Monday, August 30, 2010

Eight Tips for a Safe Road Trip

Whether you're traveling alone, with a buddy or with your spouse and a car full of kids, there are few things more "American" than the long-distance road trip. Countless vacation travelers will drive the highways looking for fun and making memories with every mile. If traveling down the "holiday road" is in your plans, take the time to prepare for your trip. You'll have a more enjoyable vacation if you plan carefully. Here are a few driving tips:

1) Make sure your vehicle is well maintained.
Make sure your vehicle is up to date on its maintenance schedule, and be sure to check the battery and tires. A dead battery or tire blow-out in the middle of nowhere is dangerous and expensive. By making sure your tires have good tread left and are properly inflated, and your battery is fully charged, you'll save yourself a lot of headaches down the road.

2) Plan your trip and know where you’re going.
Call ahead for proper and safe directions to get you to your destination safely and have maps of the area on hand to help you navigate once you are off the main road. You’re more likely to make good decisions, even in dangerous situations, if you’re clearheaded and know where you’re going.

3) Stay focused on the road ahead.
Seems obvious, but driver inattention is the cause of a lot of accidents. If you stay focused behind the wheel and not let kids or electronic devices such as music players or cell phones divert your attention, you will have a much safer summer road trip.

4) Take precaution with a cell phone.
Cell phones can be a lifesaver when you need immediate access to emergency services after an accident. Keep your phone within easy reach and get to know its features. However, use it prudently. Reports have shown that driving while talking on the phone increases accident rates.

5) Wear your seat belt.
Whether or not it’s required by law in the state through which you’re driving, always wear your seat belt as a safety precaution.

6) Protect your car against theft.
Help deter criminals from taking your car by always locking your doors, using steering wheel locks, switches that disable fuel or ignition systems, and electronic tracking devices. Put any valuables you cannot carry with you hidden out of view in the trunk.

7) Know what to do if you’re in an accident.
Taking immediate steps if you’ve been in an accident can protect your family and your car from further damage. Stop immediately and make sure your car is not blocking traffic. Turn off your car to keep it from overheating or catching fire. Warn oncoming cars using road flares or orange triangle reflectors. After you have protected yourself and your family, call your insurance company immediately.

8) Make sure your auto insurance is up to date.
Before you even leave the driveway, you want to be sure you’re protected when you’re on the road and far from home. An independent insurance agent or broker can provide the personal service and advice you need to travel in confidence.

Source: Progressive Insurance Company

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Move Over For All Emergency Vehicles

You’ve undoubtedly been driving when you hear the wail of the siren and see the flashing lights of an approaching emergency vehicle in your rear view mirror. Should you slow down and pull over, even if the emergency vehicle is in the oncoming lanes, or is it just required when it is attempting to pass you? Similarly, if you approach a stationary emergency vehicle on the side of the road with its lights flashing, what is the proper thing to do?

Many motorists don’t understand the “Move Over” law, and what they need to do. But it is important for safety reasons that motorists give all emergency vehicles a wide berth. The personnel in these vehicles, whether they are paramedics or police officers, are busy trying to help someone, and are not paying attention to the cars that are approaching.  It is the motorist’s responsibility to proceed on the side of caution.

Emergency Vehicles Approaching

When being approached by an emergency vehicle with its lights flashing, section 46.61.210 of the Revised Code of Washington states requires motorists to yield the right-of-way in all cases. It states that drivers “shall immediately drive to a position parallel to, and as close as possible to, the right-hand edge or curb of the roadway clear of any intersection and shall stop and remain in such position until the authorized emergency vehicle has passed, except when otherwise directed by a police officer.”
When the roadway is a divided highway, a motorist who is moving in the opposite direction can continue on, but if the road is not divided, even if it has more than one lane in each direction, the driver is required to stop the vehicle on the right-hand edge or curb until the emergency vehicle has passed. Failure to yield carries a maximum fine of $1,062 in the State of Washington.

Stationary Emergency Vehicles

On the other hand, when a motorist is approaching a stationary emergency or police vehicle with its lights flashing, the motorist must yield to the emergency vehicles by:
- Proceeding with caution
- Changing lanes, if possible
- Reducing speed
    Conversely, if an emergency vehicle is parked by the side of the road, or traveling down the highway with no lights flashing, they are treated as any other vehicle, and it is not necessary to yield to them.

