Think Twice Before Drinking and Driving

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released data showing that from 2001-2005, an average of 36 fatalities occurred per day on America’s roadways as a result of crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. It’s this kind of statistic that has spurred all 50 states and the District of Columbia to pass laws making it illegal to drive with a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher.

Although you may not be a fatality if you drive while under the influence, don’t think that means you’re home free. If you’re ticketed for a DUI, you’ll face a financial toll that you probably never considered. The following list is an example of some of the expenses you can expect:

  • Bail – It can cost anywhere from $250 to $2500 for a first time DUI offender to be released from jail after an arrest depending on the jurisdiction.
  • Towing – When you’re arrested, your car is automatically towed. The cost starts at $100. In Chicago, for example, the typical charge is $1,200 for the first 24 hours and $50 for each additional day of storage. If you can’t afford to get your car after 30 days, the city auctions it. Other cities are beginning to follow Chicago’s lead.
  • Insurance premiums – If you are convicted, your insurance rates will increase substantially for the next three to five years. This could mean anywhere from two to four times more than you are currently paying. You could even face losing coverage all together. In that case, you would be forced to find a company specializing in higher risks that will insure you, or see whether your state has an assigned-risk pool for insurance. Either way, you’ll pay considerably more for coverage.
  • Legal fees – Expect anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000 depending on how much time an attorney has to invest in your case to defend you. In addition to what you pay your lawyer, you may also find yourself paying for an investigator to examine the arrest scene, and expert witnesses who can testify about the inaccuracy of field sobriety tests.
  • Fines – The fines and court fees for breaking the law vary from state to state, However, you can expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $1200.
  • Alcohol Evaluation – This is required of anyone sentenced by the court for drunk driving. The cost for these evaluations starts at about $100 depending on the jurisdiction.
  • Treatment/Education Program – A conviction means you will be required to undergo treatment or education in order to get your driver’s license re-issued. The extent of these programs differs greatly, and the costs can range from $300 to $2000. 

Candle Fires Present a Burning Problem

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimates that in 2005, the most recent year for which statistics are available, candles caused 15,600 home fires, accounting for 4 percent of all reported home fires that year. These fires resulted in an estimated 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries and direct property losses totaling $539 million.

Most common causes of candle fires:

-50 percent were caused when combustible material was placed too close to a lit candle.

-18 percent were caused when a lit candle was left unattended.

-12 percent were caused when someone fell asleep while a candle was still burning.

NFPA data shows that 38 percent of all reported candle fires started in the bedroom. However, the living room, family room, and den were most often the scene of deaths caused by candle-related fires.

Why is the number of candle-related fires so high? It has grown in direct proportion to the increase in candle usage in this country. The National Candle Association (NCA) estimates U.S. retail sales of candles at approximately $2 billion annually, excluding sales of candle accessories.

To help keep consumers safe while enjoying their candles, the NCA offers the following tips:

  • Keep a burning candle within sight. Extinguish all candles when leaving a room or before going to sleep.
  • Move burning candles away from furniture, drapes, bedding, carpets, books, paper, flammable decorations, etc.
  • Do not place lighted candles where they can be knocked over by children, pets or anyone else.
  • Trim candlewicks to ¼ inch each time before burning.
  • Use a candleholder that is heat resistant, sturdy and large enough to contain any drips or melted wax.
  • Place the candleholder on a stable, heat-resistant surface.
  • Keep the wax pool free of wick trimmings, matches and debris at all times.
  • Don’t burn a candle longer than the manufacturer recommends.
  • Keep burning candles away from drafts, vents, ceiling fans and air currents to prevent rapid, uneven burning, and avoid flame flare-ups.
  • Burn candles in a well-ventilated room.
  • Stop burning a candle when 2 inches of wax remains or ½ inch if in a container.
  • Never touch a burning candle or move a votive or container candle when the wax is liquid.
  • Never use a knife or sharp object to remove wax drippings from a glass holder because it might scratch, weaken, or cause the glass to break upon subsequent use.
  • Use a candlesnuffer to extinguish a candle so hot wax doesn’t splatter.
  • Never extinguish candles with water because it may cause the hot wax to splatter.
  • Use flashlights and other battery-powered lights during a power failure.
  • Make sure a candle is completely extinguished and the wick ember is no longer glowing before leaving the room.
  • Extinguish a candle if it smokes, flickers repeatedly, or the flame becomes too high.
  • Never use a candle as a night-light.

Don’t Be Left Hanging By an Uninsured or Underinsured Driver

Despite mandatory liability insurance laws in 47 out of 50 states, the Insurance Research Council estimates the uninsured motorist rate at about 14 percent nationally and possibly as high as 30 percent in some states. The Property/Casualty Insurers Association of America reports that uninsured motorists are involved in more than 20 percent of fatal crashes in the United States.

