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.

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.

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.

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.