Hand Over the Keys! Having the “Big Talk” with a Senior Driver

Even though we know we’ll probably have to face it eventually, it’s a discussion all adults dread: the “Big Talk” about driving with a senior parent or grandparent. No one looks forward to telling their parent or grandparent it’s time to hang up the keys. However, when you notice your aging mom has dropped her driving speeds to 30 mph below the speed limit or you discover that your dear old dad no longer acknowledges stop lights, it’s time to have the talk.

If you have an aging family member who shouldn’t be behind the wheel, here are a few tips for broaching this delicate topic with them:

Know the warning signs

If you don’t spend a lot of time with your senior parent or grandparent, you may be uncertain about whether or not it’s time for them to stop driving. However, there are a few warning signs you should keep an eye out for that will help you make the decision.

For example, every time you visit, you may notice new dents and scratches on their car, their garage door or their mailbox. They may tell you about multiple near-accidents (although some will claim it wasn’t their fault) or they might continually receive traffic tickets or warnings. They may complain that they often miss street turns or can’t see traffic signs at the side of the road. These are all signs that it’s time to have the “Big Talk” with your senior parent.

Don’t hesitate

It’s natural to be anxious about telling your mom or dad they need to stop driving. Your parents have been telling you what to do for your entire life. So, it’s awkward when the tables turn and you suddenly have to tell the people who raised you what’s best for them.

However, look at it this way: your parent will be better off getting this advice from you and the rest of your family than receiving an order from the state motor vehicle department. As family members and people who love and know them, you and your relatives are the best candidates for telling your parent it’s time to give up driving.

Broach the topic delicately

Once you’ve determined the time has come for the driving discussion, try to get the all of the adults in your family involved. Work together to come up with the best approach for telling the senior driver it’s time to hang up the keys.

When you have the discussion with your parent or grandparent, try to keep the conversation adult-like. Do not treat the senior like a child—talk to them as you would about any other adult matter. Instead of being accusatory and saying things like “You did this” and “You’re not doing that,” try to use “I” to describe how you perceive the situation. For example, you may say, “I think you’re having a hard time seeing the road,” or “I worry about you having a terrible accident.”

If your parent resists, point out that they have a responsibility to others, as well. You may want to talk about how horrible they would feel if they killed or injured an innocent person because of a driving mistake. Typically, this is enough to convince a person that they shouldn’t be on the road.

However, if your parent simply refuses to give up driving and they haven’t had any accidents, you may have to give in and allow him to keep driving for another year. As they are still sharp of mind, they may still be able to manage a car.

On the other hand, if your parent has the beginnings of dementia, they should absolutely not be behind the wheel. If your loved one is suffering from the onset of dementia, you may have to sell the car and tell them it just isn’t available anymore or disable the car and tell them it no longer runs. This may seem cruel, but remember—it’s for the safety of your loved one and other drivers.

Be sensitive

Although you may tempted to firmly tell your parent, “Hand over the keys!” this is probably not the best way to approach the matter. Try to understand that this is going to be a tough transition for you loved one. After all, how will mom make it to her beauty parlor appointments or to church? How will dad get to the doctor or his poker parties? Try to see things from their perspective, and be sensitive to their feelings.

Many seniors fall into a deep depression after they stop driving because they feel a loss of freedom and control over their lives. This is why it’s so important to come up with alternatives to driving. As you discuss the change with your parent, discuss possible solutions for how they will get around. Maybe you, your siblings and other relatives could take turns driving them to their appointments and functions. Alternatively, you could purchase a mass transit pass for them so they can take the bus or the subway. You may also consider hiring a home-care agency that will transport your parent from point A to point B.

Whatever you do, don’t just firmly lay down the law with your parent and banish him or her to their house forever. Put yourself in their shoes, be delicate and offer clear solutions.

Men vs. Women Drivers: Does Gender Really Matter on the Road?

For years, insurance companies have regularly charged female drivers less for auto insurance coverage than males. Insurance companies claim it’s because women drivers statistically have fewer car crashes. However, no studies have actually proven that there is a difference between men and women’s driving abilities.