    The bottom line: It’s always better proceed with caution when police and emergency vehicles are within sight. It avoids potential collisions and allows law enforcement and emergency personnel to do their job without worrying about the traffic.

    Monday, August 16, 2010

    Be Careful When Sharing the Road with Cyclists

    A recently released poll of Washington drivers found that many are uncomfortable sharing the road with cyclists. While the PEMCO Insurance poll found 87% of respondents understand that cyclists can be ticketed for violating the same laws that govern drivers, only 45% thought the laws were generally fair for both drivers and cyclists.

    In 2007, 58% of drivers knew they had to give cyclists several feet of room when passing them on the road. Compare that to 2010, where only 40% now think they need to provide that much space.
    The Revised Code of Washington may be vague about distance (they mandate drivers pass cyclists at a "safe distance"), however the Washington Driving Guide recommends at least three feet of space between the vehicle and the cyclist.

    Driver Misconceptions

    The poll found that drivers have many misconceptions when it comes to sharing the road with bicycles. This can lead to dangerous situations, as many drivers think it's the cyclist's responsibility to stay out of the way of motorized vehicles, or use the sidewalk. This is not the case, as bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities on roadways as automobiles (although they are not allowed on freeways and other controlled-access highways).

    The PEMCO poll also found that:

    • Only 23% of drivers are aware that it's legal for cyclists to ride two abreast in a lane of traffic.
    • 62% of drivers are aware it's illegal for bicycle riders to ride in lanes used by oncoming traffic.
    • 54% of drivers thought that a cyclist could get ticketed for riding on a sidewalk. (Washington law allows cyclists to use most sidewalks for riding).

    Bike Helmets Prevent Injuries

    Even though there's no statewide requirement to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, most Washington cities and counties have helmet laws, and enforce them rigorously. The PEMCO poll found that more than a quarter of the respondents (27%) think it's legal to ride without at helmet.

    Men are more likely than women to wear their helmet, and use their bike regularly to commute. Women drivers, on the other hand, tend to be more uncomfortable with cyclists on the road, the poll found.

    More disturbing is the fact that young people -- those under age 35 -- are much more likely to bike without a helmet than their older counterparts. 36% of those under 35 say they only wear their helmets sometimes or never, compared with 17% of older cyclists. This is exacerbated by the fact that 48% of younger cyclists use their bike to commute at least once a month, much of the time without a helmet.

    While wearing a helmet can eliminate most serious head injuries, many cyclists don't like to wear them or forget to wear them. It's especially difficult to convince younger people that riding without a helmet can result in serious injury, as many young people think that it's more of a hassle then it's worth, and, after all, nothing is going to happen to them.

    If you get on a bike, wear your helmet and obey all traffic laws. When it comes to accidents involving a car and a bicycle, the bicyclist rarely comes out ahead.

    Source: PEMCO Insurance Northwest Poll, 2010

    Wednesday, August 4, 2010

    Older Drivers can improve and save money too

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    Spanish Version

    Older Drivers

    At age 78, Sheila thinks she’s a good driver, and she would like to stay that way. But lately, she has been in minor accidents. Sheila wonders how she can stay safe behind the wheel. Will taking a class for older drivers help?

    You may have asked yourself this question, or maybe a family member or friend has asked about your driving. Getting older doesn’t make you a bad driver. But you should know there are changes that may affect driving skills over time.

    Your Body

    As you age, your joints may get stiff, and your muscles may weaken. This can make it harder to turn your head to look back, turn the steering wheel quickly, or brake safely.

    What you can do:

    •See your doctor if you think that pain or stiffness gets in the way of your driving.

    •If possible, drive a car with automatic transmission, power steering, power brakes, and large mirrors.

    •Be physically active or exercise to keep and even improve your strength and flexibility.

    Your Vision

    Your eyesight may change as you get older. At night, you may have trouble seeing things clearly. Glare can also be a problem—from oncoming headlights, street lights, or the sun. It might be harder to see people, things, and movements outside your direct line of sight. It may take you longer to read street or traffic signs or even recognize familiar places. Eye diseases, such as glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration, as well as some medicines, may also change your vision.

