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5 Illegal & Deadly Driving Habits

distracted-driving-720Breaking traffic laws can have far greater consequences than a simple traffic ticket. Causing an accident due to negligence could kill or seriously injure you, your loved ones and other drivers. Read and share the following information with your friends and family, particularly young drivers.

  1. Texting While Driving – Driving while texting, emailing or using a smartphone is illegal in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces. While the laws may vary based on the age of the driver or the type of device in use, one thing is clear: distracted driving is dangerous. Numerous studies have shown that texting or using your smartphone while driving substantially increases your chance of injury or death. Injuries and deaths caused by distracted drivers have skyrocketed in recent years. Pull safely to the side of the road and stop before texting or using your smartphone.
  2. Not Wearing Your Seatbelt – Many states and provinces have made driving without a seatbelt a citable offence. Make sure you and anyone else riding in your vehicle is buckled up. Young children should be in an age appropriate child car seat or booster. Click here to learn more about which type of car seat is safest for your child.
  3. Aggressive Driving – Aggressive drivers are dangerous. Weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating and cutting off other drivers can lead to accidents and reckless driving charges. Depending on where you live reckless driving may be a criminal offense and could lead to the loss of your license, expensive fines and even jail time.
  4. Excessive Speeding – Excessive speeding does not mean occasionally going a little bit over the speed limit. Excessive speeding often involves driving at dangerous speeds, putting you and others at risk. Many states and provinces have set thresholds for charging speeders with reckless driving. Being caught speeding in excess of the threshold may mean you will receive a reckless driving charge.
  5. Buzzed Driving – It is no surprise that drunk driving is dangerous and illegal, but some drivers think it is all right to have just a few drinks before they drive. Many states and provinces have drastically lowered the blood alcohol level acceptable for driving. In some cases one or two drinks could land you a DUI charge. Even blood alcohol levels below the legal limit can impair your driving and increase your chance of injury or death in an accident. Teens face zero tolerance laws for drunk driving. This means that it is often illegal for anyone under the age of 21 (22 in Canada) to have any measurable amount of alcohol in their system while driving. First offenses of DUI or DWI may land you in jail and leave you with a criminal record. The best way to avoid DUI or DWI accidents and criminal charges is to avoid drinking and driving all together.

How A DUI Affects Your Insurance Rates

drunk drivingIf you’ve been convicted of driving under the influence (DUI) of alcohol or drugs, it will likely drive your car insurance rates through the roof.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2010 there was an alcohol-related traffic fatality in the United States every 51 minutes. Aside from the risk of killing yourself and others, a drunk driving conviction carries with it serious penalties from your car insurance company.

Auto insurance companies may check your motor vehicle record only once every three years or when you’re applying for a new policy. It’s possible that accidents, tickets and DUIs may never make their way to your official motor vehicle record. However, if your insurer discovers your DUI and classifies you as a “high-risk driver,” shopping around at renewal time is the best strategy, as rates will vary greatly among auto insurers. On the other hand, a rate hike may be the least of your problems; your policy could be cancelled or nonrenewed, especially if you are currently in a preferred rate class. Then you’ll be forced to look for new car insurance with the double-whammy of a DUI and a cancellation on your record.

Laws regarding DUIs and car insurance coverage vary by state. Most states require DUI offenders to get a form called an SR-22 from their auto insurers, so you can’t hide. This form proves to the DMV that you carry liability insurance and removes your license suspension. An SR-22 also requires your insurance company to notify your state’s department of motor vehicles (DMV) if it cancels your auto insurance for any reason. You’ll likely have to file proof of insurance for three — sometimes five — years with your state’s DMV.

Some car insurance companies don’t even offer SR-22 policies, so your policy could be nonrenewed or cancelled because your company can no longer provide what you need.

Car insurance companies can miss DUI convictions

It’s possible that your insurance company will never find out about your DUI conviction if your state does not require you to seek an SR-22. According to the Insurance Research Council, as many as one in five convictions for traffic violations never end up on motor vehicle records due to lack of shared information between courts and motor vehicle departments, or because a conviction has been erased through alternative means, such as driving school. If you get your DUI charge reduced in a plea bargain, or have a limited license suspension, such as 30 days, it’s also very unlikely your insurer will find out about your conviction.

If your insurance company misses the conviction at the time it happens, it may still have a few years to raise rates if the DUI is discovered later. With some insurance companies, you will not face nonrenewal or cancellation because of a DUI, but you may face a rate increase.

When you have a DUI conviction, it doesn’t end with car insurance. Your conviction will follow you if you apply for life insurance and could affect your premiums there, too.

Holiday Parking Lot Safety Tips

Malls and shopping centers will be jammed this holiday season. Unpredictable traffic patterns and preoccupied drivers cause thousands of parking lot mishaps that cost consumers millions of dollars each year. Parking lot safety is especially important during the holidays. Consumers should be particularly cautious about where they park because parking lots are also prime territory for thieves, pickpockets, carjackers and vandals.

