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Nothing spells summer like days spent at the beach. As we enter the dog days of summer here in Boston, there are a number things you can do to prepare for a safe trip to the beach. You’ve packed up your gear and are ready to ride the waves and bask in the sun. But with lots of novice and distracted drivers on the road, summer is also prime time for motor vehicle accidents. Keep yourself and your family safe by following some basic summer driving tips.

Driving Vacation

Before heading out on a long trip, have your car serviced. Even if you consistently have the oil changed and tires rotated on schedule, it doesn’t hurt to have your mechanic check out the vehicle before embarking on a long-distance vacation. While you always want to avoid a breakdown, it is especially important when you are far from home.

If your vehicle does not pass muster for a long drive, consider renting a car for your beach vacation needs.

Make Sure the Air Conditioning Works

Many people don’t use the air conditioning in their car on a regular basis. If you’re heading out for a long trip in hot, muggy weather, a broken AC can be more than just uncomfortable. Check your air conditioning before taking the car in for service, so it can be repaired before the onset of your trip.

Do Not Leave Kids or Pets in a Hot Car

If you’re tempted to leave your children or dog in the car “for a minute or two” while you run into a store, avoid that temptation. On a hot day, the temperature inside a closed car can soar to dangerous levels in short order. Not only are you putting your kids or pets at risk, you could face arrest if someone sees them unattended and calls police.

Watch Out for Trucks

Eighteen-wheelers take a long time to stop and have considerable blind spots. When traveling, avoid driving directly beside a semi. Either pass it when safe to do so, or stay behind it. Never cut off a truck. It could be the last thing you ever do.

Avoid Distractions

You know you should never text while driving. But what about when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic en route to the beach. It is always dangerous to take your eyes off the road, and that is especially true in an unfamiliar area. Police officers are on the lookout for distracted drivers, and you could receive a ticket, or worse.

Seat Belts and Car Seats

Safety is critical, and you are a role model for your children. When leaving the beach, resist the urge to not buckle damp, sandy children into their cat seats. Small children are not sufficiently protected by seat belts, so car seats are a must no matter the circumstances. By the same token, always wear your seat belt.

Emergency Kits

Carry two types of emergency kits – one for first-aid and another for roadside assistance. You also want to ensure that your cell phone is always charged, and that you have phone numbers and membership information for your roadside assistance plan. Continue reading

Since the rise of the smartphone generation, distracted driving from cell phone use among teens has been a widely discussed concern among parents, especially.  Signs urging drivers, “Don’t Text and Drive” and “It Can Wait” can be found on highways, residential roads, and bumper stickers.  But there may be another hazard rooted in teenagers’ attachments to their smartphones other than the familiar texting problem.  Liberty Mutual Insurance and Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD) have recently released new research that provides evidence of the dangers mobile applications can pose to adolescent drivers.  The study found that while 27 percent of teens still report texting and driving, up to 68 percent of teens report using apps while they drive.  The teens were also asked to rank hazardous driving behaviors in regards to how dangerous they thought the behaviors were.  Researchers found that these teens perceived using social media apps while driving to be much less dangerous than texting and driving, or driving while intoxicated, for example.

In addition to the self-reported survey the teens completed, the study also included implicit association testing (IAT), a method that has been used for two decades to measure unconscious bias.  Through IAT, teens were given a variety of visual driving scenarios, including texting, using mobile apps, and receiving phone calls, and they were also given a series of words.  The test measured the speed with which the teens associated the different scenarios with the words, which then showed their instinctual feelings in regards to distracted and hazardous driving behaviors.  Examples of words that appeared in the test include, “distracting,” “safe,” and “fun”.  When researchers compared the results of the IAT with the responses the teens gave through the survey, they found several inconsistencies between what the teens said versus how they actually act when presented with the situation.  From the self-reported survey, 95 percent of teens conceded that using a mobile app while driving is dangerous.  Yet, when the same teens were given a virtual scenario of an app notification on their smartphone, a whopping 80 percent of participants linked app use while driving with the phrase, “not distracting.”  Dr. Gene Beresin, senior advisor on adolescent psychiatry with SADD and executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, emphasized the importance of the tests results in providing an insight to adolescent drivers.  “This research identifies teens’ underlying beliefs about key driving habits, providing insight into what teens really believe,” Beresin said.  “Teens as a whole are saying all the right things, but implicitly believe that using their phone while driving is safe and not a stressor or distraction behind the wheel.”