    What you can do:

    •Have your vision checked every 2 to 4 years if you are age 40 to 64 and every 1 to 2 years if you are 65 or older, as recommended by the American Academy of Ophthalmology. There are many vision problems your doctor can treat.

    •Talk to your eye doctor if you can’t see well enough to drive because you have a cataract. You might need surgery to remove the cataract.

    •If you need glasses to see far away while driving, make sure your prescription is correct. And always wear them when you are driving.

    •Cut back on night driving if you are having trouble seeing in the dark.

    Your Hearing

    Your hearing may change, making it harder to notice horns, sirens, or noises from your own car. That can be a problem because these sounds warn you when you may need to pull over or get out of the way. It is important that you hear them.

    What you can do:

    •Have your hearing checked. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends doing this every 3 years after age 50. Your doctor can treat some hearing problems.

    •Get a hearing aid to help—don’t forget to use it when you drive.

    •Try to keep the inside of the car as quiet as possible while driving.

    •Pay attention to the warning lights on the dashboard. They may let you know when something is wrong with your car.

    Your Reactions

    In order to drive safely, you should be able to react quickly to other cars and people on the road. You need to be able to make decisions and to remember what to do. Being able to make quick decisions while driving is important so you can avoid accidents and stay safe. Changes over time might slow how fast you react. You may find that your reflexes are getting slower. Stiff joints or weak muscles can make it harder to move quickly. Your attention span may be shorter. Or, it might be harder for you to do two things at the same time.

    What you can do:

    •Leave more space between you and the car in front of you.

    •Start braking early when you need to stop.

    •Avoid high traffic areas when you can.

    •If you must drive on a fast-moving highway, drive in the right-hand lane. Traffic moves more slowly there. This might give you more time to make safe driving decisions.

    •Take a defensive driving course. AARP, American Automobile Association (AAA), or your car insurance company can help you find a class near you.

    •Be aware of how your body and mind might be changing, and talk to your doctor about any concerns.

    Your Health

    Some health problems can make it harder for people of any age to drive safely. But other conditions that are more common as you get older can also make driving difficult. For example, Parkinson’s disease, stroke, and arthritis can interfere with your driving abilities. At some point, someone with health problems may feel that he or she is no longer a good driver and may decide to stop driving.

    People with illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease (AD) or other types of dementia may forget how to drive safely. They also may forget how to find a familiar place like the grocery store or even home. In the early stages of AD, some people are able to keep driving safely for a while. But, as memory and decision-making skills worsen, driving will be affected. If you have dementia, you might not be able to tell that you are having driving problems. Family and friends may give you feedback about your driving. Doctors can help you decide whether it’s safe to keep driving.

    What you can do:

    •Tell a family member or your doctor if you become confused while driving.

    Your Medications

    Do you take any medicines that make you feel drowsy, lightheaded, or less alert than usual? Medications can have side effects. People tend to take more medicines as they age, so pay attention to how these drugs may affect your driving.

    What you can do:

    •Read the medicine labels carefully, and pay attention to any warnings.

    •Make a list of all your medicines, and talk to a doctor or pharmacist about how they may affect your driving.

    •Don’t drive if you feel lightheaded or drowsy.

    Are You A Safe Driver?

    Maybe you already know that driving at night, on the highway, or in bad weather is a problem for you. Older drivers can also have problems when yielding the right of way, turning (especially making left turns), changing lanes, passing, and using expressway ramps.

    What you can do:

    •When in doubt, don’t go out. Bad weather like rain or snow can make it hard for anyone to drive. Try to wait until the weather is better, or use buses, taxis, or other transportation services available in your community.

    •Look for different routes that can help you avoid places where driving can be a problem. Left turns can be quite dangerous because you have to check so many things at the same time. You could plan routes to where you want to go so that you only need to make right turns.

    •Have your driving skills checked. There are driving programs and clinics that can test your driving and also make suggestions about improving your driving skills.

    •Update your driving skills by taking a driving refresher course. (Hint: Some car insurance companies may lower your bill when you pass this type of class.)