Surprisingly, many parking-lot mishaps do not involve two drivers —but rather the result of improper backing into parked vehicles. That increases the likelihood of hit-and-run incidents and the chance that you will be left to pick up the tab. Simple caution is the only real cure to avoid being a victim of parking lot accidents or crime.

Parking lot safety tips for holiday shoppers:

  • Watch for cars cutting diagonally across lots; drive slowly and use your turn signal.
  • When backing out of a parking spot, be aware of waiting cars, others who are backing out at the same time and motorists who speed through lanes.
  • Beware when mailing those holiday greeting cards. Post office parking lots have the highest incidence of accidents due to frequent customer turnover.
  • Don’t park between spots, especially in busy lots. You may gain only retribution from angry fellow shoppers.
  • During the day, park away from buildings to reduce the chance of dings from other car doors or shopping carts and the likelihood of vandalism; but avoid secluded areas, especially at night.
  • Park in well-lit areas. If the lot is inadequately lit, complain to management. Retailers and parking-lot owners can be and have been held liable for personal injury in these cases.
  • Ask mall security to walk you to your car if you feel you are not safe.
  • Always roll up your car windows and lock your car doors.
  • Always have your keys ready when approaching your car and check the back seat and under the car before getting in.
  • Put all shopping bags in your trunk. Do not keep them in the front or back seat where they are visible to thieves.
  • Put all of your packages in the trunk before departing one parking lot and driving to another. Waiting until your next shopping destination allows others to see packages go into the trunk of your car and then you departing into the mall or store.
  • Review your insurance coverage with your insurance agent. Liability coverage will protect you if you hit another motorist, collision will cover the damage to your car, and comprehensive will insure you for damage by vandals or theft of your vehicle.

Dangers of Leaves on the Road

fall-road-leavesWhen leaves accumulate on the roadway and become wet, they can get extremely slippery, making the driving conditions similar to driving on ice. If the temperature drops below freezing, the wet leaves will freeze and turn into dangerous icy leaves on the roadway. Besides reducing the car’s traction, causing skidding and the possibility of losing control of the vehicle, leaves often cover the painted road markings, making it difficult to know the locations of the lanes.

  • Slow down if you are driving on a road covered with leaves, especially when driving around turns.
  • Allow yourself plenty of room to stop in an emergency. Keep a greater distance between you and the car in front of you.
  • Leaves make it difficult to see potholes and bumps in the road.
  • A pile of leaves raked to the side of the road is an inviting place to a child. Children enjoy jumping into the leaf piles or burrowing down into them and hiding. Never drive through a leaf pile. Use caution going around turns and where children are playing.
  • Keep your windshield leaf free to avoid wet leaves getting stuck under the windshield wiper blades.
  • In order to avoid the possibility of a fire hazard from the exhaust system or catalytic converter, never park your vehicle over a pile of leaves .

Pop Quiz: Preparing for College

Pop Quiz: When preparing to send you child to college be sure to review:

1. Their college essay
2. Your bank account
3. The film “Animal House”
4. Their insurance coverage

If you selected insurance, you go to the head of the class. When your child moves from home to college there are a number of insurance questions to consider, especially if he or she is planning to live off–campus. Remember, not all insurance polices have the same terms and conditions. Consult your insurance professional to determine the limits and types of coverage that apply to your family’s lifestyle.

Home sweet dorm

Insurance companies consider college students to be residents of their parents’ home, temporarily residing elsewhere. They also consider your dorm-room contents to be “personal property, located off premises”.

Most homeowners/renters policies limit coverage up to 10 percent of personal property, off premises. If you have $75,000 of contents coverage at home, you will have $7,500 for an off premises dorm room. You will need to decide if that’s enough to repair or replace all electronics and other items likely to fill your trunk, back seat, and roof rack in the fall. If it’s not, you might consider purchasing a separate renters policy or property policy for the dorm room.

Moving on up

Nearly one-fifth of college students rent off-campus apartments. Most insurance companies consider these apartments to be a permanent residence. Therefore, the apartment will not be covered under the parents’ homeowners/renters policy for contents or liability.

Generally, the person who signs the lease is held liable (and may be sued) if someone is injured on their leased premises or by their property. A roommate or parent may also be sued, whether they’ve signed the lease or not, if the injured party thinks the roommate or parents might be responsible for the claim.

Regardless of who signed the lease, when your child is living off-campus they should obtain their own renters policy. Many insurance companies will not insure multiple names, or unrelated names, on a single policy. However, if you, as a parent signed the lease, you and the student should be named as insureds on the policy.

The annual premium for renters insurance is very reasonable, usually less than $250 a year for about $15,000 worth of contents.

