News

When will you be driving a robotic car? Take an interactive online trip

Whatever you call them – robot cars, driverless cars, autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars – they are definitely in your future. But the question is, how far in your future?

They’re being tested already – more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles are operating in 36 states right now. Most states, but not all, require a backup driver.

Take an interactive urban trip as the backup driver in the Washington Post’s autonomous (self-driving) car simulation. It offers an interesting perspective on  the strengths and weaknesses in the way these cars work and how they interact with the environment around them. The Post invites you to sit in the passenger seat and play the role as the backup driver. And that’s an important role because the cars may miss some hazards and they can’t operate in certain weather conditions that interfere with their sensors, causing them to pull over suddenly and shut down entirely.

This interactive  feature is a fun way to learn more about how the cars work and their limitations. You can learn more about some of the system’s weaknesses in article in Insurance Journal by Alan Levin and Ryan Beene: Automated Driver Assist Cars Still a Work in Progress:

The radars and cameras used to sense obstructions ahead each have their limitations and computer software that evaluates the data is still a work in progress, according to the experts and advocates. In many cases, they are better at tracking moving vehicles ahead than recognizing parked ones.

But there are definite pluses, too:

To be sure, automated driving systems have clear potential to improve traffic safety by supplementing the driver. Automatic emergency braking alone has been found by IIHS to reduce rates of rear-end crashes by half, and the insurer-funded group estimates that the system could reduce police-reported crashes of all types by 20%.

Many autonomous or self-driving features are already making their way into our new cars now. These are generally referred to as advanced driver assistance systems. See 7 Self-Driving Car Features You Can Buy Now (and Some You May Already Have) from Autotrader. And cars.com breaks down self-driving features by car make.

But event these new tech features have a ways to go before they are up to par and winning driver acceptance. A recent survey by JD Power showed that many driver-assist features are seen as annoyances;

J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study, published today, surveyed more than 20,000 consumers earlier this year, most of whom purchased or leased a model-year 2019 vehicle during the previous 90 days. Nearly a quarter of the group found alerts “annoying or bothersome” from systems that mitigate lane departure or actively center the vehicle, the study said. Such alerts range from hands-on-the-wheel warnings to lane departure chimes. For those who find them annoying, more than half said they sometimes disable the systems; among those who weren’t annoyed, only one-fifth or so indicated the same.

Some of the complaints can be chalked up to drivers being unfamiliar with the technology and uncertain about how it operates, so presumably we’ll all get more comfortable with things as we grow familiar with them.

So it’s not likely you’ll be able to read the latest best sellers while lounging in the back seat of your robot car on your upcoming commutes. But on the other hand, sophisticated technologies are leading to safer cars and fewer accidents – a big win for us all!

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Fall foliage planner: find the best times and places to enjoy the season

Plan the best of the foliage season this year with an interactive fall foliage map from SmokeyMountains.com. The national map offers a slider so you can search by date to see where and when has reached minimal change, partial, near peak, peak or past peak across the nation from September through November. It also includes interesting information about why leaves change colors.

And here are some suggestions of where to get the best views.

New England foliage and autumn activities

Of course, those of us who live in New England are a little snobby about our status as a prime fall destination and foliage viewing point. From Yankee Magazine, find a New England foliage map, as well as links to articles on the best seasonal things to do, from festivals and fairs to places and driving routes:

  • 10 Places to Visit in New England in Fall
  • Favorite Fall Foliage Drives in New England
  • Best Corn Mazes in New England
  • Best Apple Orchards in New England
  • Fall Foliage Train Tours
  • 5 Best Pumpkin Festivals in New England
  • 12 New England Fairs to Visit This Fall

Yankee also offers a free Yankee Magazine’s Ultimate Guide to Autumn in New England, one of many free New England Guides. Also see Town & Country for their picks of 14 Incredible Spots to See Fall Foliage Across New England

As you’re out on the roads leaf-peeping, visiting apple orchards or commuting to-and-from work this autumn, keep a sharp eye out: The likelihood of striking a deer more than doubles in the fall. Your normal odds of a ruminant-related collision claim are about 1 in 169, but the likelihood more than doubles during October, November and December. See our post: Watch the roads: Autumn is peak deer-vehicle collision season

Florida in the Fall
For our agents, clients and friends in Florida, while the foliage may not be quite as brilliant, you can indeed enjoy the change of season in the great outdoors through wonderful trails, scenic highways, beaches, festivals and fairs. Here are some suggestions:

These suggestions should give you some good options. One more thing: When you’re on the road, it’s always a good idea to have your local insurance agent’s name and number with you in case any mishaps occur on the road. Make sure you have your independent insurance agent’s info in your phone contacts listing!

