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.

Vacation Travel Tips

vacation travel tips
(Photo Credit: Jared Bartlett)

Between planning itineraries, booking hotels & flights, packing, and making reservations, vacations can be quite stressful, even if they’re meant to reduce stress. On top of the prospect of flight delays, bad weather, and rowdy kids, you shouldn’t have to worry about your home and your property. Careful planning can help you and your family avoid a costly loss at home and abroad.

  • Clear out your wallet: carry only what is absolutely essential. Aside from the inconvenience of a lost wallet, a stolen wallet can mean big trouble if your cards and IDs get into the wrong hands. Bring only one credit card with fraud protection and leave your debit cards, and any unnecessary contents at home or in the hotel safe. Report your trip with your credit card company to avoid an accidental freeze on the account. Also, bring only enough cash to cover the incidentals for the day – not the entire trip, and leave the rest in the hotel safe.
  • Make copies of your passport/ID: produce color photocopies of any documents you plan on having with you on the trip. Store a copy in the hotel safe, and keep one at home in case you lose the original. You can also register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) which allows you to enroll your trip with the nearest US Embassy or Consulate if you plan on traveling abroad. This free service will assist you if you in an emergency, such as losing your passport.
  • Avoid social media: don’t over share your trip experience until you get home. While it may be tempting to publish your hike up the Great Wall or your pint of stout in Dublin, social media posts inform could-be criminals that you’re not home. These posts include status updates, check-ins, Snap Chat stories, pictures, and anything that is posted with your current location.
  • Make sure your rental is insured: If you are planning on renting a car on your trip, check if you’re covered. Typically, your personal auto policy will extend both liability and physical damage coverage while using a rental car within the US, its territories and Canada. Double check with your agent or insurance company to make sure. If you are traveling to anywhere else or you don’t have a personal auto policy, you’ll need supplemental insurance (provided as an extra cost by the rental company). As a general rule when in doubt, get the insurance offered at the rental company; peace of mind goes a long way when traveling. In addition, make sure you familiarize yourself with the local rules of the road and abide by all speed limits. Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may also need to apply for an international license.
  • Secure your home: make sure your home systems remain working while you’re away. Arm your security system before you head out and set the lights on timers to make it appear as though someone is home. If it is cold outside, make sure the thermostat is set to at least 65 degrees and all pipes are adequately insulated. Lock all doors, windows, and gates, and keep valuables stored inside the garage or the house, but away from exterior windows (so as to not attract burglars). If you’re going away for an extended period of time, reach out to the post office and your newspaper to suspend delivery until you get back. Piles of newspapers indicate a homeowner’s absence while mail and packages are prone to theft, which can also increase the risk of identity theft.

Whether you’re going on a weekend road trip or an international excursion, a bit of preparation and careful planning will help you have a more enjoyable trip and avoid a lot of potential headache.

Tornado Myths Busted

tornado myths
(Photo Credit: The N&D Group)

Tornadoes can form at anytime and almost anywhere if the conditions are right. While accurately predicting their formation and movement can sometimes prove impossible for meteorologists, the damage tornadoes cause is widely documented and studied. Still, due to unique firsthand experiences, word of mouth, and sensationalized news stories, there are many widely spread myths about tornadoes that, if believed to be true, can put people in the path of danger. This list includes some of the most common misconceptions surrounding tornadoes.

Using Highway Overpasses as Shelters

Perhaps the most notorious and dangerous tornado myth is believing that a highway overpass is a suitable storm shelter. This stems from a 1991 Kansas event in which a TV news crew sought shelter under a highway overpass during a tornado and escaped with only minor injuries. The footage captured was shown across the US and led viewers to believe that highway overpasses are a good place to hunker down during a tornado. However, several unique and specific factors led to the crew’s survival, including the unusual design of the bridge in question as well as the path of the storm, which changed directions at the last minute, avoiding the bridge. A typical highway bridge’s shape could act as a wind tunnel, actually intensifying wind speeds and making overpasses some of the worst places to seek shelter. Wind speeds also increase with elevation and if a bridge’s embankment is higher than the surrounding area, it compounds the effect. In addition, vehicles stopped on roadways under bridges may disrupt the flow of traffic and block emergency vehicles, creating a traffic jam and/or cause accidents, putting others in danger.