An inherent problem with some mobile apps is that they can be viewed as utilities.  Navigation and music playing apps may even be considered necessary by teens to get from point A to point B.  However, this perception confuses teens by disguising the hazards that are still prevalent in mobile apps.  Although 41 percent of teens surveyed thought that using navigation apps while driving is distracting, 58 percent still say they use them while driving.  Dr. William Horrey, Ph.D., principal research scientist at the Liberty Mutual Insurance Research Institute for Safety, emphasizes “It’s not the apps themselves that are dangerous, but how we, and our teens, interact with them while behind the wheel.”  If teens are constantly looking through playlists, searching for songs, changing the destination while navigating, etc, while using these apps, their driving can be significantly impaired.  However, picking one playlist and setting one destination at the beginning of a trip can allow for safe and undistracted driving. Continue reading

 

Last month, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report emphasizing the importance of properly maintaining guardrails and other hardware to road safety.  Roadside safety “hardware” most often refers to guardrails and median barriers, but the GAO report also includes several other groups of road safety hardware, such as:

  1. “Longitudinal barriers, which include items such as guardrails and cable barriers and are intended to reduce the probability of a vehicle’s striking an object or terrain feature off the roadway that is less forgiving than the barrier;
  2. bridge barriers, which function as longitudinal barriers but are specific to bridge design;
  3. barrier terminals/crash cushions, which include items like guardrail end terminals that are intended to absorb or divert the energy of a crash into the end of a longitudinal barrier;
  4. support structures, such as sign supports, which are designed to break or yield when struck by a vehicle;
  5. work zone devices, which include a variety of items used in a work zone that are temporary in nature.”

In the report, the GAO explicitly states the objective of all kinds of roadside safety hardware, that goal being “when the hardware contains, redirects, or decelerates the vehicle to a safe stop without causing serious injury to the vehicle’s occupants or other people.”  The GAO report also noted the discrepancies shown in a state by state survey.  The survey demonstrated the inconsistencies in the crash testing results of such road safety equipment across different states.  This is likely due to the lack of a monitoring program by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), a program that the GAO insists should be implemented to provide additional support on scheduled safety upgrades.  Continue reading

Commercial insurance is a complicated business, essential to businesses, but often branded by complex coverages, assorted exposures and risk and independently negotiated and priced agreements.  While prices stabilize and new insurers break into the commercial lines industry, it will be vital for companies to focus their efforts on technology in order to conquer new clients, retain existing clients, and successfully serve them all.

Commercial lines insurers are now seeking to leverage data from a broader network of sources with the help of technology investments.  Novarica, a research and advisory firm focused on insurance technology strategy, has recently published a report that shows how predictive analytics, third-party data and multidimensional data are being leveraged by carriers to enhance claims handling and underwriting discipline.  Martina Conlon, senior vice president of Research and Consulting and lead author of the report says, “Drones, loT (Internet of Things), third party data providers and telematics are changing the landscape of underwriting in commercial lines.”  She goes on, “Insurers have the opportunity to use the data from these sources to improve risk assessment and pricing and boost underwriting results.”  Chuck Ruzicka, vice president of Research and Consulting and co-author of the report, builds upon Conlon’s remarks, saying, “The right capabilities are necessary in order to truly take advantage of these emerging technologies and the data available from them.”  Ruzicka adds, “To this end, commercial lines carriers are investing in core systems, advanced analytics, and self-service portals.” Continue reading