But, uninsured drivers aren’t the only problem. Many drivers who have insurance carry only the minimum limits, which may be insufficient to cover all damages in an accident for which they’re at fault.

So what happens if you find yourself involved in a car accident caused by one of these uninsured or underinsured motorists? It could be a financially devastating experience unless you have Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist (UM/UIM) coverage.

While UM/UIM coverage is not required in most states, you need this coverage because if you are involved in an accident caused by someone else, and they don’t have the insurance to cover the damage, you can file a claim with your insurer. This is an important safeguard because a motorist who is uninsured or underinsured probably doesn’t have the financial means to pay for any damages resulting from an accident.

Before you purchase Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist coverage, it is important to understand what is covered. Uninsured Motorist insurance (UM) pays for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering that result from an accident caused by an uninsured driver. UM insurance also protects you and your passengers if a hit-and-run driver strikes you. In addition, policyholders are covered for medical expenses and lost wages if they are hit as a pedestrian, cyclist or commuter.

Underinsured Motorist insurance (UIM) pays for these same expenses that result from an accident caused by a driver who lacks sufficient insurance to cover all of the costs. In some states, Underinsured Motorist coverage is included in your Uninsured Motorist insurance.

Insurers operating in most states also offer Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist Property Damage insurance (UMPD). Whereas, UM/UIM coverage pays for bodily injuries, this coverage pays for damage an uninsured or underinsured driver causes to your vehicle. Covered property may also include personal property inside the vehicle, depending on the state.

Make a Contract to Keep Your Teen Driver Safe

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported that 3,490 drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 years old died in motor vehicle crashes in 2006 and an additional 272,000 were injured. Drivers in this age group accounted for 12.9 percent of the drivers involved in fatal crashes and 16 percent of the drivers involved in police-reported crashes.

Drivers between the ages of 15 and 20 years old have the highest rate of fatal crashes among all age groups including the elderly. The risk of being involved in a fatal crash is three times greater for teens than for people between the ages of 65 to 69.

Lack of driving experience and taking unnecessary risks are the two main reasons for the high crash rate among teens. However, both of these issues can be addressed, and their impact on a teenage driver’s safety significantly reduced when parents assume a proactive role in their teenagers’ driver education.

One of the best ways to accomplish this is by drawing up a driving contract between you and your teen driver. Teendriving.com offers the following advice about what to include in your contract:

·   Specify which car(s) the teen is allowed to drive – The car should have a driver’s side airbag, a good safety rating, and be easy to maneuver

·   Make the teen responsible for gas, oil changes, tire pressure checks, regular maintenance requirements, and keeping the car clean inside and out.

·   Have the teen agree to pay for insurance – Paying insurance costs with a part-time job provides some incentive for avoiding reckless behavior.

·   Specify that the teen must follow these rules or be subject to some agreed upon, pre-determined penalty:

1.      Always obeying the speed limit and traffic laws.

2.      Always wearing seat belts and making sure that all passengers are buckled up before driving.

3.      Never driving after drinking or using drugs – The contract should state that teens are not allowed to drink and drive, have alcohol in the car, or even be a passenger in a car with a driver who has been drinking or using drugs. Assure your teen that they can always call you to come get them if they are stranded at a gathering.

4.      Not driving with friends in the car – Teens should not be allowed to drive with friends or even younger siblings in the car for the first six to twelve months of having their license unless an adult is also in the car.

5.      Not using cell phones or texting while driving.

6.      Letting you know where they are going and when they plan to return.

7.      Maintaining curfews – Set realistic curfews, but also tell teens that if they are running late, it’s always better to drive safely than speed to make up the minutes. They should call you if possible to let you know they are on the way home. 

Are You Guilty of DWT – Driving While Texting?

Are you guilty of sending text messages from behind the wheel? If you are, you’re not alone.  Although hard statistics on the practice are scarce, it’s clearly a growing problem. More than 150 billion text messages are sent annually, and a substantial percentage of those are sent from the driver’s seat.

Anything that takes a driver’s attention off the road increases the likelihood of an accident, including talking on a cell phone, eating, applying make-up or shaving. But text messaging may be especially dangerous since composing and sending a message requires a driver to look at the phone or device rather than at the highway and surrounding traffic for an extended period of time.

Texting while driving has been identified as a factor in several accidents, with police linking the time phone text messages were sent with the occurrence of fatal automobile crashes. It seems an especially prevalent practice among the young: One insurance company survey found that 19% of drivers admit to sending text messages while driving, and an alarming 37% of drivers between the ages of 18 and 27 engage in the practice.

The problem has become widespread enough for some states, including Washington and Oregon, to take notice and consider legislation that makes driving while texting a crime. Activists are lobbying to include specific texting-while-driving provisions in existing laws that prohibit hand-held electronic devices to be use on the road.