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Hurricane Dorian Toolkit: Emergency Prep and Tracking Resources

As we approach the Labor Day weekend, Florida is under a state of emergency as Hurricane Dorian approaches. Today, the storm is a Category 2, but weather experts warn that it holds the potential to develop into a Category 4 when it hits land. It’s still early to project, but landfall is expected late Monday or Tuesday. Everyone is on standby.

We’re deploying resources in a Hurricane Toolkit as a just-in-case. September is National Preparedness Month and, remember, hurricane season lasts thorough November so it’s a handy bookmark. We’ll be keeping an eye on things over the weekend and may add to the resources if evacuations or other emergency measures are needed.

Florida Emergency Resources

FloridaDisaster.org (Division of Emergency Management) is the single best source for information. See specific information on Emergency Information for Hurricane Dorian. You can also visit the sister site for commercial businesses: FloridaDisaster.Biz

On social media, you can find updates from the Florida State Emergency Response Team (SERT) on Twitter and on Facebook

US Coast Guard Southeast on Twitter and on Facebook

Florida Power Tracker

Florida Department of Education – Hurricane Dorian

Florida 511 APP – Get up-to-the-minute, real-time traffic conditions and incident information for the State of Florida with Florida 511 app.

Florida Storms APP – Florida Public Radio Emergency Network

FEMA App

Hurricane Dorian – tracking & live weather coverage

Hurricane Prep & Checklists

Insurance Information Institute: What to do when a hurricane threatens
When the storm approaches, don’t get caught with your windows down

Insurance Information Institute: Hurricane Awareness
Hurricanes can shatter lives as well as damage property. Fortunately there are steps you can take to minimize a hurricane’s impact.

Insurance Information Institute: Five Steps to preparing an effective evacuation plan
Disaster readiness will help keep you and your family safe and secure

Red Cross – Hurricane Safety Checklist

FEMA: How to Prepare for a Hurricane

Common sense advice …Before and after a hurricane

Hurricane Preparation Checklist To Protect Your Technology

Taking Care of your pets during hurricanes & floods

FDA Offers Tips about Medical Devices and Hurricane Disasters

Food and Water Safety During Power Outages and Floods

Red Cross Free Emergency Apps – includes a hurricane app, first aid, and many other useful apps.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

School bus safety tips for kids and for drivers

Now that we’re in back-to-school season, take the time to teach your children school bus safety. Even if you’ve done it before, good habits can be forgotten over the lazy summer days so be sure to review procedures at the start of every new school year. Consumer Reports offers School Bus Safety Tips for Back to School. They suggest tips for safety while waiting for and getting on the bus, while riding the bus, and exiting the bus. It’s particularly important to give kids safety rules about remaining visible to the bus driver at all times when entering or exiting the bus or crossing in front of our behind the bus.

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a helpful back to school safety tip sheet. We’re reprinting the safety tips that deal with traveling to and from school safely.

SCHOOL BUS SAFETY FOR KIDS

  • Children should always board and exit the bus at locations that provide safe access to the bus or to the school building.
  • Remind your child to wait for the bus to stop before approaching it from the curb.
  • Make sure your child walks where she can see the bus driver (which means the driver will be able to see her, too).
  • Remind your student to look both ways to see that no other traffic is coming before crossing the street – traffic does not always stop as required. Practice with your child how to cross the street several times prior to the first day of school.
  • Teach your child to respect all the bus rules, including staying seated and listening to the driver.
  • If your child’s school bus has lap/shoulder seat belts, make sure your child uses one at all times when in the bus. (If your child’s school bus does not have lap/shoulder belts, encourage the school system to buy or lease buses with lap/shoulder belts).
  • Check on the school’s policy regarding food on the bus.  Eating on the bus can present a problem for students with allergy and also lead to infestations of insects and vermin on the vehicles.
  • If your child has a chronic condition that could result in an emergency on the bus, make sure you work with the school nurse or other school health personnel to have a bus emergency plan, if possible, prior to the first day of class.

MOTORISTS, TAKE HEED!