Aggressive driving and road rage has long been a problem on American roadways.  Screaming, obscene gestures, and sometimes violence are common on our nation’s streets.  Although many of us have succumbed to our emotions while driving and reacted poorly, there are some staggering statistics you should know before you put the pedal to the metal next time.  Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Auto Vantage auto club show that 66 percent of traffic fatalities are a result of aggressive driving.  They also report that 37 percent of aggressive driving incidents involve a firearm.  The last statistic worth noting is over a seven-year period, there were 218 murders and 12,610 injuries that were attributed to road rage.  Clearly, aggressive driving can be dangerous.  However, did you also know you may be more prone to road rage depending on where you live?

New data published in the AAA Foundation’s annual Traffic Safety Culture Index shows that northeast drivers are more likely to shout at other motorists, aggressively honk, or make offensive hand gestures than drivers from other regions of the country.  This data was collected from 2,705 licensed drivers who drove a vehicle in the past month.  According to the study, almost 80 percent of U.S. drivers have experienced “significant” frustration while driving in the past year.  The study also found that an estimated 8 million U.S. drivers participate in some form of “extreme examples of road rage,” which include honking, yelling, making angry gestures, tailgating or deliberately blocking another vehicle from changing lanes.  AAA reports that drivers from the Northeast are up to 30 percent more likely to make an angry gesture than drivers from other areas of the U.S.  A small percentage of motorists reported engaging in extremely aggressive behaviors, such as tapping or hitting another vehicle or exiting their vehicle to challenge another driver.  “Inconsiderate driving, bad traffic and the daily stresses or life can transform minor frustrations into dangerous road rage,” said Jurek Grabowski who is the director of research for the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.  “Far too many drivers are losing themselves in the heat of the moment and lashing out in ways that could turn deadly.” Continue reading

 

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recently performed a series of headlight evaluations in which none of the 21 types of small SUVs tested received a good rating.  Only four of the 21 vehicles were determined to have acceptable headlights.  The 21 vehicles have a total of 47 different headlight combinations available.  However, two-thirds of these headlights have been rated poor.  The performance of this set of vehicles is even worse in regards to vehicle lighting than the midsize cars that were first to be rated earlier this year.

The government standards for headlight performance are based on tests performed in laboratories, which poses a problem as these tests to do not accurately depict headlight function in real-world driving.  Yet, it has been found that about half of traffic deaths occur at times when additional light is need, i.e. at night or during dusk or dawn.  In the IIHS evaluations of midsize cars earlier this year, it was found that pricier vehicles did not correlate with better headlight quality.  Modern headlight technology, including high-intensity discharge (HID), LED lamps, and curve-adaptive systems, also has not been proven to be more effective as lighting systems.  IIHS Senior Research Engineer Matthew Brumbelow made a statement, saying “Manufacturers aren’t paying enough attention to actual on-road performance of this basic equipment.”  He goes on to say that they are optimistic that auto manufacturers will quickly change the headlight technology on their vehicles after this recent underwhelming headlight evaluation report.  Looking ahead to 2017, vehicles will need headlight ratings of good or acceptable in order to qualify for the TOP SAFETY PICK+ award.

The IIHS headlight rating system doesn’t discriminate between headlight technologies.  Although some studies have shown certain benefits for more advanced and modern lighting systems, the government rating system only measures the amount of usable light in the laboratory tests.  IIHS engineers use the Vehicle Research Center’s track after dark to test the headlights of vehicles.  Vehicles travel around the track using five different approaches: traveling straight, a sharp left curve, a sharp right curve, a gradual left curve and a gradual right curve.  A special device is used to measure the amount of light projected from both low beams and high beams of the vehicles when completing all five approaches.  Additionally, the glare from low beams for approaching drivers is measured.  A maximum score of marginal can be earned for vehicles determined to have excessive glare.  The only particular technology that has been applauded by the IIHS is high-beam assist, a feature that automatically switches between high and low beams depending on if there are oncoming vehicles present.  Because this feature is expected to decrease the overuse of high beams, vehicles can receive bonus points for having this technology.  Continue reading