The National Weather Service recommends that if you’re traveling in your car into the path of an oncoming tornado, immediately pull over and seek the nearest sturdy shelter – preferably an interior basement or first floor room of a well built municipal structure like a school or town hall. If no suitable building is available, as a LAST RESORT, lie flat in a ditch or low lying area to avoid flying debris, or drive away from the tornado only if it is far enough away and the road is clear.

Tornadoes Themselves

There are several widely held, but inaccurate beliefs about the storms themselves. The first is that the size of the funnel cloud is an indication of its relative strength. In reality, size does not matter when it comes to the wind speeds observed in tornadoes. Some of the strongest F5 tornadoes have measured less than 100 yards wide.

Another incorrect assumption is that tornadoes always move northwest, which may leave those southwest of a storm in a false sense of security. The truth is that while most tornadoes move in a general northwest direction, many times they do not and more importantly, a tornado can change directions suddenly and without notice.

Finally, the funnel cloud does not have to reach the ground in order to be destructive. Many believe the funnel cloud marks where the intense winds are located when in actuality, it’s just condensation. The destructive winds can reach the ground even if the funnel cloud does not. Furthermore, not all tornadoes have visible funnel clouds, and some may be obscured by heavy rain.

 Where and When Tornadoes Strike

When most of us think of tornadoes, thoughts of storms over expansive corn fields and flat prairie lands come to mind. And while the majority of tornadoes in the US do indeed occur in the Great Plains known as “Tornado Alley” during the period of March through June, they can occur just about anywhere and at any time. Tornadoes can traverse mountains, lakes, rivers, cliffs, and valleys. In fact, tornadoes have been documented in every state of the US and during every month of the year, in both rural and heavily urban areas. Dallas, St. Louis, Nashville, and even Brooklyn for example, have been hit multiple times, though many think that cities, especially ones with tall buildings, cannot. Tornadoes can also form on water (phenomena known as waterspouts), and the presence of a body of water does not weaken or stop a tornado.

Outrunning a Tornado

There are times when people try to outrun a tornado in their car, but this can be very dangerous. It is true that an average tornado moves slower than most cars at highway speeds, and at a great distance, motorists can avoid a visible tornado by driving away from it at a 90 degree angle relative to its path. However, this doesn’t take into consideration that a tornado doesn’t have to deal with traffic, obstacles blocking the road, emergency vehicles, flying debris, following a specific route (the road), or other drivers. Panicked driving can lead to fatal car accidents, and put others in danger. A vehicle can be swept up and tossed several hundred feet by a small tornado, even if the funnel cloud appears far away. Cars can also be damaged by debris and become disabled, blocking roadways and putting the occupants and other motorists in danger.

Never leave the protection of a sturdy building to escape in a vehicle. An interior room, preferably in the basement (or lowest floor) is the best place to be in a tornado. Vehicles offer very limited protection during a tornado. Whether you are in a car or not, if you are outside, seek suitable shelter immediately.

Opening Windows

Because tornadoes cause changes in atmospheric pressure, it is believed that the difference between the inside and outside air pressures can cause a home to explode outward. This is false. In even the most violent tornadoes, the differences in pressure rarely exceed 10%, which most frame homes could withstand with closed windows. The “explosion” like damage can be attributed to disintegrating roofs and walls that have blown inwards into homes, causing the other three sides to fall outwards, creating the appearance of a house that has exploded. Not only does opening windows cause more damage to the interior of the home by allowing rain and wind inside, it also wastes valuable time that should be spent seeking shelter. Additionally, being near windows in a storm is dangerous as it potentially exposes occupants to flying glass.