Train yourself to be as alert for school bus lights as you are for traffic lights. Motorists need to a complete stop when lights are flashing. Failure to do so can result in steep fines and points added to your driving record for years to come. In Massachusetts, failure to stop can result in a ticket of up to $250. That fine can go up to $2,000 and a suspended license of up to a year for subsequent offenses. In Florida, the minimum fine is $165, or $265  if you pass on the side where children enter and exit, In Connecticut, failure to stop for a school bus with flashing red warning lights can result in a hefty fine of $465 for a first offense. See state school bus laws for motorists and state motorist fines for school bus violations.

KIDS AS PEDESTRIANS OR BIKERS

If your kids are walking or riding a bike to school, they need to learn how to be safe around vehicles and traffic. Here are more tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics about walking or biking to and from school:

WALKING TO SCHOOL

  • Children are generally ready to start walking to school at 9 to 11 years of age as long as they are at the right developmental skill level and show good judgment.
  • Make sure your child’s walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.
  • Be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision. If the route home requires crossing busier streets than your child can reasonably do safely, have an adult, older friend or sibling escort them home.
  • If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them or have another adult walk with them the first week or until you are sure they know the route and can do it safely. If your child will need to cross a street on the way to school, practice safe street crossing with them before the start of school.
  • Identify other children in the neighborhood with whom your child can walk to school.  In neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organizing a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighborhood children walking to school.
  • Bright-colored clothing or a visibility device, like a vest or armband with reflectors, will make your child more visible to drivers.

BIKING

  • Practice the bike route to school before the first day of school to make sure your child can manage it.
  • Always wear a bicycle helmet, no matter how short or long the ride.
  • Ride on the right, in the same direction as auto traffic and ride in bike lanes if they are present.
  • Use appropriate hand signals.
  • Respect traffic lights and stop signs.
  • Wear bright-colored clothing to increase visibility. White or light-colored clothing and reflective gear is especially important after dark.
  • Know the “rules of the road.”

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How well do you know your stuff? Create a home inventory!

Pop quiz – without looking, see how you do answering these questions:

  • What are the makes and years of your major kitchen appliances?
  • How many pairs of pants do you own? Jackets? Shoes? Boots?
  • What year did you buy your mattress and bed frame and what brand is it?
  • Name all the power tools you own. List the contents of your tool chest?
  • What brand of dinnerware and flatware do you own and when did you buy it?
  • List all your AV equipment, the make, the brand and the year you bought it.
  • Write down everything in your living room. Include what’s in the drawers and closets.

It’s not so easy remembering that stuff, is it?

It would be even harder if you were trying to recall all your stuff right after your house was destroyed in a fire or demolished in a hurricane. That’s why it’s important to keep a home inventory. If you find yourself under the terrible stress of recovering from a disaster or even a burglary, you don’t need the added burden of trying to remember all the possessions you lost so that you can be properly reimbursed by your insurer. A good home inventory will help you document your losses and make it easier to file a claim and get it processed.

You can record your “stuff” in a notebook (old-school style), but phones and computers have really simplified the process. A simple spreadsheet will do the trick, or use your phone to take  room-by-room videos and document with photos. Or download an inventory app. Just be sure that you have multiple copies, that you store your inventory in a safe and accessible place and you keep it updated. Even if you make a hand-written version, you can scan it and keep it online in cloud storage.

If you’ve never done a home inventory, it can be a daunting job, but there are tools to help. And going forward, things will be much easier if you get in the habit of taking photos of new purchases and saving receipts. Log serial numbers, when available.

Consumer Reports offers advice on How to Inventory Your Home for an Insurance Adjuster – including this short video:

Here’s more home inventory advice from people who should know: insurers.

If you are interested in an app to help you create a home inventory, here are some reviews of top picks:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Buying a used car? Don’t get scammed by title washing

You see a nice used car at the local dealership that would be great for your college-bound son. You buy the car, and a few weeks later, you get a call that your son is being held by police on a charge of car theft. What!?! You spend considerable time to prove he is not a criminal and that you recently bought the car. You clear things up for your son but the issue of the car is not so simple. You are the victim of title washing. The car is indeed a stolen vehicle so you won’t get that back.

If that sounds like a far-fetched scenario, it’s not. It’s exactly what happened recently to a Chicago couple who suffered a $24,000 loss on a used car they’d recently bought. Both they and the car dealership where they bought it were victims of a title washing ring that is now under investigation.

A title washing scam might seem like a relatively obscure thing, but it’s not. It’s estimated that used car buyers are scammed up to $30 billion a year in what the National Association of Attorneys General calls the worst problem used car buyers face. Experts say that as many as 1 in 44 titles in some states have been washed.