In the past few years, various automakers and technology firms have been competing to develop a safe autonomous vehicle.  Among the companies involved are many well-known automakers, namely Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla, as well as tech firms like Google.  The concept grew from the logic that computers should be able to more safely operate vehicles than humans who commit errors or unsafe driving behaviors frequently.  This premise may be under scrutiny after a deadly automobile accident involving a self-driving car.  The accident occurred on May 7 in Williston, Florida and involved a Tesla Model S electric sedan.  The driver of the Tesla sedan was killed while the car was in self-driving mode.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made a statement about the incident saying a tractor-trailer made a left turn in front of the vehicle, and the car failed to apply the brakes.  This is the first known incidence of a fatal crash in which the vehicle was driving itself by means of computer software.  The driver was identified by Florida Highway Patrol as Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio.  Brown was a Navy veteran who owned a technology consulting firm.  Tesla made a statement on Thursday saying Brown was a man who “spent his life focused on innovation and the promise of technology and who believed strongly Tesla’s mission.”  Brown had previously posted several videos of himself using the autonomous Tesla vehicle.  In one, he applauded the technology for successfully preventing an accident involving his car.

The release of this story has been detrimental to Tesla’s efforts in expanding its product line from pricey electric vehicles to more conventional models.  It is still unclear whether the car the driver, or both were to blame for the lethal accident.  In a news release, the company said, “Neither autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor-trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied.”  Many critics of self-driving cars have noted that this is evidence that computers cannot make “split-second, life-or-death decisions” as humans often need to.  Companies have been conducting tests using self-driving vehicles in private courses as well as public roads.  However, it does not seem that the technology has been tested and developed enough for the government to sign off on the autonomous cars.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has recently been working on new regulations concerning testing these self-driving cars on public roads which are anticipated to be released sometime this month.  Continue reading

Uber made an announcement last Wednesday stating it has been recently testing new software that tracks and analyzes data from individual drivers in an attempt to increase safety for Massachusetts Uber users.  The technology tracks things like sudden acceleration, braking and whether drivers are holding their phones when they drive.  This is similar to data that is collected by trucking companies and fleet operators.  Some auto insurers also offer discounts to their customers who voluntarily install a data-collection device in their vehicle.  Uber announced that they will be requiring drivers in several cities to install this software.  The announcement comes amidst many conversations about if there should be stricter regulations on ride-hailing businesses, such as Uber.  Simultaneously, the San Francisco-based company is trying to manage its strained relationship with its drivers.  Uber drivers are independent contractors, not employees, and have often sued Uber over pay and working conditions.  Most recently, Uber adjusted the app to allow drivers more discretion to reject rides and to charge passengers who make them wait.

Uber says the new software is not specifically being used to penalize or reward drivers, though it does track behaviors that are often the reason drivers receive low ratings.  The information will be useful to drivers who do receive low ratings so that they may alter their driving to prevent additional complaints.  Repeated low ratings can result in drivers being suspended from the transportation company.  Because Uber already operates using an app, adding the new software is as simple as providing an update to users and drivers.  The new program implements the same gyroscope and motion sensors that allow smartphone users to play games on their devices.

