FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 8, 2013
Winter driving can be tricky; the colder it gets, the more likely it is that roads can become slick. Even a road that's been sitting in the sun all day can turn into a hazard if water oozes onto it in the sunlight and then freezes when shadows pass over it.
Just last week, white out conditions on a freeway near Detroit caused a 30-car pileup that killed three and injured 20. People who weren't expecting anything—some of them creeping along at 30 miles per hour—ended up crashing right into the confused jumble of wrecked cars, jackknifed trucks, and spilled chemicals ahead.
The point is, you never know when conditions are going to take a turn for the worse, but if they do, here are a few pointers on how to stay out of trouble. Some of these things can come in handy in the summer, too, but winter throws an extra wrench in the works when temperatures plummet.
Hopefully you'll never have to find out what getting in a snowy (or any) pileup feels like. These simple tips can help.
1. Slow down
If conditions get wet, cold, and especially if you can't see well, dial back your speed a few notches. You don't want to be surprised by slow or stopped traffic ahead. Look what happened to all of those unfortunate Michiganders on I-75. But watch your six (that's the rear), too. There may be someone behind you whose reticent voice of reason has them truckin' like it's 80 degrees and sunny.
2. Traction is everything
You control your vehicle with steering, braking, and acceleration. When it gets slick, go easy on the accelerator, but also on the steering wheel and brakes. If you jerk the wheel in wet snow, the car will likely continue to go in a straight line even if the tires are turned all the way to one side. It's the most extreme type of understeer you'll ever experience. Braking, obviously, doesn't work well when the tires don't stick to the ground, so you have to start braking much sooner when the road is slick. Basically, observe tip No. 1 and try to plan your maneuvers in advance.
3. Keep on top of the weather
Most places in the continental U.S. experience cold snaps, at least occasionally, so ice and snow can become a problem faster than you think. Even in Southern California, a sudden onset of heavy rain or fog can cut visibility to nil and surprise motorists who aren't used to driving in bad conditions. It's a good practice to have an idea what the weather is going to be like year round, but it's especially important in winter, when a snow storm can put the kibosh on even a short drive. If you're planning a long trip, check weather reports frequently to make sure your route won't lead you through some impassable tempest.
4. Assume that other drivers are amateurs
This really depends upon where you live, but unless you're in some tiny Minnesota town where you're acquainted with everybody and know who can drive like a Scandinavian ice racer, don't give other drivers the benefit of the doubt. If you see another car coming, give it as much space as possible. When coming up behind another car, maintain plenty of distance between it and yourself. If someone decides to pass you in the dark on an icy blind curve, let 'em have at it. Slow down and move over so that if they do eat it, you don't get taken out, too.
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MONDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2012
First comes the storm, then — all too often — the higher insurance premiums.
When Hurricane Sandy makes landfall this weekend it could cause as much as $1 billion in damage along the eastern seaboard, by some estimates. The result could be widespread damage to homes, including fallen trees, torn-off roofs and broken windows. And even homeowners spared the worst of the storm might not get off entirely scot free: Insurance agents say premiums may rise and coverage could be slashed for homes in affected areas, whether or not they file claims. “Even if you haven’t been hit, [that] doesn’t mean some of your neighbors haven’t been adversely impacted by the storm — and that could impact you,” says Michael Barry, a spokesman for the Insurance Information Institute, which represents home insurers.
Homeowner insurance premiums have been on the rise for years. They average $1,004 this year, up 5% from a year ago and up 22% since 2007, according to the Insurance Information Institute. This is the first year the national average cracked the $1,000 mark. Meanwhile, insurers in some states have already raised premiums by as much as 12% this year .
Insurers cite several reasons for the spike, including losses from claims filed in previous years and low returns on their investments.
But critics say insurers have more leeway to avoid hiking insurance premiums for the time being. The first half of this year saw a drop in catastrophic losses, which totaled $13.8 billion, compared to $24.4 billion during the same period a year ago, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The industry’s overall net income after taxes skyrocketed during this period to $16.4 billion, compared to $4.8 billion a year prior.
Still, the risk of rising premiums or scaled back coverage isn’t off the table, especially as severe weather events rise in frequency in the northeast. In the last 14 months, the region has been hit by Hurricane Irene, a severe October 2011 snowstorm, and now there’s pending Hurricane Sandy. “They’re looking at changing weather patterns and saying this is changing the way we need to look at risk,” says Scott Simmonds, an independent insurance consultant in Saco, Maine.
To avoid changes to clients’ policies, some independent insurance agents say they will recommend they don’t file claims from this storm. Spencer Houldin, president of Ericson Insurance, an independent insurance agency based in Washington Depot, Conn., says he plans to tell clients who’ve filed two claims within the past three years to refrain from filing another one related to a natural disaster—if they can afford to cover the costs for the repairs themselves. Otherwise, he says, there’s a good chance their insurance company won’t agree to provide coverage when their policy is up for renewal. (Even if they don’t file, insurers could look to raise premiums anyway, says Barry.)
The type of coverage homeowners receive could also change. Some experts say if severe weather events persist in the Northeast, insurance coverage could begin to mirror policies in the Gulf Coast. In the Gulf Coast many basic homeowner insurance policies have limited wind damage coverage — or exclude it entirely. “As more of these events happen, the chances increase that policy structures will change,” says Simmonds.
For its part, the insurance industry says that’s an unlikely scenario for much of the Northeast for the time being. Barry says roughly 98% of homeowner insurance policies in New York are provided by private insurers. In some Gulf Coast states, by contrast, many homeowners are now covered only by state-run property insurers of the last resort.
So what can homeowners do? If the loss sustained by Hurricane Sandy is too large to realistically cover on their own or if it’s the first damage in years, experts say they should file a claim with their insurer. Keep in mind that insurers can’t raise premiums or drop coverage until a policy is up for renewal. And even then in many states they’ll need approval from the state’s insurance department before they can do this.
If premiums rise, homeowners can avoid that hit by increasing their deductible. But that means they’ll have to pay more out of pocket when they file a claim in the future.
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