In simple terms, title washing is a scam in which the paperwork for stolen vehicles is faked or forged. But it’s not just stolen cars – title washing is also a way to clear a troubled car’s history, a common way to re-market cars that have been totaled, salvaged or flood-damaged. This article offers a good overview of the practice: Title Washing in America – Lemons without the Lemonade  It includes a handy list of red flags to look for when buying a used car, which we’ve reprinted below.

One lesson to be learned from this is not to rely solely on the title when buying a used car. In buying a used car, be sure to check if it has been declared stolen or totaled by searching the car’s VIN:

Of course, there are other best practices beyond just checking the title when buying a used car. See these sources for more tips:

red flags for buying aused car

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How to avoid hydroplaning – and what to do if it happens

We all think about tire safety in winter when the roads are snowy or slushy and we adjust our driving accordingly. But what about in the rain? Wet, slick roads with water buildup can be quite hazardous, too. Many drivers are rather cavalier about  adjusting their driving in the rain  and are caught short when something goes wrong, such as hydroplaning.

Hydroplaning – also sometimes called aquaplaning – is losing traction over water while driving, and actually skimming or sliding on the surface of that water. Losing contact with the road is a frightening experience because it results in loss of control of the car. The formula for hydroplaning is speed, tire tread depth and water depth. It’s important to maintain your tires and slow down when it rains. Even a light rain can be hazardous, particularly in the first few minutes as rainfall mixes with oils on the road surface.

Edmunds offers excellent Tips for Driving Safely in the Rain. Also, check out these two videos that talk more about what hydroplaning is and what to do should it occur.

 

Technology helps, but is not a substitute for caution
While driver-assist technologies such as traction control, anti-lock brakes and lane assist technologies can help keep us safer, don’t rely on them. Be cautious and be prepared:

  • Maintain your tires – make sure the tread is good and that they are properly inflated.
  • Slow down when it rains. Many experts suggest reducing speed by about one-third.
  • Avoid standing water.
  • Disable cruise control on wet roads and when raining.
  • Increase the following distance between you and the car ahead.
  • If you do hydroplane, stay calm, ease off the accelerator, and don’t make any sudden moves that may cause a spin out.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How to file a settlement claim if you were affected by the Equifax data breach

Were you affected by the 2017 Equifax data breach? You might have been because 147 million records in the US alone were exposed. If you;d like a refresher on the event, we talked about it in a blog post, along with the remedies available at the time Equifax Data Breach:

Before you dismiss this as ancient history, check this out: The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced that Equifax has agreed to a global settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and 50 U.S. states and territories. The settlement includes up to $425 million to help people affected by the data breach.

If you were affected, you might be eligible for

  • Up to 10 years of free credit monitoring
  • A cash payment of $125 in lieu of credit monitoring
  • Payment for time, expenses or losses related to the breach (capped at $20,000)

For more details on what you might be eligible for, see the FTC’s summary of the Equifax Data Breach Settlement

Here’s how to file a claim:

  • The first step is to find out if your information was exposed: use this look-up tool.
  • If your data was exposed, you must file a claim by January 22, 2020. You can file a claim online, or see instructions for filing a hard copy. It’s a fairly easy process. Here are FAQs if you want to learn more.

It may seem nearly impossible to protect your data from being exposed, but don’t give up!  See our post on 66 ways to protect your identity and privacy for tips.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Drowning prevention tips from parents, for parents (and anyone who cares about kids)

Do you have kids? Or grand-kids? Or nieces and nephews? If so, this post is for you – it has valuable information about keeping those beloved kids safe in and around water. And even if you don’t have kids yourself but you simply frequent pools and beaches in the summer, we encourage you to take note, too. We offer useful tips to keep kids safe from people who know.

First, we point to a popular prior blog post that contains useful information that many people didn’t know: ” We are conditioned by movies and pop culture to think that a drowning person would yell and wave for help and splash violently to get attention. In reality, drowning is a quiet, desperate event – so quiet that every year, children die in pools and water just feet away from parents or friends who do not recognize the signs of distress.”

Drowning doesn’t look like what we see in the movies

We’ve also recently come across a few useful articles featuring Moms who offer great advice about protecting kids from downing. One mother, sadly, gained her expertise the hard way after the drowning death of her toddler. The other Mom gained her expertise in her job investigating drowning deaths as her job.

