollar amount in the aggregate that the insured will have to pay before coverage begins. If neither of these scenarios is spelled out in your policy, your coverage most likely requires applies deductible for each claim.

Tweens Need Seat Belts When Riding in the Back Seat

Child safety experts have always emphasized the vulnerability of young children in the event of a crash. Parents are continually schooled in the media about the proper use of car seats and booster seats. The federal government even established guidelines for parents of young children; recommending that parents place infants up to 20 pounds in a rear-facing child seat and toddlers weighing between 20 to 40 pounds in a child seat with a harness. Children weighing more than 40 pounds who aren’t at least 4 feet 9 inches tall should be in a booster seat.

However, when a child grew beyond 4 feet 9 inches tall, usually around the time they reached eight years old, there was no parental guidance from the government in place to protect them in the event of a crash. No longer considered as having the same level of vulnerability as they once did, children between the ages of 8 and 12 years old seemed to get lost in the cracks when it came to auto safety practices. The only recommendation the government made was to have them ride in the back seat until they reach the age of 13.

Experience proved that wasn’t enough. More than one pre-teen, or “tween,” passenger between the ages of 8 and 12 is killed in a motor vehicle crash every day and three times that number are injured, according to the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In light of these statistics, it is no wonder that safety organizations like the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety are asking questions about how frequently tweens are wearing their seat belts and whether or not they’re sitting in the back seat. National fatality data demonstrate that of the more than 400 tweens killed in crashes each year, approximately half are not wearing a seat belt and one-third are riding in the front seat.

To verify these statistics, the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety conducted surveys in Dallas, Texas and Joplin, Missouri.  Researchers discovered that of the children polled, about one-third said they sat in the front seat. Even more significant was the fact that half of the 12-year-olds surveyed said that they sat in the front seat. About 63% of the Joplin tweens questioned said they always wore their seat belts, with 53% of the Dallas children stating the same. Surveys were completed by more than 400 children in both cities and had a margin of error of 5 percentage points.

The most alarming discovery that came out of this project was that belt usage in these two locations fell far below the national use rate of 82%. It was also successful in highlighting the problem of why tweens had such a significant death rate as a result of car crashes.

Despite so much bad news, the survey showed how easily parents could improve these results. The Joplin survey revealed a strong parental influence when it came to wearing a seat belt. Nine out of ten children whose parents always wear seat belts followed the example their parents set; however, only six out of ten children whose parents wear seat belts sporadically always wear their belts.

That’s why both the federal government and the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety recommend that parents serve as role models and always wear their seat belts. They also recommend using incentives like letting children choose the radio station in exchange for sitting in the back seat and wearing their seat belts. Parents should ban the use of handheld electronic games in the car if children insist upon sitting in the front. Parents also need to remind children that the law requires they wear a seat belt.

Flood Damage to Cars Isn’t Always Easy to Spot

Wherever you find disaster, you almost always find someone attempting to profit. Following hurricanes Katrina and Rita in the summer of 2005, thousands of water-damaged vehicles showed up in car lots all across the southern United States, many with no visible problems.  They were sold outside of the hurricane’s heavy-hit areas, to avoid suspicion of flood damage.  Though in excellent physical condition, these refurbished cars could still be prone to problems, which is why concealing their disastrous history is against the law.

A “flooded” vehicle is one that has been submerged or partially submerged in water to the extent that damage to the body, engine, transmission or differential occurs.  However, even though physical damage is visible within hours of the flood, it could take weeks or even months for the car to exhibit symptoms of damage with the transmission, on-board computer or electrical systems within the dashboard, anti-lock brakes, airbags, and other safety functions.

Even though most state laws require that the buyer be informed in writing of previous flood damage to a vehicle, there are still several cases each year where the buyer believed they were getting a great deal on a great car.  Despite a flawless exterior, there are other ways to spot a flood-damaged vehicle.

To prevent yourself from being taken advantage of in this situation, here are some basic guidelines in spotting a flood-damaged car:

·        Check the engine, trunk, glove compartment, and the floor beneath the carpeting for signs of sand, silt or moisture.

·        Examine all of the computerized and electrical components of the vehicle, including lights, gauges, air conditioning, wipers, turn signals, radio, etc.

·        If you suspect the car may be flood-damaged, ask the seller directly. 

·        If you are still unsure, have the car examined by an independent mechanic.

Protect Yourself Against the Hazards of Welding

Since hazardous conditions like high heat and toxic fumes are central to welding, it is no surprise that without strict safety procedures, injury, short- or long-term illness and potentially even death could occur when welding.  Though there are more than 80 different types of welding processes, each with its own set of concerns, many safety precautions are common. 

The central elements of welding make it dangerous in many different ways.  The welding “smoke” often contains extremely toxic substances such as arsenic, silica, carbon monoxide, lead, chromium and ozone which can produce acute and chronic conditions to just about any part of the body depending on which substance is present.  Conditions associated with welding are asthma, emphysema, lung cancer, skin diseases, hearing loss, chronic gastrointestinal problems and reproductive risks.  Some components of welding fume, for example cadmium, can be fatal in a short amount of time.

Furthermore, the intense heat from welding and sparks can cause burns, eye injuries and heat stroke.  The intense light can cause eye damage and increased skin cancer risk, not just to the welder, but to co-workers if it reflects off surrounding materials.  Excessive noise exposure can permanently damage a welder’s hearing.  Welders also have a high rate of musculoskeletal complaints including back injuries, shoulder pain, tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

OSHA standards cover many aspects of welding, including welding safety and safety training, welding in confined spaces, ventilation, fire and electrical safety and protective equipment.  Welders should receive extensive training on the safe use of equipment, safe work practices and emergency procedures, and insist on safe working conditions before they weld.

Before beginning a welding job, the hazards for that particular environment need to be identified since risks vary based on the type of welding, materials to be welded and environmental conditions.  Make sure you know what you are welding before you start.  OSHA requires that employers keep material safety data sheets (MSDSs) to identify the hazardous materials used in welding, and the fumes that may be generated.  Only after identifying the hazard can appropriate safety controls be implemented.

Some general precautions to take include:

·  Keep areas clear of equipment, cables and hoses and use safety lines or rails to prevent slips and falls;

· To prevent fires, only weld in areas that are free of combustible materials;

· Be aware of the symptoms of heat stroke (fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain).  Protect against it through appropriate ventilation, shielding, rest breaks and frequent drinks;

· Wear hearing protection in excessively noisy environments.  OSHA requires employers to test noise levels and, in many instances, provide free hearing protection and annual hearing tests;

· Prevent musculoskeletal injury through proper lifting, changing positions, working at a comfortable height and minimizing vibration;

· Prevent electrical shock by wearing dry gloves and rubber-soled shoes, using an insulating layer on surfaces that can conduct electricity and by grounding the piece being welded and the frame of all electrically powered machines;

· Guard all machines with moving parts to prevent clothing, hair or fingers from getting caught;

· Always wear personal protective equipment including fire-resistant gloves, high-top hard-toed shoes, leather apron, face shields, flame-retardant coveralls, safety glasses and helmets;

· Use shielding to protect other people in the work area from the light of the welding arc, heat and hot spatter;

· Maintain proper local exhaust ventilation and general ventilation;

· Store work clothes separately from street clothes since and have them laundered by the employer since they may be contaminated with highly toxic materials; and

· Receive yearly medical exams.

Because dangerous levels of toxic fumes can build quickly in a confined space, all workers who enter hazardous areas, either on a regular basis or in an emergency situation, should be trained on use of safety equipment, rescue procedures, self-contained breathing apparatus and proper methods of entering and exiting a confined space.  Additional special safety precautions are also necessary for various other specialized welding including high-pressure gas welding, laser welding and electronic beam welding.

Practice Safe Winter Driving Techniques

In case you haven’t noticed, winter has arrived and with it comes ice, snow, slippery roads, and poor visibility. Winter driving is necessary and nothing can be done to avoid it.

While the best advice is to not drive at all, that’s not an option for most of us.  If you must drive, here are some simple precautions you can take to minimize the risk of accidents and injuries:

  • Decrease your speed and leave yourself plenty of room to stop. You should allow at least three times more space than usual between you and the car in front of you.
  • Brake gently to avoid skidding. If your wheels start to lock up, ease off the brake.
  • Turn on your lights to increase your visibility to other motorists.
  • Keep your lights and windshield clean.
  • Use low gears to keep traction, especially on hills.
  • Don’t use cruise control or overdrive on icy roads.
  • Be especially careful on bridges, overpasses and infrequently traveled roads, which will freeze first. Even at temperatures above freezing, if the conditions are wet, you might encounter ice in shady areas or on exposed roadways like bridges.
  • Don’t pass snow plows and sanding trucks. The drivers have limited visibility, and you’re likely to find the road in front of them worse than the road behind.
  • Don’t assume your vehicle can handle all conditions. Even four-wheel and front-wheel drive vehicles can encounter trouble on winter roads.

If you should lose traction:

  • Take your foot off the accelerator.
  • Steer in the direction you want the front wheels to go. If your rear wheels are sliding left, steer left. If they’re sliding right, steer right.
  • If your rear wheels start sliding the other way as you recover, ease the steering wheel toward that side. You might have to steer left and right a few times to get your vehicle completely under control.
  • If you have standard brakes, pump them gently.
  • If you have anti-lock brakes (ABS), do not pump the brakes. Apply steady pressure to the brakes. You will feel the brakes pulse — this is normal.

If you should get stuck:

  • Do not spin your wheels. This will only dig you in deeper.
  • Turn your wheels from side to side a few times to push snow out of the way.
  • Use a light touch on the gas, to ease your car out.
  • Use a shovel to clear snow away from the wheels and the underside of the car.
  • Pour sand, kitty litter, gravel or salt in the path of the wheels, to help get traction.
  • Try rocking the vehicle by shifting from forward to reverse, and back again. Each time you’re in gear, give a light touch on the gas until the vehicle gets going.