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Daniel T. Murray Blog: tips

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For most of us, the act of driving is part of our daily routine; it feels like second nature. But safe driving requires our focus and attention. Left-hand turns top the list of the most challenging and dangerous driving maneuvers. In 2013, 31% of Arbella Insurance Group’s severe accidents—claims totaling at least $100,000 in bodily injury and property damage—involved a left-turning vehicle.

As those with the largest set of crash data, the insurance industry has a responsibility to better educate consumers on the risks of left turns and other dangerous driving moves. Municipalities should also work to build and restructure roads and intersections to lessen the risk for drivers. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that nationwide, 53.1% of crossing-path crashes involve left turns. Additionally, a study by New York City transportation planners found that left turns were three times as likely to cause a deadly crash involving a pedestrian.

The reason left-hand turns are so dangerous is because the act itself disrupts the flow of traffic. Drivers must gauge the speed and distance of oncoming cars, cross the opposite lane, and watch for pedestrians or bicyclists—many of whom are becoming increasingly distracted themselves, largely due to cell phones. All driving, but particularly left turns, requires vigilance to other drivers’ movements in addition to just your own. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that close to half of the 5.8 million car crashes in the U.S. are intersection-related and the majority of those are the result of making a left turn.

So what can we in the insurance industry do to help mitigate the risks associated with left turns? We must communicate the risks involved with left-hand turns and encourage our insureds to make the maneuver as safe and risk-free as possible. This can be done by sharing safety information through social media targeted at customers and independent agents. Content for these communications can include recommendations for using intersections controlled by left-turn arrows, jug handles or rotaries; paying close attention to distracted pedestrians; staying alert when combating the sun or oncoming headlight glare; and paying close attention to other vehicles’ speed and actions, rather than anticipating what they will be. Also consider communicating the benefits of eliminating left turns from daily driving routines—the average commuter may be surprised to know that research shows consecutive right turns are faster and more fuel-efficient. This can be especially impactful to commercial customers who are better able to regulate the routes and movements of their drivers.

Could the future of driving be free of left turns? Perhaps, but it’s unlikely. Thankfully, vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology (V2V)—the dynamic wireless exchange of data between nearby cars—has reportedly advanced to such a degree that the NHTSA could start requiring it in all new vehicles as soon as 2020. Having this technology on the road could prevent as many as 592,000 left-turn and intersection crashes a year, saving 1,083 lives. But until these vehicles are the majority on the highway, left turns will continue to pose serious risks to drivers, and we need to continue to mitigate those risks through increased communication and improved engineering on all roads across the United States.

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Posted 9:12 AM  View Comments


Continuing from last week's post, read more to see how you can be prepared for any scenario.

Tools and Materials for Emergency Repairs: You don't need to be ready for a full scale remodeling project but you do need some basics. What if a tree branch falls and breaks a window? In the middle of summer it's an annoyance, in the middle of a winter outage it's a giant icy hole to the outside world that will drop the temperature of your home below freezing in a matter of hours. Some heavy duty plastic sheeting and duct tape might not have the insulation value of a triple-pane window but it will keep hot air from drafting right out into your yard.

Communicating from the Winter Wonderland: Phone lines can be damaged by winds and ice, but it is very rare for a winter storm to wipe out the cellular network in an area. Keep your cellphone charged and make sure you have a car charger for it—if the power outage is extended you'll need to top it off at some point. If cellphone service is spotty, you may want to consider sending an SMS message to communicate with friends and family. Often times SMS messages go through just fine when trying to place an actual voice call is sketchy due to weak signal. If you live in the countryside you might consider investing in a couple GMRS/FRS hand-held radios with some neighbors. You can pick up a modest but functional walkie-talkie set for around $30.

Stay Well Stocked: If you live in an area where weather can keep you holed up, you need to get into the practice of shopping ahead. When you're buying your regular groceries, purchase a few extra non-perishable things to stock in the pantry. Don't wait to do your grocery shopping until it is critical that you get out that day to do so. The same principle applies to non-food items like batteries, salt and sand for your walk and driveway, and keeping your gas tank full in your car.

Scaling Preparation for Your Situation and Budget: Finally, as we mentioned above, you'll need to scale your level of preparation to your budget and needs. If you can afford it and live in an area with frequent power outages, although a bit pricey, a home generator is a great investment. An apartment dweller that experiences extremely infrequent and brief outages could simply stockpile some batteries under the bed.