In A Layered Approach to Preventing Drowning, Nicole Hughes shares her sad experience and the lessons she learned from her 3-year old son Levi’s drowning death:

“Our son drowned when there were six physicians in the room, 12 adults, 17 kids,” said his mother, Nicole Hughes, a writing teacher and literacy coach in Bristol, Tenn., who now works extensively in drowning prevention, including with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“Everything I read about drowning before Levi died, it was like background noise,” Ms. Hughes said. “We think it’s happening to neglectful parents” who don’t watch their children when they’re swimming. But as she learned after Levi’s death, for most toddlers who drown, it doesn’t happen in the context of time spent “swimming” — that is, time they’re known to be in the water. And drowning is the leading cause of preventable deaths in children from 1 to 4.”

In addition to offering great advice for parents to raise awareness, the article also points to a helpful  Drowning Prevention Toolkit from American Academy of Pediatrics.

The second article offers water safety tips for parents from Natalie Livingston, a Mom who investigates drownings in her role as vice president of Oostman Aquatic Safety Consulting. She knows what she is talking about – she “spent 25 years as a lifeguard and worked as the general manager of a water park for 10 years. She trains lifeguards, consults in both private and public operations, and is hired as an expert witness in drowning cases.”

Livingston lists 10 in-depth, practical tips with advice that you might not think about, tips that she applies to her own children. For example, would you think to teach your child how to escape the grip of a struggling, panicked person? Or raise awareness about water depth in practical terms they can understand? Those are among the many lessons she offers.  You can also follow Livingston on Facebook at Aquatic Safety Connection for more tips. Her tips have gone viral online, and she was recently featured on Good Morning America. Take the time to check them out!

In addition to Livingston’s tips, the article offers these additional water safety recommendations:

  • Swim Lessons Save Lives
  • Learn CPR — Drowning patients need oxygen — give air first!
  • USCG approved lifejackets only — no arm floaties or inflatables
  • Designate A Water Watcher / Swim with a Lifeguard
  • Always use pool barriers and layers of protection
  • Enter the water feet first
  • No running
  • Stay hydrated / protect yourself from the sun
  • No drugs / alcohol
  • All water is dangerous — even inches
  • Always swim with a buddy
  • Lost / Missing kids — always check the water first

See related posts on pool safety:
Swimming pool and spa safety issues and insurance coverage

Pool & spa owners: Minimize your risk with simple steps for safety

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Heat wave: How to keep your cool

Are you ready for the upcoming heat wave? More than 170 million people in the US are now under heat alerts for the coming weekend. Excessive heat is not just an unpleasant nuisance – it can be downright dangerous. The CDC says that, on average, 658 people a year die from heat-related illnesses. In the 1995 Chicago heat wave, more than 700 people died!

Take steps to prepare and plan for the weekend ahead. Here are some tips we’ve gathered from experts on how to minimize the effects of the heat.

  • Cover windows that receive morning or afternoon sun.
  • Take it easy – avoid strenuous activity in the heat.
  • Plan outdoor activities for the early or late part of the day. Stay indoors and out of the sun in the heat of the day.
  • If you don’t have AC, plan activities in public places that are cool: movie theaters, museums, libraries, malls and other air conditioned public or entertainment places. Make a trip to your favorite local swimming hole or pool to beat the heat, but keep an eye out for thunderstorms and make sure you use sunscreen.
  • If you can’t get to a pool, take cool showers or bath. Splash yourself with cool water or soak your feet and ankles in cool water. Apply cold, wet towels on the neck, wrist, groin and armpit.
  • Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate – drink plenty of water. Keep alcohol intake low – while it might make you think you feel better, alcohol is actually dehydrating. Plain water is the best.
  • Wear loose, cool, light-colored clothing. If you go outdoors, wear a hat and sunglasses and use sunscreen!
  • Eat light, easily digestible dinners. Be careful about salty foods. Avoid using ovens or appliances that generate heat. If you cook, use a microwave or outdoor grill.
  • Take care of your pets – don’t let them get overheated or dehydrated.
  • Check in on elderly relatives or neighbors to make sure they are OK.
  • If your power goes out, check with local emergency services to find emergency cooling centers.
  • Never, never, never leave children or pets in a car alone – even for a few minutes.
  • Know the symptoms of and watch out for heat-related illnesses.

Heat exhaustion, which can be effectively addressed with cooling and careful rehydration, can look a lot like heat stroke, a serious and possibly deadly condition requiring urgent medical attention. It’s nothing to fool around with.

chart with heat illness symptoms

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.