Up and away

Studying abroad can provide a host of insurance issues. For example, an insurance company can suspend theft insurance at a student’s domestic residence if he/she has been studying abroad for more than 45 days. Consult your broker to make sure your child is covered in at least the following major areas:

  • Theft of personal property
  • Trip cancellation/interruption
  • Emergency medical evacuation and/or repatriation coverage
  • Health and/or hospitalization

Hot wheels

Few colleges allow freshman living on campus to bring their cars. But 70 percent of the rest of the students have them. Things to consider if you child has a car:

  1. Leave the car at home: You might be eligible for a reduced rate if the car is titled in the student’s name, no one else will be driving it, and the student will reside more than 100 miles away from the car.
  2. Take the car to college and:
  • Notify your insurance company that the car will be garaged in another location. Premiums can be affected positively or adversely by a location change.
  • State laws vary. For instance if your child goes from a “straight-liability” to a “no-fault” state, their liability coverage may not be adequate. Increasing or decreasing policy coverages will impact their premium accordingly.
  • Consider letting your child assume the title to the car if they are 18 years or older. As the titleholder they must get their own auto policy. This will decrease your liability exposure.
  • Discourage your child from allowing others to drive the car. Regardless of who may be using the car and for what purpose, your child is still responsible for the car and what is done with it.

Insuring your legacy

Experts recommend obtaining or increasing your existing life insurance to cover the total cost of your child’s tuition. When figuring that cost you will want to include: tuition, room and board, transportation, books, and supplies. Whether you have a college fund prepared for your child or are paying as they go, life insurance is a secure method to safeguard your child’s education.

Do I Need to Buy Uninsured Motorist Coverage?

teen car insuranceUninsured or underinsured motorist coverage (referred to as UM or UIM, respectively), is a unique form of auto insurance in that it gives drivers an added opportunity to protect themselves from “out there”—specifically, all those people driving with little or no auto liability insurance.

While most states have mandatory minimum limits of liability required of all drivers, many of these requirements are less than sufficient in covering injuries sustained in an auto accident. Hence, the need for UM. Some states also require a minimum amount of UM be purchased; however, many leave that decision to the driver.

In addition to its unique nature, UM is an often misunderstood form of auto insurance. A common question folks ask is why someone should pay for UM if they are covered under some other form of medical or disability insurance? The answer involves understanding what UM will pay for that other policies will not.

UM policies agree to pay for compensatory damages. This term is not specifically defined in a UM policy because its intention is to cover a broad arrangement of expenses you personally incur at the fault of an underinsured driver. While it’s true that some expenses like medical costs may also be covered by your health insurance, others may not be. These expenses include disability income, injuries to passengers, and non-economic losses like pain and suffering.

Further, escalating health costs are leaving more folks without health insurance. In 2007, the number of Americans without any health insurance eclipsed 46 million. Many of these folks drive cars and are one auto accident with an underinsured driver away from financial ruin. For someone with no other medical insurance, UM is an essential, affordable coverage.

So how much UM insurance should you purchase? Since costs like those mentioned above that are covered by your UM can be expensive, it is always recommended that you carry the highest limits available. Lower limits could lead to insufficient dollars available to pay a claim, or worse. Some states’ laws actually prevent recovery under your UM policy if the limits are equal to the state’s minimum auto liability requirement unless the driver who hits you has no insurance at all. While there are certainly those out there, most drivers have at least enough to satisfy their state requirement. Because state laws concerning UM coverage vary, it is important to call your agent when considering changes to your auto insurance.

In a perfect world there would be no need for UM coverage; however there are still quite a few people out there who still haven’t discovered the importance of buying adequate auto insurance. You never know who’s going to cause your next accident. UM can help you rest assured that even if they aren’t covered, you will be.

College Bound

After a long day of work, you check the mailbox and see the letter your family has been waiting to receive for weeks.  The letter is from one of the colleges your child has applied for, and it feels heavier than the other letters that have come. As a parent, no matter how old they get, you can never stop worrying about your children. It is easy to think about what you can do to protect your baby when they leave you soon, because you know that this letter is the ONE.   Tower Insurance Agency is here to help you and your soon-to-be college student.

Insurance on your College Student’s Car?

Insuring a young driver is expensive. Some parents opt to take a cheaper route, by putting a car in their child’s name and getting a totally separate auto policy under the child’s name. While this saves a few dollars, in the long run it can be detrimental if your child is involved in an accident as most policies offer less coverage for a young driver. It is usually better to keep your child on your policy with high limits and an umbrella policy. Also discuss your child, their responsibility in sharing cars with roommates and friends. It is not uncommon for a student to drive his/her roommate’s car on occasion, and there can be issues if neither party is properly insured.

Are my College Student’s appliances and computer covered while away at school?

While every policy is different, most homeowner’s policies cover personal property “owned or used” by an insured if it is damaged or lost due to a covered peril. Your child is an insured as courts have determined that dependent children are covered, even when away from home. Another common stipulation can be that under some policies, personal property usually located at an insured’s residence, other than the resident premises, is only allotted 10% of the policy’s coverage. For instance, if you have a policy for $100,000 and your child loses $15,000 worth of property while away at school, the policy will only cover $10,000, and you would be responsible for the additional $5,000.