The important part in preparing for inclement weather and power outages is to run through potential and reasonable scenarios and what you need to do in various situations that may arise. What if an ice-laden tree falls onto your house? What if the power is out for more than a day? How will I heat food with no electricity? Does the heating system of your home require electricity? Have I told my roommate, spouse, or child what the plan is in the event of an emergency? Asking and answering questions like these well before you're under the stress of the actual situation helps you plan properly and keep stress to a minimum when that Douglas Fir actually does come through the picture window or the guy on the emergency weather radio says power won't be restored until next Tuesday. A small amount of planning now yields a lot of comfort later.

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Posted 10:58 AM  View Comments


You likely have all sorts of things in your home right now that would serve you well in an emergency, with a few additions and some organization, you'll have a functional kit and contingency plan.

Creating a home emergency kit can be a simple to enormous undertaking depending on the level of energy and preparation you want to invest into it. Most people are on the "Stay warm and fed until the power comes back on" camp, not the "Prepared for zombie apocalypse" camp, and though it never hurts to prepare for the worst we'll be focusing more on the former than the latter.

Once you read over the following tips you can adopt them to fit your needs based on your locale and weather, size of your home, and how much storage space you have available.

Know The Lay of the Land: Before all else you want to know how to control your home in the event of an emergency. Do you know where the water shutoff valve is? The emergency shut off valve for the gas? Which circuit breakers go to which part of your home? Many home emergencies can be quickly neutralized by knowing how to shut down the infrastructure of the home. Make sure the rest of the people in the house know how to do things like kill the water or electricity. It may not seem critical now, but if a pine tree comes crashing through your kitchen and water is spraying everywhere, knowing how to stop the geyser of water becomes quite important.

Rotate Your Semi-Perishable Food: Canned goods and bottles of water keep well enough, but not forever. Arranging your pantry so that cans don't linger at the back ensures that when you're snowed in you'll be eating fresh canned fruits and vegetables instead of the dusty cans from three Thanksgivings ago. You can go all out and build a rotating shelf to keep your canned goods fresh, but for smaller scale storage a simple wire-frame can dispenser will fit on most pantry shelves.

Keep Batteries and Flashlights on Hand: You'll always want batteries on hand. When it comes to keeping the lights on when the power is out, flashlights are king. Candles are a tragedy waiting to happen. Hundreds of house fires are started every year during power outages as people light up candles en masse to brighten their dark homes. It's 2009, you can buy ultra-efficient LED flashlights for less than the cost of a DVD. Even with the power out there's no excuse for lighting your home with fire.

Have Alternative Heat: If you're preparing for a winter storm you most likely live somewhere with icy winter conditions and deep snow fall. When keeping warm during a winter storm there are two levels of warmth: safe and comfortable. If you're wearing layered clothing and have lots of blankets, 40-50F in your house is safe but not particularly comfortable. Nobody will get frost bite and pipes won't freeze. Comfortable is a personal thing—I'm comfy at 55F, most people prefer at least in the upper 60s—and you'll need to plan accordingly for it. Fireplaces, kerosene space heaters, and other combustion-based sources of heat are less than ideal compared to the efficiency and safety of a central furnace but when operated properly can help keep you warm until power and order are restored.

You absolutely need to make sure that whatever alternative source of heat you plan on using during an outage is clean, operational, and that everyone who will be using it understands how to use it safely. Clean out the chimney before you need it and give that kerosene heater a trial run when you're not under pressure. Unfortunately, unlike swapping candles for LED flashlights, there isn't an ultra modern replacement for ditching combustion-based heat for something fancy. Safety first!

Come back next week to finish reading about tips to prepare you for any situation that may arise.

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Posted 10:58 AM  View Comments


Soon, ghouls, goblins and The Little Mermaid will be at your front door. Are you prepared?

We aren’t talking candy-bought, decorations-up prepared. We mean, what happens if Glenda the Good Witch breaks her arm or your house is egged? Are you covered for that? Or will a night of tricks and treats become an expensive horror?

[insert Hitchcock-approved music here]

Note: Not all insurance policies are created equal! The following guidelines are standard, but there are exceptions. It’s important to get to know your insurance policy before you have to file a claim.

Here are three possible Halloween problems, and the skinny on what is and isn't covered by a typical policy.