This software will allow Uber to measure the car’s movement and also assess how quickly the driver accelerates or brakes.  A daily summary is then sent to drivers, noting how often they accelerated or decelerated too quickly.  Uber emphasizes that this is simply an automated process, meaning there is no human intervention if a driver is dangerously unpredictable on the road.  Instead, Uber tells users to access the “help” feature on the app.  In addition to this feature, there will be a sensor used to sense “phone movement.”  This program will be installed to detect if drivers are holding their phones while transporting passengers.  Uber plans to remind drivers that this behavior can be a distraction.  In the beginning stages of implementation, the company may also ask passengers if they saw their drivers holding a phone during the trip.  A third feature will immediately notify drivers if they are traveling excessively fast, specifically 15 mph above the speed limit.  Lastly, periodic reminders will be given to drivers about the importance of taking semi-frequent breaks.  Continue reading

Actor Anton Yelchin, 27, who played Chekov in the recent “Star Trek” movies was killed two weeks ago when his 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee slid backwards and pinned him against a brick pillar and a security fence.  Fiat Chrysler recalled more than 1.1 million of these models and large cars in April because some drivers exited vehicles without putting them into park.  The company said it was aware of 41 potentially related injuries during the time it announced the recall.  However, U.S. safety regulators said on Tuesday that there were 68 reported injuries and 266 reported crashes in vehicles that have the confusing gear-shifting control.  Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne said on a conference call that the recall would include a software update that would automatically shift the vehicles into park.  Critics are claiming this is a perfect example of how things become harder to use when you take the controls out of hardware and put them into software.

The underlying issue of the recall is that the Jeep’s shift lever doesn’t mechanically control the transmission, although it looks and moves like a traditional shift lever.  The shifter does not give any tactile feedback as to what gear you are in because it returns to the center position after each shift.  Therefore, to determine which gear you are in, you have to look at the LEDs on the shifter, which are often blocked by your hand, or the digital display in the instrument cluster.  This has caused a lot of confusion among drivers, resulting in them failing to put the vehicles in park.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration made a statement in February saying, “[T]he Monostable shifter is not intuitive and provides poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.”  Unlike other car companies who use this type of shifter, there isn’t an override to automatically put the car into park if the door is open. Continue reading

Self-driving cars are no longer a futuristic dream of the past.  Several top automobile companies, like Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla, have been designing and testing cars that can operate themselves.  Tech companies are also attempting to create safe and reliable self-driving cars.  According to researcher HIS Automotive, thousands of driver less cars will be sold in the U.S. in 2020, reaching almost 4.5 million by 2035.  Although these forecasts are legitimate, the U.S. auto safety chief said that these self-driving cars must increase safety at least twofold in order to make a significant difference in the total loss of life that occurs in automobile accidents in the U.S. annually.

Last year alone, there was a total of 38,000 deaths on American roads.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that 94 percent of deaths that occur on the road are a result of human error.  It may seem like an easy solution, remove the human, remove the errors.  But, it has been ruled that self-driving software, such as Google’s software, actually might have the same amount of risk as a human driver.  In January, it was announced that NHTSA would soon issue guidelines governing self-driving cars within six months.  These guidelines include, how the vehicles would be tested and what standards they have to be upheld to in order for these cars to be permitted on the road.  These standards are described as a “model state policy” including local regulations of self-driving cars in order to “help support a uniform, consistent framework.”  President Barack Obama has also shown support for autonomous-vehicle technology, proposing 2017 budget calls including spending $3.9 billion over the next 10 years on developing this technology.  These cars should not only function safely, but more safely than vehicles that have human drivers in order to make a noticeable difference in the number of automobile accidents each year.

There are many countries and companies in the race to put the first safe and reliable autonomous car on the market.  The two main countries competing are the U.S. and China.  China’s version of Google, Baidu, is working on developing a self-driving car as well.  Initially, China seemed like a great place to experiment with such a car, considering the amount of deaths that occur there as a result of automobile accidents (261,367 deaths in 2013 according to the WHO’s latest report).  However, it is now understood that self-driving cars operate best in a predictable environment in which all rules of the road are followed.  In China, as often times in the U.S., motorists, pedestrians, bikers, and the like often view traffic signals as suggestions, not as laws that must be followed.  To date, Google’s cars have traveled more than 1.5 million miles and have only cause one crash since 2009. Continue reading

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