When Should You Get Car Insurance for Your Teen?

As soon as they start learning to drive, whether they are starting with a learner’s permit or going straight to the license, you should inform your insurance company to have them added to your policy.  This is usually much more cost-effective than placing them on their own policy, especially if you are a safe driver with a clean record.  They will also be eligible for more coverage under your policy.

Statistics show that teens are more prone to accidents than those in other age groups, so starting out with the right amount of coverage is extremely important.

When your child goes to college, unless they are taking a car with them, you will probably want to switch them to “occasional drivers” under your policy.  Some other considerations:

 

  • You may qualify for a multi-policy discount if your child’s car is covered under your policy.
  • You may also qualify for a discount during the time your child is away at college.
  • Encourage your child to earn good grades, and take a driver training course.  Some insurers discount due to good grades, and for completion of training courses.
  • Serve as a good role model; your child will learn by example, so it is important to demonstrate good driving habits early on (i.e. not talking on the phone, using seatbelt, not drinking and driving.)

 

The Number of Uninsured Drivers Continues to Rise

Here’s a sobering statistic you might not be aware of: nationwide, when a person is injured in a car accident, the odds are about one in seven that the driver that caused the crash is uninsured. According to a recent Insurance Research Council (IRC) study, the estimated percentage of uninsured drivers rose from 12.7% in 1999 to 14.6% in 2004. The IRC studied data provided by eleven insurance carriers, which represents approximately 58% of the private passenger auto insurance market in the United States.

Uninsured Motorists, 2006 Edition looks at trends in the percentage of uninsured drivers by state from 1999 to 2004. In 2004, the five states with the highest uninsured driver estimates were Mississippi with 26%, Alabama with 25%, California with 25%, New Mexico with 24%, and Arizona with 22%. The five states with the lowest uninsured driver estimates were Maine with 4%, Vermont with 6%, Massachusetts with 6%, New York with 7%, and Nebraska with 8%.

The researchers estimated the number of uninsured drivers by using a ratio of insurance claims made by persons who were injured by uninsured drivers to claims made by persons who were injured by insured drivers. The study also includes recent statistics broken down by state on the frequency of claims made by uninsured motorists, the frequency of claims of bodily injury, and the ratio of uninsured motorists to bodily injury claim frequencies.

Given these statistics, it’s a good idea for people to protect themselves in case they are in an accident with someone with either no coverage or not enough coverage. That’s why the insurance industry developed Uninsured Motorist Insurance and Underinsured Motorist Insurance. Requirements for carrying this coverage differ from state to state. However, in general, states that are considered “no fault” auto insurance states mandate both types of coverage.

Uninsured Motorist insurance protects you when the other driver has no coverage. In order for your Uninsured Motorist coverage to help, the uninsured driver must be the person responsible for causing the accident. The types of coverage provided under this policy include:

 

  • Uninsured Property Damage: Covers you when the insured vehicle sustains property damage, but the at-fault driver has no insurance.
  • Uninsured Motorist Bodily Injury: Covers you, the insured members of your household and your passengers for bodily/personal injuries, damages or death caused by an uninsured at-fault driver. If you get into an accident in which the at-fault driver has no insurance, your policy will pay your medical expenses, up to the stated limits of your policy.
  • Underinsured Motorist insurance protects you when you are in an accident with a driver who does not have enough liability coverage. Again, this coverage only helps if the underinsured driver caused the accident. The types of coverage provided under this policy include:
  • Underinsured Motorist Property Damage: Covers you when the insured vehicle sustains property damage, but the at-fault driver is covered by a policy with a liability limit insufficient to cover all the damages.
  • Underinsured Motorist Bodily Injury: Covers you, the insured members of your household and your passengers for injuries, damages or death caused by an at-fault driver whose insurance is insufficient to cover the entire expense. If you have an accident with a driver whose policy limits are too low to pay all your damages, your policy will pay the difference up to the stated limits of your policy.

 

If you haven’t reviewed your insurance coverage recently, talk to your insurance agent to review any gaps in your coverage. You may be putting yourself and your family in greater risk than you realize.

