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Are YOU the mean holiday driver that everyone hates?
Anyone who's watched shoppers morph into storm troopers while grabbing bargains knows how intense the holidays can be. The seasonal crazy-making also leads to aggressive driving and more accidents, according to a new report.
State Farm and KRC Research recently surveyed 1,000 drivers nationwide, with nearly a third confessing that they're likely to be more aggressive behind the wheel during the winter holidays. About two out of three (64 percent) of those questioned say they've been victimized by a reckless or harried driver six times or more during the past three months.
What qualifies as aggressive driving? It could mean anything from speeding to changing lanes dangerously and cutting someone off to driving erratically in a crowded shopping mall lot while searching for a parking spot. These year-long threats get worse around the holidays, especially leading up to Christmas, says Chris Mullen, State Farm's director of technology research.
"There are various contributing factors, including that traffic is way up this time of year," she says. "Crashes are up around Thanksgiving and especially December 21 to 26. People tend to be more frustrated, more stressed, and that impacts their driving. In general, people are driving too fast, usually to get someplace or get something done, when their emotions are high."
Drivers during the holidays: Grinch or angel?
Finding a parking space, which can feel like a futile odyssey during a busy gift-buying day, presents challenges. A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety shows that about 20 percent of all vehicle accidents happen in parking lots, with the crashes accounting for more than 14 percent of all collision claims each year.
"It can be very stressful, going around and around looking for a spot when the lot is so full," Mullen says. "But our advice, as it is all year, is to be aware of your periphery, what's around you, and relax. Just try to take your time."
Here are the survey's other key findings, according to State Farm:
- Forty-four percent of drivers said they've driven aggressively in the past three months.
- Thirty-two percent of younger drivers (ages 18 to29), 28 percent of those middle-aged (30 to 49) and 30 percent of parents were "significantly more likely" to report being provoked by an aggressive driver or drive aggressively themselves around the major winter holidays. But only 9 percent of older drivers (50 and above) and 15 percent of non-parents were in that category.
- About half of participants said men and women were equally courteous when driving. But when asked about being aggressive behind-the-wheel, 54 percent said men were more likely to be culprits. Ten percent said women were more likely. Thirty-seven percent thought men and women were equally inclined to drive aggressively.
- Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said traffic jams are the biggest contributor to aggressive driving, followed by running late (55 percent) and problems tied to road closures or construction (47 percent).
Car insurance rates can increase after an accident - bah humbug!
An accident you cause might lead to a jump in your car insurance rates. Even a fender-bender in the mall lot could bring a small hike if you're at fault, although some insurers do forgive these minor mishaps, especially if you have a good driving record. Motorists can also expect higher premiums, sometimes much higher for repeat offenses, if they're ticketed for speeding or reckless driving.
If you hit someone else's car and damage it while doing holiday errands, the driver can file a claim under your property damage liability, says Penny Gusner, consumer analyst for CarInsurance.com. If your car is damaged, you must have collision coverage to file a claim - but only if the cost to fix the damage exceeds your deductible amount. If it's lower, then you'll need to pay out-of-pocket for the repairs.
If your car gets hit, and the other driver is insured, you can make a third-party claim against the individual's property damage liability coverage. If the insurance company finds its driver at fault, it should pay for your vehicle's repairs, says Gusner.
If the other driver's insurer denies your claim for some reason, or the other car is uninsured, you must have collision coverage to make a first-party claim with your own car insurance company for your vehicle's damage. You will have to pay the collision deductible, but if your car insurance company finds the other party at fault, it might pursue that individual for payment and may be able to recoup your deductible in the process, says Gusner.
Don't get scrooged by a holiday car accident
Here are a few motoring tips, as suggested by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the Department of Transportation and State Farm:
- Control your behavior. Speeding and driving too fast for road conditions accounts for about one-third of all fatal car crashes, so resist the urge to rush even if you're in a hurry. Also, don't run lights - it's one of the most common causes of collisions in metro areas, says the insurer.