Trick-or-Treater Slips and Falls

Trick-or-treating can be really exciting! So exciting that little kids run and trip. And fall. Fortunately, most homeowner policies provide liability coverage if someone is injured on your property. The standard amount per occurrence is  $100,000, but you may be able to increase this amount depending on your policy. Tip: To prevent this from happening, it’s important to prepare your house for Halloween! Plenty of lights and a clear walkway will decrease the likelihood of an accident. 

Note: If you’re sued because of the accident, your policy may also pay to defend you in court. But keep in mind that you’re typically only covered for negligence. You aren’t covered for intentional injuries – meaning if little Glenda the Good Witch hurts little Kevin the cowboy, you won’t be covered!

Jack-o-Lantern Catches Fire

Do you light your jack-o-lantern with a candle? If so, you’re not alone. Over the last three years, an average of 15,500 fires per year were caused by an open-flamed jack-o-lantern, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Fortunately, most homeowner policies cover fire from a lit candle or a string of decorative electrical lights. If the fire displaces your family, insurance will typically cover the cost of additional living expenses.

Note: Coverage may be limited due to “negligence” depending on the origin of the fire – for example, if you had a bonfire in your living room, that’s negligence. If you're planning an ambitious flame display this year, check with your insurance company to determine how they define “negligence.”

“Tricks” Dent Your Siding 

For the most part, “trick-or-treat” is heavy on the treat part. But, not always. Sometimes, tricks happen, too. And next thing you know, your house is egged (or worse), and there’s damage to your siding!

If this happens to you, it’s considered vandalism under most standard insurance policies, which means you will be protected. If the repair cost exceeds your deductible for vandalism, the insurance company will cover the repairs. If you’re concerned about any mischief on Halloween, double-check your homeowners insurance policy to make sure vandalism is covered.

Note: Many policies don’t cover vandalism if a property has been vacant for 30 days or more. If you’re planning an extended trip or have a second home, speak with an agent about the vandalism portion of your policy.

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Posted 10:12 AM  View Comments


As you age, your insurance needs change. While in your younger years you worry about protecting your property and income, protecting your assets becomes a higher priority later in life.

"Changes in your life can mean big changes in your insurance needs. A change in marital status, the birth of a child or a purchase of a home can all trigger a gap in your coverage. That's why (you should revisit) your policy at least once a year, or whenever you experience a big life change." says Jeff Reinig, head of personal lines underwriting from Farmers Insurance in Los Angeles.

Here, experts recommend the insurance needs to consider – and the gaps to avoid – as you move through different stages of life.

In your 20s and 30s

Experts say now is the time to set yourself up for the future.

Start by protecting your valuables, even if they are few to speak of at this point. Homeowners, condo or rental property insurance will cover the cost of replacing or fixing your belongings, and you should also protect unique and valuable assets, like that diamond engagement ring, for instance, with a floater on your policy.

Married or have children? Then you definitely need some form of life insurance. Consider term life insurance, a more affordable option at this stage. Term policies cover you for a specific length of time and pay only a death benefit. And plan to purchase group life insurance through your employer if it's offered. Another factor to consider when purchasing life insurance is your debt. More debt equals a higher need for life insurance.

Carpool? You should consider the liability impact of a car accident, especially if you're carpooling to work or driving your kids – and their friends – to practices. Ideally, your liability insurance will cover your assets in the event of a lawsuit due to a car crash.

In your 40s

The key here is your health and how it has changed or will change.

"You really do have to take a hard look at how much coverage … you want to lock in for the long term, because your health can start to go downhill and you want to make sure you don't paint yourself in a corner," says Cal Brown, market manager for Savant Capital Wealth Management in McLean, Va.

Remember, the less healthy you are, the more it costs to buy life insurance, and in some cases, you won't be able to purchase it at all.

Your income might grow, but so will your family's dependence on that income. You'll likely acquire more assets as well, so evaluate your life insurance and home insurance to make sure it's adequate. You – or your family – don't want to uncover a gap in coverage in case an unexpected accident occurs.

Keep in mind, your children also present an increasing risk as they start driving, going to unsupervised parties and doing other things that raise your risk. You will need to add your driving teens to your auto insurance policy, and experts recommend increasing your liability coverage to cover the potential cost of damages or injuries your kids might cause during this time.

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Posted 1:53 PM  View Comments


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