Bicycle Safety for Motorists and Cyclists

bicycle safety
(Photo Credit: Google Maps)

Cycling is a great workout and can make for a healthy and cheap alternative to driving a car or using public transport to get around. Riding a bike is good for traffic, good for health, and good for the environment, but it does not come without its own set of risks. There are many things that both motorists and cyclists can do to make sure everyone shares the road safely and courteously.

Motorists

  • Watch for bikes when opening doors. Passengers and drivers blindly opening doors into bike lane can cut off a cyclist, causing a crash between the cyclist and the door, or force them to dangerously steer into motor vehicle traffic. In most states, opening doors into traffic establishes fault if doing so results in an accident.
  • Share the road. Give bikes space, especially on crowded streets. Only pass when there is enough room to do so safely and never tailgate a person on a bike.
  • Check for cyclists when turning or pulling over to the side of the road. Motorists may not always think to check the right side of the car when turning or pulling over to the right, but a bike may be approaching. Treat bike lanes like another lane of traffic.
  • Do not park in bike lanes. Aside from being a fineable offense, this forces cyclists into motor vehicle traffic.
  • Always use your headlights – even during the day. Using your headlights at all times helps other road users see your vehicle better, especially in inclement weather.
  • Get off the phone. This should go without saying and applies whether cyclists are present or not, and sharing the road with cyclists requires extra attention. Distracted driving is a major cause of accidents.

Cyclists

  • Always wear a helmet – while this may only be a legal requirement for those under 16, this should be rule number one for all riders. The leading part of the body to fly forward off of a bike in a crash is usually the head and bike helmets can reduce the risk of head injury by 60%.
  • Know the rules of the road. Cyclists must follow the same rules as motorists and can be cited for things such as running red lights, not yielding for pedestrians in crosswalks, and heading the wrong way down a street.
  • Always use your headlights and taillights at night and make sure they are the correct color (white for front, red for back), and clearly visible from a distance of at least 600 feet. Reflectors must be present on both the front and back sides of the pedals or on the ankles of the rider.
  • Wear highly visible clothing, especially at night.
  • Never ride on limited access highways such as interstates. These roads are marked with signage at onramps prohibiting bicycles.
  • Cyclists must yield to pedestrians, especially when riding on sidewalks (not all towns and neighborhoods allow bike riding on public sidewalks). When passing a pedestrian, cyclists should use an audible warning such as a bell or verbally calling out to the pedestrian.
  • Use hand signals to indicate the intention to stop, turn, or change lanes.

Ride Sharing and Your Auto Insurance

Ride Sharing - Uber
(Photo Credit: Uber Technologies, Inc.)

Ride sharing programs (Transportation Network Companies) such as Uber and Lyft have transformed how people get in and around cities. The idea is pretty simple. Using a smartphone app, riders can easily connect to a TNC driver to provide an alternative to traditional taxis and black cars that is convenient, competitively priced, and powered by private car owners. Chances are, you’ve probably either used or at least heard of these services.

It all sounds easy enough, but the concept is not without issues and controversy. One of the biggest issues is how traditional personal auto policies do, or more importantly, do not provide insurance protection when they are being used in a ride sharing program.

In Massachusetts and New Jersey, Personal Auto policies generally exclude coverage for accidents arising out of driving passengers for a fare, known as livery. TNCs do offer insurance plans for drivers when there is a fare in the car. When there is no passenger in the car, but the driver is waiting for a fare, there is a potential significant gap in coverage.

In addition, if an insurance company finds out you are driving your car for a TNC, they may cancel your Personal Auto coverage because of this expanded use. If you plan on driving for a ride sharing (TNC) service, you should talk to your independent agent and learn what you need to do in order to be properly insured and protected

You can read about the full insurance and non-insurance requirements for TNC vehicles and drivers on the Massachusetts Legislature’s website.

Why Your Garaging Address Matters

A beautifully manicured yard with a garden full of perennials and annuals.
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

How much you pay for your car insurance depends on many things. These include what kind of vehicle you have, how many miles you drive, and who the operators of the vehicle are, among others. Where your car is primarily garaged is also an important factor in calculating premiums. Generally, this is your primary residence.

It is important to make sure the garaging address on your policy is correct. If you move or spend the majority of the year with your car away from your principal garaging address, you need to inform your agent so your policy remains up to date. Failure to do so may result in a denial of a claim and possibly a cancellation of the policy.

If you are unsure of what to do, you should contact your Agent to discuss your specific circumstances.