- Control your emotions. Try not to take the bad driving behavior of others as a personal assault and keep a check on your competitive spirit when behind the wheel - get out of the way of an aggressive driver.
- Understand driving conditions in advance. The GHSA says you should consider the weather, heavy traffic or parking lot congestion when determining if you'll need extra time for a trip. Also, use public transportation when expecting disruptive weather or crowded highways.
Homeowners insurance: Bountiful coverage for bad cooking
Thanksgiving Day is typically a chance to carve out some quality time to eat, drink and be merry with family and friends, but if your feast goes foul, knowing what you're liable for and what your home insurance covers will help.
"All hosts should be aware that if someone drives drunk or becomes sick after consuming food at a holiday party, the host could actually be liable," Robert Rusbuldt, CEO of Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America (IIABA), said in a written statement.
For protection, the Insurance Information Institute advises taking common-sense steps such as practicing perfect kitchen hygiene, and the IIABA says you should be aware of your state's "social host liability laws."
On the banquet front, keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say food-borne illnesses are responsible for about 128,000 hospitalizations and 3,000 deaths each year.
If a guest gets food poisoning, a typical homeowners insurance policy would likely cover the cost for a trip to an emergency room. If medical expenses incurred go beyond that, the guest could sue.
Your homeowners insurance policy will generally protect you up to a minimum of $100,000 in liability coverage if anyone decides to take legal action, says Loretta Worters, III spokeswoman. "If your guest gets sick and sues you for damages, your insurer will pay for your legal expenses for a resulting lawsuit, even if the suit is groundless," she says.
Worters adds that you can buy extra coverage -- most agents suggest looking into carrying at least $300,000 to $500,000 of liability protection, depending on the value of your assets. The III also advises another $1 million in umbrella insurance coverage.
Worters explains that an umbrella policy takes effect when you've reached the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners, condo, renters or auto policy. "It will also cover you for things such as libel and slander," she says, adding that a $1 million umbrella policy can usually be bought for about $150 to $300 a year.
Beyond home insurance -- practical steps to take
A recent IIABA survey of 760 families found that about 75 percent admit serving food prepared by others, outside their home, during the holidays. Here's the IIABA's safety advice on various potential holiday pitfalls:
Take the turkey's temperature: "Make sure that you check food and don't put anything out that you suspect may be undercooked, spoiled or contaminated," says the IIABA. "Use only reputable food purveyors (caterers, delis, the local pizza joint and family or friends). When in doubt, throw it out." Check the bird's temperature before serving -- it has to be cooked to an internal 165 degrees.
Put a cap on cocktails: If you want a party atmosphere, plan activities that don't center on drinking. Also, provide "safe, filling food" to counteract the alcohol and provide non-alcoholic beverages. Also, know who the designated drivers are before time. Stop serving liquor, wine and beer an hour before the party is expected to end. And cut off any guests who are clearly drunk or getting there.
Party elsewhere: To lower your liability, have the holiday dinner at a restaurant or bar that has a liquor license instead of a home or office. And call a cab for anyone who has had too much. Or get them a hotel room or let them sleep it off at your place.
Know the law -- and your policy: Finally, the IIABA suggests learning just what the "social host liability" statutes are in your state to see exactly what you could be sued for. Reviewing your homeowners policy each year is also a good idea, especially if you've increased the value of your home and assets, according to the IIABA.
A cornucopia of Thanksgiving stats compiled by the CDC:
2.6 billion pounds --The total weight of sweet potatoes — another popular Thanksgiving side dish — grown by major sweet potato producing states in 2012. North Carolina (1.2 billion pounds) produced more sweet potatoes than any other state, followed by California, Mississippi and Louisiana.
768 million pounds -- The forecast for U.S. cranberry production in 2012. Wisconsin was estimated to lead all states in the production of cranberries, with 450 million pounds, followed by Massachusetts (estimated at 210 million).New Jersey, Oregon and Washington were also estimated to have substantial production, ranging from 14 to 54 million pounds.