In fact, a recent Harris Interactive poll revealed that 89% of Americans support legislation to ban texting while behind the wheel. And 91% of respondents believed that people who text and drive are just as dangerous as drunks on the road.

What can you do about this problem?  Stay safe by resisting the temptation and encouraging others to do the same.

Is a Home Security System Right for You?

We are a nation of conspicuous consumers, filling our homes with all kinds of electronics from computers to Wii consoles. While all of these gadgets are designed to make staying at home more fun, owning them can make your home an attractive target for burglars. According to 2006 FBI crime statistics, 66.2 percent of all reported burglaries were home break-ins. The average dollar loss per burglary offense in 2006 was $1,834. If you have a lot of expensive personal belongings, installing a home security system may be a good idea.

In addition to protecting your valuables, you may also want to consider the need to protect your family’s safety. FBI statistics show that 63.1 percent of all home burglaries in 2006 happened during the day. What would happen to you and your family if a burglar attempted to break in while you were home? Installing a home security system provides you with peace if mind, knowing that your loved ones are protected.

When you are tying to decide if you should install a security system, here are some other things you should consider:

  • Are you living in a high-crime area? – Long time residents in a neighborhood know the likelihood of their home being burglarized. If you live in a high-crime area, you probably need a security system. If you’ve just moved into a neighborhood, do some research to find out how high a risk there is for being burglarized so you can determine if you need additional security.
  • Is your home inviting to burglars? – There are certain circumstances that mark your home as a target, such as living in a ground floor apartment, being surrounded by thick bushes and trees, having old doors and windows that are easy to break into, or living on a poorly-lit street where people are seldom around. If any of these descriptions apply to your home, you may want to consider a home security system.
  • How expensive is it to own a system? – There are a number of security systems to choose from, with a wide range of prices. Keep in mind that the more sophisticated the technology, the higher the price. However, you should be able to find something within your budget that will give you the protection you need.
  • Does your homeowner’s insurance offer a discount if you install a system? – Most insurance companies will give you a premium discount if you install any kind of home security system. The amount of the discount will depend on the type of system you choose. If you install a home security system that has monitoring services, the discount can range up to 20 percent. Check with your insurance agent to see what your insurer offers.
  • Are there steps you can take to minimize the need for a security system? – There are some low tech ways to burglar proof your home, such as, installing dead-bolt locks, replacing hollow doors with doors made of metal or solid hard wood, installing a wide-angle peephole in the door, replacing old or cracked windows, installing removable rods to prevent windows from being opened, and pruning bushes and trees that surround your house.

Think Twice Before Leaving a Child Unattended in a Car

According to www.kidsandcars.org, as of December 2007, 942 children in the U.S. were involved in accidents because they were left unattended in or around a car. Of that total, 231 resulted in fatalities.

Tragedies like these can be prevented if parents exercise some extra caution. Here are a few tips to help keep your child safe:

  • Teach your children that they should never play in the car without adult supervision.
  • Lock your car and put the keys in a place where your children can’t find them.
  • Place something you need like your cell phone, handbag, or briefcase on the floor in front of the back seat when you get into the car. This forces you to retrieve the item when you arrive at your destination and you will be reminded of your child, quietly sleeping in the back seat.
  • Keep rear fold-down seats closed to help prevent children from getting into the trunk from inside the car and open the trunk whenever you reach your destination. A child can easily slip inside an open trunk and hide. Install a trunk release mechanism and teach your older children how to use it.
  • Keep a large teddy bear in the child’s car seat when it’s not occupied. When the child is placed in the seat, put the teddy bear in the front passenger seat. The teddy bear on the front seat will serve as a reminder that the child is in the car seat.
  • Don’t ever leave a child in a car since it can quickly heat up, especially on a hot, sunny day. Children can easily become dehydrated and suffer from heat exposure, even if the windows are partially open. No matter how short a time you plan to be out of the car, take your child with you.
  • Teach older children how to disable the driver’s door locks if they become trapped inside the car.
  • Take your children out of the car before getting the groceries, dry cleaning, etc., when you get home.
  • Be sure that child care providers check to make sure that children aren’t left in their car or van.
  • Call 911 immediately if you see a child alone in a vehicle.

Traffic Crashes Cost Motorists Over $160 Billion Annually

Lately Americans have been besieged by a number of economic worries: rising gas prices, a looming recession, the mortgage industry meltdown, and joblessness. However, according to AAA, there’s another concern that needs to be added to this list, the rising cost of traffic crashes.

Cambridge Systematics Inc., which conducted research on behalf of the Association, reported that crashes cost U.S. motorists $164.2 billion annually, or approximately $1,051 per person. In fact, some of the largest cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, suffer billions of dollars in accident costs each year. The total cost for the New York metropolitan is $18 billion a year, or about $962 per person. In Los Angeles, the cost is over $10 billion a year, or $817 per person.