Sport Utility Vehicles Improving Rollover Safety Record

According to Newsweek, one in four automobiles sold in the United States is a sports utility vehicle. Every SUV purchase nets an average of $15,000, according to Forbes magazine, in profit for the vehicle’s maker. Because of this high demand and lucrative sales potential, the makers of SUVs have been accused of ignoring safety when it comes to the design and production of their products. The biggest safety complaint about the SUV is its high rollover record.

This lax attitude toward safety, however, is an item of the past. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released new rollover results for 2006 and 39 SUVs earned four-star ratings, which was the highest rating earned by the vehicles tested. No SUV earned the top ranking of five-stars. Under this ratings system, a vehicle rated at five-stars has a rollover risk of less than 10%. A four-star vehicle has a 10% to 20% risk, and a three-star vehicle has a 20% to 30% risk.

Newly tested SUVs that received four stars included: the Chevrolet HHR, Honda Pilot, Toyota RAV4, Subaru B9 Tribeca, Hyundai Tucson, Mercedes-Benz ML Class, Suzuki Grand Vitara and four-wheel drive versions of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer.

Among top-scoring SUVs, the HHR had a 14% chance of rollover and four-wheel drive versions of the Pilot had a 15% chance.

The four-wheel drive version of the Nissan XTerra had a 25% percent chance of rollover, the highest percentage among the new SUVs tested. The two-wheel drive version of the XTerra, the two-wheel drive Chevrolet Tahoe and Hummer H3 each had a 24% chance of rollover, and all received three stars.

The new statistics also reveal that SUVs have shown consistent improvements in the area of safety. Only two-dozen SUVs received four stars last year, and just one SUV earned the ranking in 2001. In addition, the agency noted that 7 in 10 new SUVs are equipped with electronic stability control. This feature is an anti-rollover system that automatically applies the brakes if the vehicle begins to skid, which helps to stabilize the vehicle. Government studies have found stability control reduces single-vehicle sport utility crashes by 67% compared with the same models sold in previous years without the feature.

Since 2004, NHTSA has asked auto manufacturers to voluntarily install electronic stability control because of its proven potential for saving lives.  As a result, nearly all automakers now offer electronic stability control as standard equipment on a total of 57 SUV models, and on 6 SUVs as an available option. This is up from 20 standard and 14 optional in 2003. NHTSA is expected to issue a new proposal later this year specifying a performance criterion for stability control.

Protect Your Home from Power Surges This Summer with Surge Protectors

The arrival of summer can mean several welcome events: a return to outdoors living, an opportunity for vacation, and more time with the family. One of the issues people may not associate with summer are the power surges that often occur due to the tremendous demand for energy, especially to cool homes. A power surge is a brief spike in electrical power. While on the surface it may not seem like much to be concerned about, power surges can cause serious damage by burning up electrical circuits inside appliances. They can also damage electrical outlets, light switches, light bulbs, air conditioner components, and even garage door openers.

You can protect your valuable electrical appliances from the damaging effects of power surges. The most cost effective way is by purchasing surge protection strips. You can plug in your television, DVD player, and stereo into the strip and it should provide adequate protection against most surges. It’s a good idea to pick up a surge protection strip for the kitchen counter so that you can protect small electrics like the toaster, blender, food processor etc. You can also find surge protectors that fit into electrical outlets that will protect your phone and answering machine. You can buy most types of surge protectors in any local hardware store.

When it comes to your PC, however, you will have to be a bit more selective about protection, because of the delicacy of its internal components. Back-up power packs that are specifically designed to protect your hardware can be found in stores that sell computer accessories as well as in many electronics chain stores. They can be somewhat expensive, but are certainly less expensive than replacing your entire system.

Before you purchase any surge protector, there are certain features you need to look for. The first feature to look for is a surge protector that is labeled with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo. The UL logo tells you that the unit has been tested to determine if it meets certain standards. Any product that is UL tested will be labeled as a “transient voltage surge protector,” which means that it meets or exceeds the minimum standards required to be an effective deterrent against power surges.

