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Understanding Your Auto Policy

Auto insurance isn’t rocket science, but it can be confusing. Here are simple definitions for six types of coverage within an auto insurance policy:

Protecting Our Young Drivers

Making a difference with young drivers

OK it’s time for your child to get a learners permit and you ask yourself “what have I done to prepare him/her for this”. You’ve probably had the time in the car talking about how to drive safely, or you may be at a loss on where to start. Do you take time to talk about an accident you drive by or see reported on television? Remember when you first began driving, and now fast forward to today. What changes have there been since your first time driving without mom or dad?

Some things remain the same such as speed kills, fixed object rarely move, and seat belts save lives, but much has changed since then. The most significant changes are technology related. Cells phones, audio systems, vehicle components, texting, twittering, face booking, compete with what was once simply talking. The in vehicle noise level is powered by woofers and sub-woofers, with distractions increasing every year.

As with anything in life your child will be making decisions, and learning from the consequences of good or bad choices. And you only hope that you have done everything possible to prepare for this decision- making in your absence.
An asset you might want to use in preparing your child could very well be your insurance agent. Your agent should be able to spend time with you and your child discussing insurance and the financial aspects to safe driving.

As an insurance agent and former fire captain/paramedic I offer this service to my clients. Our conversation is based on my time on the streets responding to vehicle accidents involving young drivers. We talk about human anatomy, designs of vehicles, and what occurs during an accident. We talk about the value of good decision-making, and life altering consequences of bad decisions. We talk about the impact of good vs bad decisions. We talk about the personal impact concerning health and quality of life. We review photos of vehicle accidents and discuss important learning points. We use play money and talk about the financial impact of unsafe driving, and the components of personal auto insurance. We talk about liability, responsibility, accountability, and how something as simple as littering resulted in a suspended license.   

Some of what I discuss is simply repeating what you have already covered with your new driver, but it comes from another source when your agent reinforces what you are trying to say. Hearing safe driving philosophy from a second source with my background, simply adds to your efforts to fully prepare your child to handle driving a vehicle.

If you have an interest in this free community service, please call me to schedule a visit. Even if you aren’t a current customer of my agency I would be glad to make a difference with someone you care about. I also offer this to small groups, should you have a group of young people who might benefit from a program like this. Think about it now, before you ask yourself later “what else could I have done to prepare my child to drive safely”?

2 seconds………………..

Was just enough time to avoid being killed on a Virginia road this past week end.  I was towing my boat to the lake for the maiden voyage, the weather was warm, sunny, and beautiful.

Towing a boat trailer can be a little nerve wracking on narrow country roads. You are trying to keep the right wheel out of the ditch and left wheel on your side of the yellow line and out of the way of oncoming traffic.

I was taking my time and was driving just under the speed limit, when a car blew through the stop sign right in front of me. It happened so fast I didn’t have time to hit my brakes and the car had already crossed the intersection. The driver then slammed on brakes, realizing what they had just done……………….

The car was travelling about 50 mph and would have totaled my pick up and boat, if we had collided. I might have survived since it’s a 4 wheel drive truck, but my body would have taken a beating. If they had struck a small car or motorcycle, chances of survival would have been slim.

I wasn’t mad as I continued driving, but simply thankful for divine intervention, my slow driving, and my good luck. But what I thought of and you might be also wondering, was why this driver was so distracted they failed to stop at the stop sign. What this driver was doing happens around us every day we drive and most of us are guilty of it. This driver was talking on the cell phone, and was so distracted it nearly caused a major accident.

How many times have you been talking on the cell phone and at the end of the conversation can’t even remember the last 10 miles that you drove? Studies show that cell phone use while driving is comparable to driving under the influence of alcohol. In some studies the cell phone user actually performs worse than the alcohol inhibited driver. Simply google “cell phone driver studies” and you can read all day about the various findings of independent researchers.

So as I drove further down the road I thought of seeing this driver with the phone to their ear, and counted my blessings for driving a little slower that day.
The story doesn’t end here as I drove another couple miles and a passing truck dropped a rock, which bounced up and struck my windshield ……………..yes a starburst and now I’m thinking what else is going to happen on my boat’s maiden voyage?

The day did get better, as my new boat ran well, most of the electronics worked properly, there was little traffic on the lake, and it was a pretty day. With my good fortune, my ERIE Insurance provides free windshield repair, so that is scheduled for this week, and I remain thankful for a day in which I returned home safely.
Less than 24 hours earlier I had just completed a young drivers meeting with two teenagers and their parents. In my meetings we discuss driving distractions and spend time talking about cell phone use. We talk about not texting while driving and the value of good judgment on decision making. Both good and bad decisions have lasting impacts on our lives and our quality of life. We also review photos of vehicle accidents, discussing what may have caused them, what injuries the occupants probably received, and how they may have been avoided. We talk about anatomy and physiology, and what happens to the amazingly resilient human body in a vehicle accident. These talks help them to think beyond themselves and today, instead we focus on others and the future.