242 million --The number of turkeys forecasted to be raised in the United States in 2013. That is down 5 percent from the number raised during 2012.
45 million -- The forecast for the number of turkeys Minnesota will raise in 2013. The Gopher State was tops in turkey production, followed by North Carolina (35 million), Arkansas (29 million), Indiana (17 million), Missouri (17 million), and Virginia (16 million).
6,500 -- Number of members of the Wampanoag American Indian tribal grouping, as of 2010, roughly half of whom reside in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag, the American Indians in attendance, played a lead role in this historic encounter, and they had been essential to the survival of the colonists during the newcomers' first year. The Wampanoag are a people with a sophisticated society who have occupied the region for thousands of years. They have their own government, their own religious and philosophical beliefs, their own knowledge system, and their own culture. They are also a people for whom giving thanks was a part of daily life.
98.3 percent -- Percentage of households with a television in 2011. No doubt, many guests either before, after, or perhaps even during the feast will settle in front of their TVs to watch some football.
32 -- Number of counties, places and townships in the United States named Plymouth, as in Plymouth Rock, the landing site of the first Pilgrims. The two counties, both named Plymouth, are in Massachusetts (2012 population of 499,759) and Iowa (24,907 in 2012). Plymouth, Minn., is the most populous place, with 72,928 residents in 2012; Plymouth, Mass., had 57,463 that year.
7 -- Number of places and townships in the United States that are named Cranberry or some spelling variation of the acidic red berry (e.g., Cranbury, N.J.), a popular side dish at Thanksgiving. Cranberry Township (Butler County), Pa., was the most populous of these places in 2012, with 28,832 residents. Cranberry township (Venango County), Pa., was next (6,608).
4 -- Number of places in the United States named after the holiday's traditional main course. Turkey Creek, La., was the most populous in 2012, with 440 residents, followed by Turkey, Texas (415), Turkey, N.C. (295) and Turkey Creek, Ariz. (294). There are also two townships in Pennsylvania with "Turkey" in the name: Upper Turkeyfoot and Lower Turkeyfoot.
Bundle up! Esurance now selling home insurance, too
The online car insurance company Esurance, owned by Allstate, is expanding offerings to include home insurance -- betting that bundling policies will give it a competitive edge against rivals Geico and Progressive.
Chief Executive Officer Gary Tolman says Esurance started underwriting homeowners insurance in Wisconsin and will expand to other states, according to a Bloomberg report by Noah Buhayar.
California and Florida residents, however, are out of luck for now as Tolman says those states typically have higher risk for homeowner claims so policies won't be sold there during the roll out phase.
Allstate is hoping the strategy will help Esurance stand out from the competition because "car-insurance competitors sell home policies from other carriers and don’t offer the same discounts," Tolman says.
Esurance is now offering average discounts of 10 percent on homeowners policies if paired with auto coverage, according to the Bloomberg report.
Allstate bought Esurance in 2011 to help mitigate a loss in market share for its auto policies sold through agents and to gain a presence in the new online auto insurance arena.
In addition to bundling, Esurance offers many other discounts, check the company website for details on how to qualify:
- Five years without a claim earns you 25 percent discount of total premium.
- Switch from another insurer and get a 5 percent discount on your premium.
- Pay in full and get up to 10 percent of premium.
- Get a quote and save 5 percent off total premium in most states.
- Multi-policy discount if you also insure a motorcycle, ATV, Segway or snowmobile for residents of Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin.
- Pac-12 alum get up to 15 percent off total premium.
- Defensive driving course completion earns you up to 10 percent off certain coverages.
- Good student -- holding a "B" average -- discount of up to 10 percent on liability, collision, and medical payments coverages.
- Anti-theft device installed will earn you between 5 and 25 percent off your comprehensive coverage, depending on what kind of anti-theft devices your car has and where you live.