A surge protector’s performance is rated in three ways. The first is clamping voltage, which is the level of voltage surge that has to occur before the surge protector kicks in and diverts excess voltage from the item being protected. You want to find a surge protector that has a low voltage number so that it takes less of a surge to activate it. Look for a protector with a clamping voltage of less than 400 volts.

The second way to rate a surge protector’s performance is response time: the amount of time it takes for the surge protector to respond to the surge. You should look for a unit with a response time of one nanosecond or less.

Just like any other appliance in your home, your surge protector will eventually wear out. The third performance-rating factor is energy absorption, or how much energy the unit will absorb before it fails. For the longest lasting performance, look for a unit rated between 300 and 600 joules. Remember, the higher the number, the longer the life of the surge protector.

Safety Tips for SUV Drivers

Considering the increase in fuel costs and environmental awareness, it is surprising that the most popular vehicle in America is still the sport utility vehicle.  With a higher rollover occurrence, higher center of gravity, and increased difficulty of handling, driving a SUV can be dangerous. 

SUVs are completely different from lower-bodied sedans.  They need much more braking distance between themselves and the car in front of them.  They also are much more prone to slip, skid, or flip in hazardous road conditions; according to research done by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 10,000 people each year die in SUV rollovers.. By following these basic tips, you will be better informed of how to safely maneuver in a SUV.

 

  • Slow down. Driving too fast is dangerous; driving too fast in an SUV is even more so.  The longer you have to react, the less likely you are to cause or be involved in an accident.
  • Avoid sudden or sharp steering.  An SUV is not designed to make fast, sharp turns as a smaller, lower, car can.  Allowing yourself more time to react will allow you to make smoother steering transitions.
  • Learn to brake in an SUV. While driving your vehicle, you should be considerate of those around you.  Those behind and beside you will not be able to see around you, so the more warning you can give before you brake, the better. 
  • Check blind spots frequently.  The biggest mistake most SUV drivers make is feeling invincible.  You are in the largest car, but that doesn’t mean you are in the safest.  Many SUV drivers do not use turn signals, or check blind spots, before pulling out or changing lanes, making a collision with a smaller vehicle all the more likely.
  • Avoid overloads. Carrying a great deal of cargo, or even passengers, can throw off the center of gravity even further, making the car more likely to flip over. This also wears on tires and brakes, overheats tires, and can result in a blowout.

 

Simple Tips to Prevent Auto Theft

Every thirty seconds, a vehicle is stolen in the United States.  That means over 1 million vehicle owners each year find themselves victims of auto theft.  In the event your car is stolen, contact the police with the following information immediately: make, model, year, color, license plate number, VIN, approximate time of theft, location, and witnesses, if any. You should know this information, or have it available at all times.  Then, contact your insurance company.  Preventative measures, however, could prevent this tragedy from ever happening.

Some tips to consider:

 

  • Install an anti-theft device.
  • Never leave the keys in the vehicle, or the vehicle running, while unattended.
  • Keep doors locked at all times, and windows up.
  • Never store valuables or packages in plain sight.
  • Have your VIN etched into windows and other parts of your car, making resell on the black market more difficult.
  • When parking on the street, turn your wheels, use your emergency brake, and park between other cars (making it harder for a thief to tow).
  • Avoid parking in long-term lots if at all possible.
  • Park in a safe, well-lit, or well-traveled area at night.

 

Safety Experts Say Smoke Alarms Are Decreasingly Effective

In early 2006, a federal jury ruled that the design of ionization smoke alarms was defective in a fire that trapped 56-year-old William Hackert Jr. and his 31-year-old daughter Christine in their house near Albany in 2001. However, even before this ruling, safety experts were already questioning whether this type of smoke alarm is adequate to deal with the threat of fast-burning synthetic materials prevalent in American homes.

Ionization alarms, which use radioactive material to detect smoke, react earlier in fast-burning flaming fires. Photoelectric alarms, which detect changes in light patterns, react earlier in slow smoky fires. Experts agree that both types save lives. However, a problem arises because the time needed to escape has shortened significantly because of fast-burning synthetics used in furniture and carpets. Smoke alarm use standards may need to change to accommodate this phenomenon.