Looking at the stats

Over the past ten years or so, male fatalities have outnumbered female fatalities 2-to-1 in car accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Men also have a higher rate of collisions that result in just property damage—also a 2-to-1 ratio.

According to the American Insurance Association, men are involved in 50 percent more fatal crashes per 100 million miles driven than females. This divergence is most prominent in drivers in their late teens and early to mid-20’s. 

Examining the male crash phenomena

No one can pinpoint exactly why men have more car crashes than women. Many researchers argue nature versus nurture theories. Some researchers blame natural male biochemicals—one study claims that high testosterone levels in men causes them to take more risks behind the wheel. On the other hand, some researchers say that men are products of their culture. These experts say society has taught males to act more competitively in general, which makes them more aggressive drivers on the road. Other studies point out that women are better multi-taskers, which makes them better drivers.

However, many people simply don’t buy into any of these studies. Skeptics say a person’s gender simply cannot predict whether or not they are a safe driver. The National Organization for Women’s Insurance Project points out that men simply have more crashes than women because they drive more miles each year. Because men are on the road more, they expose themselves to a more risk.

The gap narrows
Recent statistics show that the gap is narrowing between men and women crashes. Between 1975 and 2003, female fatalities in car accidents increased 14 percent, while male fatalities dropped by 11 percent.

Some experts say this is simply because women are on the road more these days. On top of that, an increasing number of women are becoming more aggressive on the road. If this trend continues, experts say insurance companies may soon stop taking gender into account as they calculate drivers’ insurance premiums.

A few states lead the way

Despite the latest research, insurance companies in most states continue to use gender as a factor in calculating premiums. Of course, insurers also take other things into account, including annual mileage, the type of car, the person’s previous driving record and even their Zip code (whether they live in the city, the suburbs or a rural area).

However, a handful of states, including California, Connecticut, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, no longer allow insurance companies to use gender as a factor to assess risk and calculate premiums.

The Right Homeowners Insurance Can Be a Homesaver

Homeowner’s insurance is an essential purchase. Mortgage holders require their borrowers to keep this coverage in force while the mortgage has a balance. However, the coverage is just as important for those who own their homes free and clear. Few individuals have sufficient funds to rebuild a destroyed home. For this reason, it is important for homeowners to have the right coverage, not just any coverage. Failure to consider a few factors can leave them with a too-small claim check or even no claim check at all. Probably the most important of these are the amount of insurance on the home and the perils that could possibly damage it.

Insurance industry consulting firm MSB has estimated that as many as two-thirds of American homes are underinsured, by an average 21 percent. This means that a home that would cost $100,000 to rebuild is probably insured for only $79,000. It is important for the insurance limit to reflect building costs in the area, not the prices that homes are selling for. It should also take into account the cost of rebuilding to comply with local codes, the expense of not buying materials in bulk, and any custom features the home has. For a nominal fee, MSB offers an online tool to help homeowners calculate their insurance needs at www.accucoverage.com.

Homeowner’s insurance typically covers damage caused by fire, lightning, vehicles, windstorms, and several other perils, but it does not cover everything. For example, it does not cover damage caused by flooding. Too many people fail to consider this; more than 40 percent of New Orleans homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina lacked flood insurance, and the insured rate was higher there than in other affected areas. Homeowners who live near ponds, creeks, lakes or oceans should give serious consideration to buying flood insurance from the National Flood Insurance Program, and even those who do not live near water should think about it. Officials with the NFIP estimate that one in four flood claims occurs in low- to moderate-risk areas.

Other perils that the policy may not cover include earthquakes, mudslides, mold infestations, and gradual rotting of building components. Homeowners in areas with frequent seismic activity should consider separate coverage for earthquakes and other types of earth movement.

The amount of insurance and the scope of the coverage have a major impact on the policy’s cost, but another influential factor is the deductible — the amount the homeowner pays out of pocket before the company pays. Higher deductibles result in lower premiums because the company is spared the expense of handling small losses that fall below the deductible. Each homeowner must decide the deductible amount that she can comfortably afford. Since homeowners often pay insurance premiums for many years without suffering a loss, the savings from the higher deductible discount may well offset the higher out-of-pocket expense if a loss occurs.