May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month

(Photo Credit: iStock)

Every May, the NHTSA and state governments come together to coordinate Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month, which strives to spread awareness about motorcycle laws and education designed to keep everyone on the road safe. The number of deaths and injuries caused by accidents involving motorcycles is staggering, and many of these are caused by non-motorcycle users of the road. It’s important to understand safety issues facing motorcycles in traffic, regardless of whether your vehicle has two wheels or more. Below is a list of safety tips you should familiarize yourself with before your next ride:

For Motorcyclists:

  • Always wear a DOT-compliant helmet while riding. You are much more likely to experience severe brain damage caused by head trauma in a crash if you are wearing a non-compliant helmet.
  • Wear brighter, more reflective gear, especially while traveling at night, and make sure your lights are functioning, bright, and visible (unblocked).
  • Lane splitting may help save time and avoid getting rear-ended in heavy traffic, but it can also be very dangerous and illegal. If you’re going to filter forward, make sure it is done safely, with courtesy, and only where it is legal.

For Other Road Users:

  • Because motorcycles are smaller than cars and trucks, they can be more difficult to spot, especially in blind spots. Always check your blind spots & mirrors, use your turn signals, and use extra care when you know motorcycles are nearby.
  • Give more following distance to motorcycles. This gives motorcyclists room to perform emergency stops or maneuvers for road hazards like gravel, potholes, standing water, cracks, or train tracks that passenger vehicles can usually continue over at reduced speed.
  • Share the road with motorcyclists, but not the lane. Motorcyclists should always get a full lane width, even if it may look like there is room for a car.

For Everyone:

  • Never operate any vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Leave the phone in your pocket and just focus on the road. Distracted driving is a leading cause of accidents for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians alike.
  • Take time to rest during long trips so you stay alert, awake, and ready for the road ahead.

You can learn more about Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month at the NHTSA’s website.

Spring Cleaning For Insurance Policies

house and garden
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Once all of the snow melts and the temperatures begin to rise, it’s always a good idea to conduct a bit of spring cleaning. And while you and your family are dusting around the house and donating old clothes, it is also a good idea to review your current insurance policies and make sure their coverages are still adequate. If you have recently made improvements to your home, bought an expensive piece of jewelry, or plan on going somewhere for vacation this summer, now is a good time to talk to your agent to ensure you’re fully covered. The Insurance Information Institute has a quick spring cleaning insurance coverage checklist to help you decide if your policies need a bit of spring cleaning this year. You can view the list here.

What is Automatic Emergency Braking?

automatic emergency braking
(Photo Credit: Ford Motor Company)

Yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety announced that twenty of the world’s largest car manufacturers pledged to make automatic emergency braking (AEB) systems standard on all of their new vehicles starting no later than September of 2022. The NHTSA estimates that this commitment from automakers will make AEB systems standard three years sooner than through a formal regulatory process. The IIHS estimates that during those three years, standard AEB systems will prevent 28,000 rear-end collisions and 12,000 resulting injuries.

Automatic Emergency Braking is a forward collision mitigating safety feature that helps prevent or reduce the severity of collisions. AEB integrates radar/laser and cameras along with a computer that gauges a vehicle’s speed relative to an object (a slower or stopped vehicle, pedestrian, cyclist, etc.) in front of it. In the event of an imminent forward collision, the car’s AEB system warns the driver of the possible collision, using alert sounds, lights, and/or tactile feedback such as vibrating the steering wheel.

If the system detects that the driver is not doing enough to avoid hitting the object, i.e. the driver may be distracted, fatigued, or experiencing a medical problem, AEB will apply the brakes to stop the vehicle, ideally with enough time to avoid the collision, or at least greatly reduce its severity.

Currently, AEB systems are available on about a quarter of new cars, and the NHTSA now considers automatic braking in its 5-Star ratings. The IIHS requires new vehicles to come with AEBs in order to qualify for a Top Safety Pick+, the highest award possible. According to the IIHS, vehicles with an AEB system are 14 percent less likely to experience a forward collision than vehicles that do not have it equipped.

You can read the official press release about the automaker AEB commitment on the NHTSA’s website.

Daylight Saving Time Spring Checklist

Daylight Saving Time

It’s time to “spring forward” for daylight saving early this Sunday morning, March 13. Since it occurs twice a year, daylight saving is the perfect time to perform basic maintenance in and around your home:

  • Test your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Check to see if they have expiration dates, and change the batteries.
  • After a winter of using your fireplace or wood stove, have your chimney cleaned and inspected.
  • Check your fire extinguishers’ gauges to make sure they are still charged sufficiently. If they’re low, contact your local fire department to find out where to recharge them. Extinguishers must always be recharged after use. Make sure one is always easily accessible throughout your home.
  • Check outside railings, stairs, and walkways if you have them for needed repair after the winter.
  • Check trees for signs of damaged branches that might need to come down. Consider contacting a tree professional.
  • Perform spring maintenance on appliances and home systems:
    • Change filters in your HVAC systems as needed, or have them serviced.
    • Clean your refrigerator—wipe down the inside and vacuum underneath and behind to ensure optimal operating efficiency.
    • Drain the water heater to flush out sediment.