In 2001, Consumer Reports recommended that homeowners install at least one of each type of alarm on every level of a house to provide sufficient warning time for different types of fires. A recent report from the Public/Private Fire Safety Council noted that some test escape times were “tight or insufficient” with either alarm for bedroom or living room flaming fires. The group suggested that Underwriters Laboratories (UL) modify its standard to require faster detection of smoldering fires. Current UL smoke alarm standards require alarms to respond within 4 minutes of a flaming fire and in a smoldering fire before smoke obscures visibility by more than 10 percent per foot.

In today’s homes, the synthetics in furnishings, fabrics and carpeting smolder longer, but burn faster than natural materials like wood and cotton, which char as they burn. Synthetics melt and pool which produces significantly more energy when they burn. This has shortened the time between first flames and combustion of an entire room due to accumulated heat and gases to approximately 2 to 4 minutes. The average time between first flames and complete combustion 30 years ago when the UL standard was developed was 12 to 14 minutes.

In February of 2006, UL began studying the smoke characteristics from 40 materials commonly found in homes in the effort to make alarms more effective. Also under study are the byproducts of today’s smoke, which can be lethal. Results of these studies are expected by the end of the year.

Another reason for UL concern is the increase in U.S. fire fatalities in the past 12 months to a rate of about 3,500 annually. One likely factor is the increasing use of candles as mood lighting. Candles now cause about 18,000 fires a year, triple the number five years ago.

States Without Motorcycle Helmet Laws May Be Contributing to Unnecessary Deaths

Last year traffic deaths reached their highest level since 1990 due to an increase in motorcycle and pedestrian fatalities. Motorcycle deaths rose for the eighth consecutive year in a row. This according to a new study titled “Characteristics of Motorcycle-Related Hospitalizations: Comparing States with Different Helmet Laws” conducted by researchers at West Virginia University and funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

In fact, the research shows that almost nine percent of all U.S. traffic deaths are attributed to motorcycle riding. In 2004 more than 4,000 people were killed in motorcycle accidents, which represents an 89 percent increase since 1997. Another 76,000 people were injured.

The researchers also discovered that states without universal helmet laws had more crash victims hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of brain injuries. These states reported 16.5 percent of accident victims suffering brain injury as opposed to 11.5 percent in states where helmet use is mandatory. The in-hospital death rate among states without mandatory helmet laws was 11.3 percent versus 8.8 percent for those requiring helmets.

Conducting a state-by-state analysis of injuries, the researchers found that patients from states with no universal helmet laws had a 41 percent increase in risk of a Type 1 traumatic brain injury. Type 1 brain injuries are more likely to result in permanent disability, including paralysis, persistent vegetative state, and severe cognitive deficits.

The research also showed that a large proportion of patients with severe brain injuries would require long-term care. Hospitalized patients in states without universal helmet laws are more likely not to have private health insurance. This means that the public will carry the financial burden for the care these patients require. The findings went on to suggest that partial use laws are of modest use because there is only a slight difference in the age distribution of hospitalized cases if you compare states that require those under a certain age to wear helmets to states with no helmet laws.

Universal helmet laws require all motorcycle riders to wear helmets while riding. States with partial helmet laws only require motorcycle riders who are under age 18 or 21 to wear a helmet while riding. The study is based on data from 33 states. It is the largest study and most current one available on the hospital care of motorcycle accident victims. Of the 33 states studied, 17 had universal helmet laws, 13 had partial use laws, and 3 had no helmet laws.

Research Shows Side Air Bags Can Save Lives

In a recent study, The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimated that side air bags offering head protection could save the lives of about 2,000 drivers a year if every vehicle were properly equipped. The study was based on federal crash data involving 1997-2004 model year cars involved in crashes from 1999-2004 and 2001-2004 SUVs involved in crashes from 2000-2004.