I enjoy my time spent with young drivers and their parents because I believe in making a difference. My 32 years as a firefighter/paramedic, along with my insurance background, allows me to share information and real stories about real life experiences.  If I don’t share it, my life experiences will simply be my own and of little value. Instead, I share it with the hope of influencing the judgment and good decision making of the next generation.

Should you have a young driver or group of young drivers, consider using your insurance agent to influence their decision making and driving habits. Feel free to contact me if your agent doesn’t provide this service.

Learning life lessons the hard way

Several years ago a former Chesterfield Firefighter had moved back to California to be closer to his wife’s family. There was a beautiful lake called Shasta in northern California his family loved to boat on.

One Sunday evening they launched their boat with plans to spend time after the crowd had already loaded their boats and headed home. They headed to a protected bay away from boat traffic and this firefighter played on a kneeboard while his wife drove the boat and his kids watched.

He did a trick and lost the ski rope and floated in the water waiting for his wife to circle around for him to grab the rope for some more fun. As another boat approached he realized it was heading straight toward him. As he waved his arms to signal he was in the water the boater continued toward him. He remembers the bow hitting him and shoving him under the hull as he pushed with all his strength to get away from the propeller. The propeller cut through his legs destroying both femurs and his knee caps, and he was severely injured. The boat that hit him turned around and the boater asked “hey man are you OK” and the firefighter said “you’ve nearly cut my legs off go get me some help and a medivac helicopter”.

As the boat sped off he relied on his EMT training and held pressure on his wounds, trying to keep from bleeding to death in the cold water. His wife and kids drifted up to him and he was surrounded by blood in the water, as they waited for help. Another boat came by and they asked them to call for help, and that boat sped off.
Little did they know the boater that hit him headed right for the boat ramp and loaded the boat for a quick escape, and never even called for help. The boat operator was drunk and trying to make a getaway before authorities arrived.

They park rangers arrived and it took three of them to load the injured firefighter on a backboard and try to get him in their boat. His injuries were so severe the rangers couldn’t even look at his legs. He had to try to hold his legs together as the boat hit each wave on the ride back to the ramp.

The medivac helicopter arrived and flew him to the hospital where his legs we saved and years of recovery began. To make a long story short, he couldn’t work, all the family savings were depleted and the accident changed their lives forever.

The drunken boater had no insurance on the boat, no home insurance, no assets and no job. There was no way for the firefighter to recover the medical costs, the lost income, the pain and suffering for the rest of his life. Even though the intoxicated boater was given a sobriety test which proved his intoxication, he got away with nearly killing someone and destroying the security of a family.

Approximately 28% of the drivers on Virginia highways are uninsured or underinsured. About 50% of the boaters are underinsured or uninsured. Now is a good time to talk to your insurance agent and make sure you have proper coverage on your auto insurance for uninsured/underinsured motorists and to do the same for your boat insurance.

It’s just as much your responsibility to make sure you have proper insurance protection, as it is the responsibility of your agent. If you are dealing with a 1-800 number insurance service, do your research before selecting liability limits. Cheap insurance may make sense for the budget, but it can often leave you exposed to high levels of risk. Call your agent and schedule an insurance review. Ask questions and get involved to ensure the security of your family.

Summer Safety Thoughts

We all look forward to the summer time and all the activities that come with being outdoors. The fun in the sun is a reward for being cooped up in the house during the winter and rainy spring months.  Along with all the outdoor activity comes increased exposure to risk.

I remember a call I responded to as a firefighter one HOT summer day. We were dispatched to a child locked in a car in front of a convenience store. It was about a 5 minute response and when we arrived the mother was in a panic and the bystanders stood there helpless. We carry special tools for getting into locked vehicles, and can usually do so very quickly without damaging the car, but this time was different. There on the floor of the vehicle the two year old child was crawling around trying to escape the heat. He was beet red, in distress, and had stopped sweating (a bad sign). I had one of my crew members immediately break the glass in a rear door and we snatched the child from the scorching interior. He was so hot to touch, I can still remember that moment. It was the only time I ever saw a need to break the glass on this type of call. The ambulance arrived not long after our engine and the child was immediately transported to the hospital.