There are several other considerations homeowners have when they buy insurance. Do you have expensive pieces of jewelry, collectibles, musical instruments or artwork? Do you run a business out of your home? Do you or your children own laptop computers? Are you a landlord? Do you own snowmobiles or boats? Operate a home day care center? You may need special coverage for all of these. To identify your coverage needs and determine the cost of insuring them, speak with a qualified insurance agent who insures many homes. She can present options and provide information about the financial strength of companies and their claims handling practices.

Homeowner’s insurance is not just another expense. It is a vital part of a homeowner’s financial plan. Take the time to make certain you have the right coverage at a reasonable cost.

Finding the Best Home Contractor for the Job

Let’s say you’re about to take on a house project, whether it’s a major kitchen renovation or a simple painting job, and you decide to hire a contractor. So, you flip through the phone book and call the first number you see listed under “Kitchen Remodeling” or “Painters.” Not so fast.

Many homeowners don’t realize that they are taking a huge risk when they hire just any contractor off the street. If you don’t do your homework, you could be exposing yourself to massive amounts of liability. What if a painter falls off his ladder and badly injures his back while painting your living room? What if a kitchen contractor hits a pipe and floods your home? Who will cover the lofty expenses associated with these types of accidents?

The thought of such a home improvement catastrophe is enough to send chills down any homeowner’s spine. This is why it’s so important to hire only licensed, insured, highly experienced contractors to work on your house project-no matter how big or small the job may be.

Here are a few rules of thumb for hiring a reliable contractor and limiting your liability:

Ask for recommendations

One of the best ways to find a dependable contractor is simply to ask your friends, family members, co-workers and neighbors. Ask everyone you know and trust if they can suggest a reputable contractor who did exceptional work for them. More than likely, if a friend was happy with a contractor, you will be too.

Avoid solicitors

Steer clear of contractors who go door-to-door or make cold calls in search of work. The best, most reliable contractors don’t have to resort to such solicitations.

Don’t fall for “limited time” offers

If a contractor quotes you a “limited time” project price that will increase if you don’t hire him immediately, run like the wind. This can be a sign that the contractor is dishonest or illegitimate.

Get it in writing

Don’t settle for verbal agreements. Request a written estimate that includes a detailed breakdown of the project costs, including materials and labor fees.

Verify, verify, verify

Before you hire any contractor, make sure that they are licensed, bonded and insured-and don’t just take their word for it. Verify all of this by asking for certificates of insurance for workers’ compensation as well as info on their general liability policies. If the contractor working on your home plans to use subcontractors, be sure to ask for the certificates for those subcontractors as well.

Read the fine print

Before the contractor begins work on your house project, request a copy of the proposed contract. Read all of the fine print and make sure all the terms are fair and reasonable. The contract should clearly establish an independent contractor relationship. It should also include a “hold harmless clause” in your favor, especially if the contractor is doing major work that involves heavy equipment (such as installing a swimming pool or adding a room to your house.) A hold harmless clause ensures that the contractor will cover any expenses associated with members of the public who are injured or whose property is damaged during the project.

Check with the Better Business Bureau

If you’re still not sure, contact the Better Business Bureau for more information. They can tell you if any consumers have filed complaints against the contractor. Visit the bureau’s website at www.bbb.org.

AAA Study Shows After School Hours Dangerous for Teen Drivers

Parents have always been concerned about their teenagers driving on the weekend, especially at night. However, a new AAA study of crash data reveals that after school hours can be as deadly for teenage drivers as weekend nights. The researchers advise parents that they need to be just as vigilant about monitoring their teens’ driving on weekday afternoons as they are on weekend nights. 

The researchers studied the number of fatal crashes involving teenage drivers between 2002 and 2005. What they discovered is that almost as many 16 and 17-year-old drivers were involved in fatal crashes between 3 and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday as were on Friday and Saturday nights between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m. There were 1,100 weekday crashes and 1,237 weekend crashes.