The agency’s conclusion is based on insurance industry research that shows driver deaths in side-impact collisions dropped by more than 50 percent in SUVs equipped with head-protecting side air bags. The study also found that the risk of death dropped 30 percent in side collisions involving SUVs with side air bags that only offer protection to the chest and abdomen.

In passenger cars struck on the driver’s side, the risk of the driver being killed dropped 37 percent in autos with side air bags that have head protection. The risk of driver death fell 26 percent for cars with side air bags providing just chest and abdomen protection. The researchers discovered that fatality risks were lower across the board in vehicles with side air bags, whether the crash involved older or younger drivers, male or female drivers, and drivers of compact cars or larger passenger vehicles.

The side air bag was introduced in the mid-1990s, and has been credited for allowing motorists to escape serious injuries and death when struck in the side. In a head-on crash, the vehicle’s front-end absorbs most of the impact. However, a motorist struck in the side has very little protection without the side air bags.

Side-impact crashes are a major concern. In 2004, the government estimated that 9,270 people were killed in these types of crashes, which amounted to almost 30 percent of traffic deaths reported that year.

Although federal regulations don’t require side airbags in passenger vehicles, more and more manufacturers are installing them as standard equipment. This is due primarily to a 2003 voluntary agreement among automakers to improve occupant protection in side impacts for SUVs and pickups. The agreement is supposed to result in all cars, SUVs, and pickups having side airbags with head protection by 2010.

The auto industry has been keeping pace, and almost four of every five new car and SUV models already have standard or optional side airbags that include head protection. This is a significant increase since side airbags were introduced in the mid-1990s. If you would like model-by-model information on side airbag availability in 1996-2006 models, log on to iihs.org/ratings/ side_airbags/side_airbags.aspx.

Is Your Homeowner’s Coverage a Mystery to You?

If you feel in a quandary when you look at your homeowner’s insurance, take heart; you are not alone. In fact, a recent study conducted by Harris Interactive for Travelers Insurance shows that a large number of American homeowners are unsure of their coverage specifics. Many of these homeowners are underinsured and the smallest disaster could send them into a financial hardship.

The researchers questioned more than 1,300 homeowners to determine exactly what they knew about their coverage. They also asked the study participants how often they reviewed their policy to ensure they maintained appropriate coverage and how they conducted their review.  According to the survey data, more than 44 percent of those surveyed had not examined their insurance coverage in the past year. Some respondents had not reviewed their insurance policy in the last 10 years.

The “Travelers In-synch Homeowner’s Insurance Study” also indicated that nearly 27 percent of these homeowners weren’t sure whether their policy would cover the cost of rebuilding their home. Thirty-six percent didn’t know whether their policy would cover damage caused by a hurricane. Forty-two percent were unsure if they had earthquake coverage. Twenty-six percent didn’t know if they had coverage against flood damage, and 37 percent didn’t know whether their policy would cover a prolonged hotel stay if their home were damaged.

Many items impact the amount of homeowner’s coverage you need. That’s why it is important to review your coverage frequently. Here are some criteria to use in your review:

 

  • Have you recently remodeled your home?

If you’ve improved your home, chances are you’ve increased its estimated replacement cost.

 

 

  • Has the inflation rate increased since your home was last appraised?

Certain conditions, such as severe weather, can increase the demand for labor and materials, which raises costs beyond the normal inflation level. It is important to update your coverage each year to account for changing inflation.

 

 

  • What factors influence building costs in your area?

Replacement costs are directly proportionate to factors, such as the availability of labor, the current demand for labor, and the cost of construction materials. Adjusting your coverage regularly can ensure your policy will provide the money you need to rebuild.

 

To determine whether you have adequate coverage you should know your home’s estimated replacement cost. Keep in mind that your replacement cost could be higher or lower than your home’s market value. You should also consider the building materials used to construct your home. The more difficult the building materials are to find, the higher your replacement cost. Your coverage needs to reflect these increased costs.

The best way to stay ahead of changing costs is to contact your insurance agent annually to discuss your current coverage and your changing needs. They can help you manage risk by updating your coverage so there won’t be any surprises should your home be damaged.