- Insuring a car with manufacturer-installed airbags and automated seat belts qualifies you for between 2 and 33 percent on medical payments coverage and/or personal injury protection, depending on your state and the quality and number of safety devices.
- Pay-as-you-go policies give you 5 percent off beginning on your first policy term and up to 30 percent thereafter.
- Multi-car discount varies.
Be aware of car insurance discount details
As with discounts offered by any car insurer, remember the following:
- Sometimes there is a cap on the amount of discounts you can receive.
- Some discounts apply to only certain coverages and not your total premium.
- Some discounts only apply during certain time periods, for instance upon policy renewal for some drive-as-you go plans or within two weeks of your policy expiration for "switch and save" type discounts.
Height matters: Cops in tractor trailer bust distracted drivers
If you drive in east Knox County, Tenn., that big rig you just passed may not be operated by a trucker but rather a state trooper on the lookout for people texting and driving.
An 18-wheeler confiscated by state police in 2004 from a drug trafficker had primarily been used to educate teen drivers about the dangers of tractor-trailer blind spots, but troopers now use it to enforce the state's driving-and-texting ban. (Pictured right: Photo by PoliceMag.com.)
The Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) this week started using the THP tractor trailer to get an elevated – and more advantageous – view of what drivers are doing in their cars to better catch those who text while driving, according to a WBIR.com news report.
Though the truck is clearly marked with the THP logo, the troopers using it say most drivers don't notice that it is an official patrol vehicle, primarily because they are not paying attention. The police typically use just the front end of the truck when scoping the roads for texters.
So far, it's working. Police report issuing dozens of tickets in the first few days of the patrols.
Here's how the operation works: One trooper drives while another one observes drivers. When a distracted driver is spotted, another officer in a cruiser is notified, who then pulls over the violator.
Texting while driving is common, but hard to prove
Currently, 41 states ban texting while driving. If you are cited, state laws dictate whether or not your insurance rates will go up or you'll get points added to your driving record. In Tennessee, a ticket for texting behind the wheel carries a maximum $50 fine, but a car insurance surcharge isn't likely because the infraction isn't considered a moving violation.
News of the big rig as a tool to fight texting and driving in "The Volunteer State" comes at a time when the federal government is offering grant money to help boost enforcement in municipalities that agree to test new crackdown methods and when Tennessee in particular is having a hard time catching offenders.
In September, The Tennessean newspaper reported that police in that state issued very few texting tickets since the state banned the practice. A review of traffic records for 15 law enforcement agencies showed just 389 texting citations issued since the law went into effect in 2010. Officers witness the infraction quite often, but find it difficult to prove, according to the news report.
State texting ticket laws
The following states have a texting-while-driving law specifying that violations add points and/or is considered a moving violation:
- Alabama: 2 points
- Colorado: 1 point
- District of Columbia: 1 point and is a moving violation; 3 points if it is judged to have caused an accident.
- Maryland: 1 point and a moving violation; 3 points if the texting contributed to an accident.
- Nebraska: 3 points
- New York: 5 points
- New Jersey: 3 points for third offense
- North Dakota: moving violation
- Nevada: first offense not considered a moving violation; repeat offenses can have points added
- Vermont: 2 points for first offense and 5 points for a subsequent offense
- Virginia: 3 points
- West Virginia: 3 points for third offense
- Wisconsin: 4 points
Several states make an insurance surcharge less likely by specifying that breaking the texting law won't result in extra points or be considered a moving violation. In addition to Tennessee, they include:
- California: no points and not a moving violation
- Delaware: no points
- Idaho: no points and not a moving violation
- Iowa: no points; not a moving violation
- Louisiana: no points; not a moving violation
- North Carolina: no points and not a moving violation
- Washington: no points and not a moving violation
There are a handful of states that prohibit insurers from raising rates based on texting violations. These are:
- North Carolina
Michelle Megna has worked as a reporter and editor for many daily newspapers, magazines and websites covering government, education, technology and lifestyles during her 20 years as a journalist. She joined Insurance.com as managing editor in October 2011.