All summer long these accidental lock outs occur. Sometimes it’s a case of the driver accidently locking the door and other times the child or dog may lock it. In the heat of the summer sun it only takes a few minutes for this to become a critical emergency. If it happens to you immediately call 911. It’s better to get the fire and police responding to your location and not need them, than to waste precious minutes attempting to get in with a coat hanger. If the car is running with the air conditioner on, that changes things and reduces the degree of danger to the child but you still need to call 911. Many people keep a spare key in their wallet or purse “just in case”. I once had my dog lock my truck door while parked on the beach with an in-coming tide. She had stood up to watch me and stepped on the door lock switch, locking me out and locking her in. My spare key in my wallet saved me that day and I didn’t need to break a window.

A common occurrence during the heat of summer is the afternoon thunderstorm. Just about every day the weather forecast calls for a chance of storms and 50% of the time it’s pretty accurate. Besides the lightening, a relatively unknown danger is the water on the road surface. The first concern is the oils in the asphalt which come to the surface making the roads slick as ice. The second is water collecting on the road surface causing vehicles to hydro plane out of control. I once ran a call for a vehicle accident on I-95 where a car had hydro planed out of control and down the embankment. Shortly after the wrecker arrived another car hit the same spot and hydro planed into the wrecker on the shoulder of the highway.

There are some sections of highway that consistently hold water rather than allowing it to drain properly, resulting in one accident after another in the same location just about every time it rains hard. I remember responding to a call in the Battalion Chief vehicle and when I merged off Powhite Parkway onto the off ramp I was suddenly skimming across the surface of the thin layer of water on the road. For a brief 2 seconds I felt the loss of contact with the road, separated by a thin layer of water. Fortunately the car continued in a straight line onto a dryer section of road and I could again feel the tires in contact with the road. Needless to say it was a terrible feeling if even for a mere two seconds……………

There are several causes for hydroplaning.

1. Driving too fast in the rain.  (SLOW DOWN in rainy conditions)
2. Water too deep on roadway. (SLOW DOWN and never drive into deep water)
3. Tire tread is worn out.  (Replace the tires)
4. Driving in rain after a long drought the water brings the oil to the surface of the road causing the road to be slick. (SLOW DOWN)
5. Turning your steering wheel too fast to make a turn in the rain. (SLOW DOWN)

Another problem with the summer thunderstorms is the power failures that come with high winds and lightning strikes. My last house fire I responded to before retiring was in July of 2009. The power failure in the neighborhood had occurred during a storm and the homeowner was in the middle of preparing dinner on the electric stovetop. After some time without electricity  or air conditioning, the occupants left to spend the night at the home of a friend. The next day they went to work and around noon the power company had repaired the problem and restored the electricity. The pan of grease on the stovetop began heating since the stovetop eye was left in the on position. Two hours later we received a call for the house on fire. The pan of grease had caught fire and set the cabinets on fire, then burned up the stairs to the second floor.

This is a common cause of house fires after the storm has long passed. One more common cause of house fires during and after storms is the use of candles in the house. I ran one house fire where the candle was left burning in a glass container sitting on the plastic shelving in the bathroom. The last remaining part of the candle was burning low enough to heat up the container enough to melt the shelf allowing the candle to fall through to the trash can. This fire burned the entire second floor and through the roof before our fire engine even arrived.

A birthday to remember

One of my last memorable calls as a fire captain/paramedic occurred last spring, and it turned out to be a career high light! Our company was dispatched to a home a few miles away for an “impending birth”. As we approached the scene I was reviewing in my mind some of my training on labor and delivery……….after all this would be a first for me in my 32 years on the job.

The young mother was close to delivering her second child, she had no pre-natal care, and when asked which hospital she wanted to be transported to, she picked the one furthest away…………. I asked if the closest hospital would be ok, and she insisted on her first choice, which was a good 20 minute transport. 

As the firefighter crew loaded her onto the stretcher I approached her husband and laid it on the line. I said “Look, you have two choices. I can transport her to the hospital of her choice, and your baby will be delivered by an EMT and a paramedic………….Or you can convince her to go to the closest hospital and your baby can be delivered by a doctor. It’s your choice, which would you like?” He replied “A doctor of course”! I then asked him to talk some sense into his wife, and after a short discussion he turned to me and said “the closest hospital”.

We carried her out of the house to the ambulance and headed to the hospital 5 minutes away, while getting our equipment open and in place should the baby deliver. I glanced out of the ambulance window and could see the hospital in sight, but we just didn’t have enough time……………… The baby had decided to come into the world as we turned onto the ramp leading off the highway, just a ¼ mile from the emergency room entrance!

Thankfully it was an uncomplicated birth, and we cleared the airway, clamped and cut the cord, wiped him down with towels, bundled him up and placed him in mom’s arms. A nurse opened the rear door of the ambulance to see what was taking so long, and saw three happy faces and one crying newborn.