In general, there is no guaranteed safety when in the path of a tornado. With winds up to 300 miles per hour, these forces of natures can derail trains, rip up highways, and destroy skyscrapers. But preparedness is the best way to increase your chances of survival. Knowing where to shelter is an essential part of tornado safety. If you live in a mobile home or are planning on traveling in a vehicle, make sure you have an evacuation plan and pick suitable shelters before an emergency takes place. A car or mobile home offers very little protection during a storm as they can be easily damaged, rolled, or thrown by weak tornadoes. Practicing a tornado drill with your family and coworkers will help educate them with what to do if a tornado does form. Finally, pay attention to weather forecasts and storm watches & warnings as these will provide you and your family more time to get to a safe location.

Edwards, Roger. “The Online Tornado FAQ.” The Online Tornado FAQ (by Roger Edwards, SPC). NOAA, 1 May 2017. Web. 05 May 2017. http://www.spc.ncep.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/.

“Tornadoes.” Tornadoes | Ready.gov. Department Of Homeland Security, n.d. Web. 10 May 2017. https://www.ready.gov/tornadoes.

“Tornado Myths.” Storm Aware. State of Missouri, n.d. Web. 05 May 2017. https://stormaware.mo.gov/tornado-myths/.

US Department of Commerce, NOAA, National Weather Service. “Highway Overpasses as Tornado Shelters: Fallout From the 3 May 1999 Oklahoma/Kansas Violent Tornado Outbreak.” National Weather Service. NOAA’s National Weather Service, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 10 May 2017. https://www.weather.gov/oun/safety-overpass.

Icy Sidewalks And Injury Prevention

SONY DSC
(Photo Credit: Fotolia)

Every winter, many people are injured when they slip and fall on icy sidewalks, driveways, and parking lots. These injuries can range from minor bumps and bruises to broken bones and head injuries. Whether you’re a property owner/manager or just going for a walk outside, there are some things you can do to help prevent injury to yourself or others when the pavement gets slippery.

For Property Owners/Managers

  • If you don’t have access to a snowblower or a plow, shoveling walking surfaces early and often during heavy storms will make the job easier and less stressful on your body. While shoveling, drink plenty of water and take breaks.
  • Make sure entrances and vestibules are kept dry or wet floor signs are present when water and slush are tracked into a building.
  • Check your local municipal government’s website to see if there are laws or ordinances regarding snow removal deadlines to avoid fines or citations.
  • Be mindful of the type of salt/de-icer you use on your driveway/walkway and apply only the recommended amounts as indicated by the manufacturer. Certain kinds are harmful to plants, animals, water supplies, and may even damage the surface itself.
  • Grit, such as sand, kitty litter, and gravel can help provide extra traction on stairs and sidewalks, especially when combined with salt or de-icer.
  • Lock all gates, doors, and fences leading to restricted or unused outdoor areas (such as bar or restaurant patios) to prevent trespassers and unauthorized visitors from slipping on untreated surfaces.
  • Risk Transfer – if you’re using a contractor to clear snow and ice from walkways, driveways and parking lots, make sure you have a signed contract with contractor assuming responsibility for this exposure and you are named as an Additional Insured on the contractor’s GL policy covering this operation.

For Pedestrians

  • Move slowly and try to keep your steps flat to the surface to avoid slipping on icy or wet areas.
  • Wear shoes or boots with plenty of traction. If the soles of your footwear are smooth or worn, they are more prone to losing grip on slippery surfaces.
  • Black ice may form when the temperature drops suddenly after a storm. Be especially careful walking outside after the weather has been cold and wet.
  • Watch out for traffic. Icy conditions for pedestrians mean icy roads for motorists who may lose control of their vehicles if they’re not careful.

Icy and untreated sidewalks are dangerous and can leave your home or business vulnerable to a injury claim or lawsuit. Following these tips can help mitigate your risk of being liable if someone slips and falls.