To combat this growing problem, the AAA recommends that parents do the following:

·  Establish specific driving rules with your teen. If they follow the rules, they will be permitted to increase their amount of driving time. Breaking the rules leads to fewer liberties. Parents can find a parent-teen driver agreement at http://www.aaa.com/publicaffairs.

·  Don’t allow a new teen driver to carry passengers during the first three months of driving. Allow them to carry no more than one passenger for the rest of the first year of independent driving. Crash rates increase drastically for 16 and 17-year-old drivers as you add more teenage passengers to a car. Thirty-five states limit passengers for new teen drivers. Every parent should do the same, regardless of state law.

·  Don’t permit your teen to ride with a new teen driver. Carpooling seems like a sensible way for teens to ride to school, home and activities, but it can promote risky passenger behavior. Research shows that it is more dangerous for several teens to ride in one car than for them to drive individually.

·  Ban cell phone usage while driving. Teens have trouble managing distractions, especially while driving.

·  Require your teen to wear a seat belt every time s/he rides in a car. Teens have the lowest belt usage rate of any age group, even though new teen drivers have the highest crash rates.

·  Make your rules known to other adults in your teen’s life. A parent-to-parent agreement with your teen driver’s friends will standardize rules among a group of teenagers. Letting your neighbors know your teen’s driving rules can provide you extra sets of eyes when you’re not around. You can also find a parent-to-parent agreement at http://www.aaa.com/publicaffairs.

Thirteen Vehicles Named to The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety List of Safest Vehicles

Thirteen vehicles, including four cars, seven SUVs, and two minivans, earned The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick awards for 2007. The award is given to vehicles that best protect people in front, side, and rear crashes based on ratings in Institute tests. Winners are also required to be equipped with electronic stability control. Honda and Subaru each manufacture three of the 13 winning vehicles.

The complete list of winners for 2007 include:

·   Large car: Audi A6 manufactured Dec. 2006 and after

·   Midsize cars: Audi A4, Saab 9-3, Subaru Legacy equipped with optional electronic stability control

·   Minivans: Hyundai Entourage, Kia Sedona

·   Luxury SUVs: Mercedes M class, Volvo XC90

·   Midsize SUVs: Acura RDX, Honda Pilot, Subaru B9 Tribeca

·   Small SUVs: Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester equipped with optional electronic stability control

Pickups were not included in this round of awards because the Institute hasn’t begun to evaluate their side crashworthiness.

The Institute ratings of good, acceptable, marginal, or poor are based on each vehicle’s performance in high-speed front and side crash tests. Consideration is also provided for how well seat/head restraints protect passengers against neck injuries during rear impacts. For a vehicle to become a top pick it must obtain at least good ratings in all three of these tests.

A new electronic stability control requirement was added for 2007. This requirement was added because Institute research found that electronic stability control greatly reduces crash potential by helping drivers stay in control during emergency maneuvers. Single-vehicle crashes in general were reduced 40 percent with the addition of this feature. Fatal single-vehicle crashes declined 56 percent, and fatal rollovers decreased by nearly 80 percent.

Some manufacturers improved their vehicles specifically to earn the awards. The Institute noted that Audi redesigned the seat/head restraints in the A4 and A6 to improve performance in the rear impact test and Subaru stepped up its plans to offer electronic stability control on some versions of the Forester and Legacy in order to meet the new requirement.

Other vehicles are also in the process of being changed to make them eligible for an award. Ford will add electronic stability control to 2008 Freestyles. Most automakers have added standard side airbags with head protection, even though government regulations don’t require them yet. All 2007 winners have standard side airbags.

Seventeen other vehicles would have won awards with better seat/head restraint designs. Toyota would have earned nine awards, including three Lexus winners. Honda could have added four more awards, including one for an Acura. The Institute stated that rear crash protection is a safety area in which many automakers lag behind.

Taking Another Look At Flood Insurance

According to an August 2006 article published on SmartMoney.com, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reported that only 40 percent of all residents in the flooded areas hit by Hurricane Katrina were covered by flood insurance. The majority of those insured were required to have the coverage in order to obtain a mortgage.

The other 60 percent who didn’t have flood insurance fall into two main categories: renters and homeowners without a mortgage.

The uninsured group faced a serious problem. Standard homeowner and renter’s policies cover damage from wind or rain. These policies, however, don’t cover damage as a result of flooding. These individuals’ only recourse was to rely on federal disaster aid.

Flood insurance is available through the National Flood Insurance Program to any property owner living in an area with an established flood plan. This is used to gauge the community’s vulnerability by creating an area flood map. Flood plans also help lessen some of the risk by establishing certain zoning and building policies, which include types of allowed construction, elevation at which building is allowed, permissible building materials, and construction reinforcement techniques.

The National Flood Insurance Program offers three different types of policies:

·   The Dwelling Form – this insures one to four family residential structures and/or contents. This form can also be used to insure residential condominium units.

·   The General Property Form – this insures residential buildings housing more than four families as well as non-residential and commercial buildings.

·   The Residential Condominium Building Association Policy Form – this insures associations operating under the condominium form of ownership.

There is also a Preferred Risk Policy designed for residential and non-residential properties in low-to-moderate risk areas. The policy can be written with one of several combinations of building and contents protections:

·   Renters pay $39 per year for $8,000 of contents coverage.

·   Business owners can buy $50,000 of building and contents coverage for $550 per year per building.

·   Business owners who lease their space can purchase $50,000 of contents coverage for $145 per year.

Finally, keep in mind that flood insurance is easy to obtain. While the federal government may administer the program, it is sold through regular insurance companies. To find out more about flood insurance, call us today or log on to www.floodsmart.gov.

Motorists Still Driving While Talking on Cell Phones

The Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association reports that more than 231 million people are currently subscribed to wireless communication devices, namely cell phones, compared to roughly 4.3 million in 1990. This increase in cell phone usage has resulted in a rise in the number of people using the devices while driving.

Since 2001, when the first law banning hand-held cell-phone use while driving was passed in New York State, the subject has been a hotly contested issue. There has been sharp disagreement as to  exactly how much of a hazard talking on a cell phone while driving actually creates. The results of several recent studies indicate that cell phone use while driving isn’t the most dangerous distraction. However, because it is so widespread, it is the most common cause of crashes and near crashes resulting from the driver being distracted.

An August 2006 survey conducted by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute for Safety studied teenagers use of text messaging while driving. The research showed that teens considered sending text messages to be their biggest distraction. Of those polled, 37 percent said that text messaging was extremely or very distracting.

An April 2006 study conducted by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration discovered that approximately 80 percent of crashes and 65 percent of near crashes resulted from some kind of driver distraction within three seconds of the event. The study also found that the most common distraction is the use of cell phones. However, the researchers went on to note that cell phone use is far less likely to be the cause of a crash or near crash than other distractions. They found that reaching for a moving object such as a falling cup increased the risk of a crash or near crash by 9 times, while talking on a hand-held cell phone only increased the risk by 1.3 times.

The results of the Virginia Tech study confirm an August 2003 report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety which concluded that drivers are decidedly less distracted by their cell phones than by other activities, such as reaching for items on the seat or in the glove compartment or talking to passengers. The AAA study was based on an analysis of videotapes from cameras installed in the cars of 70 drivers in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Research conducted in July 2005 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety discovered that motorists who use cell phones while driving are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to cause injury to themselves. The results also showed that banning hand-held phone use and mandating that drivers switch to hand-free phones doesn’t improve safety. The study found that injury crash risk didn’t vary with the type of phone, because the driver was still distracted by the conversation.

Age and Gender May Be Factors in the Severity of Car Accidents

A new study conducted at Purdue University demonstrates there are statistical differences in traffic-accident injuries depending on the gender and age of drivers. The Purdue researchers found significant differences in the severity of injuries suffered in accidents involving men and women drivers and drivers within three age groups: young drivers, 16-24; middle-aged drivers, 25-64; and older drivers, 65 and above. The researchers’ findings corroborated national statistics, which indicated that fatalities rose by 7 percent for drivers 75 and older from 1981 to 2000, remained steady for drivers from 65-74, but dropped for younger drivers.