This isn’t to imply that traffic crashes don’t take an economic toll on smaller communities. Residents of smaller cities actually shouldered a larger per-person burden than their big city counterparts. Crashes in the Little Rock-North Little Rock region in Arkansas cost $2,258 per person. In Pensacola, Florida, the cost was $1,772 a person, and in Columbia, South Carolina, the price tag averaged $1,568 a person.

Based on the data the study revealed, the AAA had some specific recommendations for lawmakers across the country that would help ease the financial burden:

  • Make safety more of a priority in transportation planning
  • Enact tougher laws for drunken and impaired driving
  • Pass primary enforcement seat belt laws, which permit law enforcement officers to stop motorists if their only offense is failing to use their seat belt.

Legislators in 26 states and the District of Columbia have primary enforcement laws. The remaining states have secondary enforcement laws. This type of legislation only allows law enforcement officers to issue tickets for seat belt violations if motorists are stopped for other offenses. New Hampshire has no seat belt law for adults.

The Association noted that in addition to the high monetary cost for traffic crashes; there is also a significant cost in terms of human life. Almost 43,000 people die each year on the nation’s roads, and the AAA believes that this statistic warrants treating traffic crashes as the public health threat they are.

Safeguarding Your Wedding Ring

Wearing a wedding ring is a tradition that dates back centuries. According to The Knot.com, the custom began with the Romans, who believed that “the vein of love” in the fourth finger of the left hand traveled directly to the heart.

Today, brides and grooms still exchange rings as a symbol of love. Because your wedding ring has such deep sentimental value, you want to do all you can to take care of it. Here are some tips from DiamondHelpers.com:

  • Protect the setting – Take your diamond off and put it in a safe place when washing dishes. Never put it near the sink because it can accidentally fall down the drain. Avoid wearing your diamond when gardening or during household repairs, since these activities might scratch the setting or damage the prongs that keep the stone secure.
  • Avoid exposing your diamond to household chemicals – Chlorine and hairspray can accumulate on the surface of a diamond and dull it. Periodic cleanings are crucial if you want to keep your diamond brilliant and prismatic.
  • Clean your diamond – Gently scrub it with a soft-bristle brush in a solution of plain alcohol diluted in warm water. Periodic ultrasonic cleanings by your local jeweler are also recommended to clean hard-to-reach areas under the settings.
  • Check the prongs – Be sure to occasionally take your diamond ring to a trusted local jeweler to check for loose prongs. They can weaken or break, even with normal wear.

Another important way to protect your wedding ring is to have adequate insurance should it be lost or stolen. Start by examining your homeowner’s or renters’ insurance. Although this policy may cover your ring if it is stolen, there may be no coverage if it is lost. Read your policy carefully, as it may have a coverage limit for certain kinds of personal property, such as your wedding ring. If the value of your ring exceeds the policy limit, or if you want to ensure that you have coverage if the ring is lost, consider purchasing a rider.

A rider is an endorsement to a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy that provides coverage for a particular piece of personal property. Items such as jewelry or furs whose full value is not covered under standard policies are typically covered by riders.

Typically, the additional premium required to insure a wedding ring would be approximately $1-2 per $100 of appraised value. For example, a ring appraised for $10,000 would cost about $100-200 per year to insure, but maybe slightly more in higher crime areas. To request coverage, you must have your wedding ring appraised and provide a certified copy of that appraisal to your insurer.

Using a Cell Phone While Driving Is Similar to Driving Under the Influence

A 2005 study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that drivers who use cell phones while driving were four times more likely to get involved in an accident. It also concluded that accident risk wasn’t affected by whether the driver was using a hand-held phone or a hands-free phone.

New research from Carnegie Mellon University shows that just listening on a cell phone while driving is enough to distract a driver.  In this study, 29 volunteers used a driving simulator while inside an MRI brain scanner. They steered a car along a virtual winding road, driving at a high, fixed rate of speed. They were tested while driving undisturbed, and while driving and trying to decide whether a sentence they heard was true or false. The researchers measured activity in 20,000 brain locations, each about the size of a peppercorn.

After a thorough analysis of the data, the researchers were able to conclude that:

  • When the drivers were tested while listening to the sentence to see if it was true or false, they lost 37 percent of the normal activity of their brain’s parietal lobe. This is significant because this area of the brain is the one motorists rely on the most when driving. The parietal lobe assimilates all the information the body receives from the senses, and uses it to determine how near/far perceived objects are. There was also a decrease in the activity of the occipital lobe, which assimilates visual information.
  • When the drivers were tested while listening, they lost their ability to control the car. They not only were unable to stay in their lane, but they frequently hit objects such as guardrails. These are the kinds of driving errors most closely associated with motorists who drive while under the influence of alcohol.