(Did you know that sudden damage to these home systems and appliances caused by accident, breakdown, or human error is typically not covered under most warranties or service contracts? Repairs can often cost thousands of dollars. Read more on how to protect these systems.)

  • Change your windshield wiper blades. If you have snow tires, plan to remove them as the weather gets warmer and snow and ice are no longer on the horizon.
  • Contact your insurance agent to review your coverage to make sure it’s still adequate, especially if you’ve had any major purchases or life events in the last year.

Daylight saving is a helpful calendar reminder to do these routine maintenance tasks. We’ll make sure to publish one in the fall as well, which will be somewhat different due to seasonality.

Winter-Weather Driving

Winter-weather driving
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Winter-weather driving can be very dangerous if you aren’t prepared.  Here are some important safety precautions to help make sure that you and your vehicle are ready to take on the winter weather.

Be prepared:

  • Check your tires for proper inflation and tread depth, and make sure they are rated for winter conditions. Consider purchasing snow tires.
  • Check your wiper blades and top off your windshield washer fluid.
  • Keep your gas tank full. You’ll avoid running out of gas on a cold night and sometimes cars with low fuel levels are harder to start because of condensation in the tank.
  • Have your mechanic perform a tune-up to prevent a midwinter breakdown.
  • If your vehicle is rear wheel drive, place a few bags of sand or rock salt (100+ pounds) in the trunk to improve traction in snow. This can also be used as grit in case your vehicle gets stuck.
  • Prepare an emergency kit to keep in your vehicle. Some things to include: a cell phone and charger, blankets, flashlights with batteries, flares, pocket knife, non-perishable food, bottled water, shovel, windshield scraper and brush, first aid kit, basic tool kit, road map and compass, tow rope, jumper cables.

Your car is prepared. Now what?

Follow these simple tips when getting on the road:

  • Monitor weather reports. Plan your best route and allow more travel time to your destination.
  • Approach intersections with extreme caution even if you have a green light. Apply brakes gently to avoid sliding.
  • Turn on your lights when driving, even during the day as winter daylight can be dim.

We hope that these driving safety tips help prepare you for safe travels this winter.

PS: If you’re in the market for a new car, check out the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s 2016 Top Safety Picks.

2016 IIHS Top Safety Picks

2016 Top Safety Picks
(Photo Credit: IIHS)

Each year the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) releases its list of vehicles that have received either a Top Safety Pick or Top Safety Pick+ award for good ratings in all five of the standard crash-worthiness tests.

For a car or truck to earn a Top Safety Pick award, it must receive a basic rating for front crash prevention as well as good ratings in the following five crash tests: Small overlap front, moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, and head restraints. The Top Safety Pick+ distinction was first awarded in 2013, and requires vehicles to earn an advanced or superior rating in front crash prevention, as well as qualify for Top Safety Pick in all other categories.

All of the vehicles listed are 2016 models and it is important to note that some vehicles only received a Top Safety Pick+ when purchased with the optional extra forward crash protection. This year, there were more vehicles that received Top Safety Pick+ awards, with midsize and full-size sedans leading the overall industry. The list is broken down by vehicle class, denoted by size.

You can view the list by visiting the IIHS’s website here.

Before You Pick up Your Keys…

Drunkdriving
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As we continue to celebrate this festive holiday season, it’s important to take extra care to keep friends, family, ourselves, and others safe from impaired driving. While not new, the message and preventative steps bear repeating:

  • Plan ahead and designate a sober driver. Keep it fair and rotate who that person is for different days and events.
  • If you find yourself ready to leave a party with keys in your hand, and you know you have had too much to drink, ask someone for a ride, call a friend, or call a cab. Remember “Buzzed driving is drunk driving.”
  • Listen to friends and family with you at the party. They know you best. If they are strongly suggesting you shouldn’t drive home, they’re probably right and you should seek an alternative.
  • On the flip side, if you see someone who shouldn’t drive, offer to drive or help find another option.
  • If you see a vehicle moving erratically, pull over to stay out of its way and call the police.

Stay safe and enjoy the rest of this holiday season. Wishing you a Happy New Year!