Here are some things you can do ahead of time to save those precious minutes in getting to the hospital when you call for an ambulance:

Personal Umbrella Policies

How many of us have ever rented a beach house? Have you ever thought about who might be held responsible for damages to the home? Each summer beach houses are damaged by fires caused by the people renting the home. These are typically caused by charcoal or gas grills, kitchen fires, and often by fireworks. When you think of the value of these properties, a question you might think about is how would I pay for such a loss? These houses are often valued in the million dollar plus range, so the physical loss could easily exceed the value of your own home. When you add loss of income into the equation, even a relatively small kitchen fire could result in a loss of income exceeding $100,000.

In this situation the beach house owner’s insurance company would pay for the damages and subrogate against the person’s responsible for the loss. This means seeking restitution from you and your insurance company.

The reason I am sharing this story with you is because I, like many of you, either rented a house this year or will in the near future.  Did you know that your Personal Liability Coverage from your Homeowner’s Policy would actually extend to this disaster?  Most homeowners have from $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage included in their homeowner policy.

The questions to ask are: How would I pay for a million dollar judgment against me? Do I have the assets to cover it? Can I handle having my wages garnished for the rest of my life to pay for it? 

The solution is to have a Personal “umbrella” policy. An umbrella policy covers losses you are responsible for when these losses exceed your liability limits on your auto, home, motorcycle, boat, ATV, RV. These losses can be personal injury or property damage.

You can be the safest person on earth and still have an accident in which you are liable! It can be an auto accident, a drowning in your pool, tub or Jacuzzi, a slip trip or fall in your home, a hunting accident, an injury on vacant land you own, an ATV overturned or injuries from the propeller on your boat.

The more property, vehicles, & toys you have, the greater risk you have for a liability claim. The more assets you have, the more you have to lose.

A typical (2 adult drivers, two cars & home) $1,000,000 Personal Umbrella policy is about $129.00 a year.  Premiums will vary depending on the number of vehicles, homes, and ages of driving age children, etc, but Umbrella policies are generally very inexpensive and invaluable.  The policy also provides coverage for many other liabilities that you may incur, and it also covers you and (family members living in the household) anywhere in the world. 

Thanks for allowing me to assist you with your insurance needs. Should you have an interest or questions concerning a Personal Umbrella Policy, please contact me.

Theft Happens

I was recently on a flight from Richmond to Denver on a major airline. The flight stopped at Charlotte for 90 minutes then continued on to Denver. I always carried my snowboarding jacket with me while travelling instead of packing it in the bags, just in case my bags were lost or delayed. I had even selected this flight so my bags couldn’t be lost switching to a connector flight.

I decided to step out into the concourse for a little while, before the next leg began. As I got out of my seat the stewardess said “Is that your coat in the overhead bin?” I said yes but I was staying on this flight and would it be safe to leave it there while I stepped out to stretch my legs. “Absolutely she replied you can leave it there” and we talked about this being her last flight for the day and another crew was coming onboard. I was the last passenger off the plane, as the cleaning crew was opening the back door.

As I was waiting to re-board the plane I overheard the ticket agents talking about another flight at the adjacent gate, and a passenger much like myself was traveling through to his next destination, and had stepped out as the cleaning crew picked up trash and now his I-Pod was missing……….The tone of the conversation was implicating the cleaning crew which had already denied taking the device.
I went back to my seat and took my spot, and while sitting there a little voice in my head suggested that I check to see if my jacket was still in the bin. I opened the compartment and my heart dropped as I realized it was gone…………….Airline personnel don’t say the words taken, or stolen instead it was “misplaced”.

I went to the crew and let them know what happened, they sent me to the ticket agent who called the cleaning crew, and of course got a denial when asked about the jacket. Lost & found was checked and it wasn’t there and there was little I could do.  I was told to file a misplaced article claim in Denver and sent on my way.

As the last passenger off the plane, you couldn’t suspect another passenger, and any crew member leaving the plane would have had a tough time hiding a bulky jacket while walking through the terminal, but it was so easy to take it out the back door of the plane as the cleaning crew left the plane.

I had plenty of time to think about my monetary loss ($300) and of course the sentimental value and I then began hoping that the articles in my checked bags were safe. I was so thankful that I had taken my carry-on bag with me into the terminal, as it had my laptop in it.

If you may be travelling by air, feel free to use my experience to make a better decision than I did.

THEFT HAPPENS. Everyday a certain segment of the population makes a living stealing the possessions of others in order to sell the items for cash. I allowed myself to be a victim, and paid the price. Here are some things you can do to avoid becoming a victim of theft.

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