The study also included the following findings:

·   Accidents involving an overturned vehicle increased the likelihood of a fatality by 220 percent for older men, but only 154 percent for young men. Rollover accidents increased the likelihood of fatality by 523 percent for older women, but only 116 percent for young women.

·   Vehicles carrying one or more passengers increased the likelihood of driver fatality by 114 percent for young men and 70 percent for middle-aged men, but had no significant effect on the injury levels of older male drivers.

·   Vehicles less than five years old increased the likelihood of fatality for older men by 216 percent and for young men by 71 percent, but did not have a significant effect on the likelihood of a fatality for middle-aged men.

·   Not using safety belts increased the likelihood of injury by 119 percent for young women, 164 percent for middle-aged women and 187 percent for older women.

·   Accidents occurring in rural areas increased the likelihood of fatalities by 208 percent for young women but had no significant effect on the injury levels of other female age categories.

·   Vehicles six years old and older increased the likelihood of injury for middle-aged female drivers by more than 200 percent but had no significant impact on the injury levels of other female age categories.

·   Fatalities were more likely for middle-aged men who fell asleep at the wheel, exceeded the speed limit, got into an accident at an intersection or had an accident after midnight on Friday or Saturday, while the same factors had no significant effect on the injury levels of middle-aged female drivers.

·   Injuries were shown to be more likely for middle-aged women who drive during daytime hours, drive while under the influence of alcohol or drive while ill, while the same factors did not significantly influence the injury levels of middle-aged male drivers.

·   Driving on curvy roads and driving vehicles six years old and older increased the likelihood of injury for middle-aged female drivers but were found to have no significant effect on the injury levels of middle-aged male drivers.

The researchers went on to note that in many cases, alcohol consumption might have had an indirect effect on the outcomes because it increased the probability of not wearing a safety belt and speeding. However, once you take this into account, the effect of alcohol on injury severity isn’t significant because the level of injury is a function of the type of accident not of sobriety. Whether or not the accident occurred because the driver was drunk was beyond the scope of the study. The researchers developed their statistical models based on the accident having occurred regardless of the reason.

Government Survey Shows Parents Confused About How to Use Child Safety Seats

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported in a December 2006 survey that many parents are confused about the correct way to install child safety seats in their cars.

In 2002, NHTSA mandated that all new cars and child seats be built with locking attachments. The system, called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH), was designed to make safety seats fit snugly and provide a method of attaching the seats without having to use a seat belt. LATCH was intended to simplify child safety seat installation, but the survey results prove otherwise.

According to the study results, approximately 40 percent of parents still use seat belts when installing a car seat. Safety advocates say that using seat belts to attach a car seat can lead to a loose fit. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that just 55 percent of parents use the top tether built into the vehicle’s back seat to help secure their children. Using upper tethers for child safety seats reduces the tilting or rotation of the seat during a frontal crash.

Although the 55 percent usage rate of the top tether represents a significant improvement compared with earlier surveys, many parents still are not properly protecting their children. The researchers also found that over half of the parents not using the upper or lower tethers said they did not know how.

Other key findings of the survey include:

·   Thirteen percent of respondents said their vehicle was not equipped with lower tethers so a seat belt had to be used to anchor the safety seat.

·   Among the 87 percent that use a child safety seat on a car seat with lower tethers, only 60 percent use them to secure the safety seat.

·   Eighty-one percent of upper tether users and 74 percent of lower tether users said the tethers weren’t easy to use.

·   Seventy-five percent of the respondents who have used both seat belts and lower tethers to secure a safety seat preferred the lower tethers.

The government recommends car safety seats be used for children up to 40 pounds. Children over 40 pounds should use booster seats until they are 8 years old or 4 feet 9 inches tall. All children should ride in the back seat until age 13.