Protect Your Home from Wildlife Entry

(Photo Credit: Flickr)

During the spring and summer months, the Northeast sees a dramatic increase in wildlife activity as animals come out of hibernation. Mating season for most small mammals and birds occurs around this time and as a result, there is a higher possibility of homeowner property being damaged. Mothers looking for safe nesting space for their babies will look to sheltered and secure areas. Unfortunately, this can mean the walls of attics or underneath porches. This activity can also cause both interior and exterior damage to your house – damage that is usually not covered under Section I of the Homeowners’ policy. Loss caused by animals such as birds, vermin, rodents, or insects that attempt to access shelter by utilizing pre-existing structures is not covered under most standard policies. Damage caused to your dwelling by large mammals such as bears is covered under your policy, but otherwise, it is good to take steps in order to limit the ability of animals to enter and possibly damage your home.

Here are some steps that homeowners can take to “animal proof” their home:

  • Make sure that screens, windows, and sliding doors are free of holes or tears
  • Seal possible exterior entry points in places such as roof openings and vents or holes near the base of the house
  • Adding screens over vents and placing chimney caps over chimneys will help prevent entry while maintaining smooth air flow
  • Remove any hanging tree limbs and other vegetation that is very close to the house
  • Add sturdy screening to the bottoms of porches and decks

Taking these measures could greatly reduce the risk of possible damage caused by animal activity over the next few months and into the fall, saving you time, money, and a lot of frustration in the long run.

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.

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.

Business Continuity – Emergency Generators

Emergency Standby Generators Infographic
(Photo Credit: Mutual Boiler Re)

U.S. businesses lose $150 billion annually due to blackouts and weather-related events. Most commercial businesses today have emergency generators, which is an important first step. But it’s important to make sure the generator has been properly installed, and to perform routine maintenance, as illustrated by the infographic above (click to view full version).

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.

Preventing Frozen Pipes

Frozen Pipes
(Photo Credit: IBHS)

Pipes that freeze and burst can result in extensive property damage. Once a pipe freezes, continued expansion and freezing causes pressure to build up in the pipe between the blockage and the faucet. This pressure causes the pipe to burst in areas where little or no ice has actually formed. Here are some precautions to help avoid frozen and burst pipes and water damage.

Be prepared:

  • For pipes most vulnerable to freezing—in attics, crawlspaces, and outside walls—insulate with foam sleeves or wrapping.
  • Caulk cracks and holes in outside walls and foundations to keep cold wind away from pipes.
  • Purchase a backup generator to keep your furnace running when power fails.
  • Know where to turn off the water supply or water pump.
  • Drain outside faucets and use insulated faucet covers (found at home improvement stores).

During periods of severe cold:

  • Keep cabinet doors open to let the warm interior air circulate around pipes under sinks and adjacent to outside walls.
  • Turn on all faucets to a slow drip to prevent pressure from building in the pipes.

Before leaving for an extended period of time:

  • Set the thermostat no lower than 65 degrees.
  • Ask someone you trust to check the property while you’re away.
  • Consider turning off the water and draining the system. Shut off the main water valve and turn on every water faucet—hot and cold—until the water stops running. You can then shut off the faucets since there will be no water, and therefore no pressure, in the system. When you return, turn on the main value and let faucets run until the system is full and pressurized.
  • Consider installing a temperature-monitoring device or using an app on your smartphone.

My Pipes Froze. Now What?

Turn on all faucets to release pressure. Turn off the water supply and call a plumber. Do not try to thaw the pipe using an open flame, as this will cause damage to your pipe and may cause a building fire. You might be able to thaw the pipe with a handheld hair dryer but do so slowly to avoid super-heating any adjacent wood and creating a fire hazard. Start at the faucet end of the pipe, with the faucet open. Never use electrical appliances while standing in water as you could get electrocuted.

For additional information on preventing or dealing with frozen pipes you can read more from the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety.