5 Tips for Bike to Work Day

You may not know this, but May is National Bike Month and the 20th (this Friday) is National Bike to Work Day. But if you’re not a cycling enthusiast (or even bike confident), the idea of hopping on a small, 2-wheeled, you-powered vehicle and sailing off toward work may seem a little daunting. So we hit up our in-house cycling expert, Blair Cerny, to get a few tips for Bike to Work Day.

1. First (and most obviously) you’ll need a bicycle. If you don’t have one, see if you can borrow or rent one. Most major cities have a number of bike rental options, from tourist places that rent by the day to stands that rent by the hour. If you live in a more rural area, check with your local bike shop (chances are you have at least one). The best part about renting is that you can take Bike to Work Day for a spin (so to speak) before deciding if it’s a viable everyday option.

2. Next up, you should learn how to change a flat tire. If there’s one single piece of bicycle maintenance that everyone should know, this is it. But don’t stress … it’s pretty easy. All you need to change a flat are tire levers, a pump, and a new inner tube (make sure it’s the right size!). Trust me, if you can change the tire on your car (and, of course, you can), then you can easily change a bike tire.

3. You’re also going to need something to carry your stuff in. If you don’t have a medium-sized knapsack or backpack, it might be time to invest in one. Seriously. A backpack should give you plenty of space to hold a change of clothes, your tire repair supplies, your lunch, your laptop, and whatever else you need. (You should also throw in a stick of deodorant and maybe a hand towel, just in case you get a little sweaty.) Here’s a comprehensive packing list to get you on your way.

4. You’re almost ready to roll! All you need to do now is plot your course. Google maps has a great new feature that will show you bike-friendly routes. After you enter your starting and ending locations and get your directions, just click the little bicycle icon. (There are also buttons for taking the bus and walking!) If that’s not enough detail for you, most cities offer online and printed versions of cycling maps that show which streets have bike lanes, and even list the grades of the inclines along the way.

5. On your ride, it’s important to follow the rules of the road. Your bicycle is considered to be a vehicle under almost every vehicle code in the nation, which means you have to stop at red lights and stop signs, and signal your intentions. Ride on the right side of the road, not on the sidewalk — that’s illegal everywhere. Watch out for pedestrians and potholes, and most important, beware of people swinging their doors open to exit their parked cars.

5.5 Make sure you have a good quality lock (and know how to use it), bring some blinky lights if you’ll be riding in the dark, wear a helmet, and last but not least, HAVE FUN!

Top 5 Tips for Sharing the Road Safely with Pedestrians

The numbers for car-pedestrian collisions are sobering. From 2005 to 2009, there were 224,000 collisions involving pedestrians and single-passenger vehicles. Of those accidents, 13,193 were fatal. But even more sobering are the circumstances in which those pedestrians were hit.

Though you might imagine otherwise, the most common scenario in which a pedestrian and car collide is when a person is crossing the road and the vehicle is going straight — this is how it happens 95 percent of the time. In many of those cases (54 percent), nothing is obscuring the driver’s vision. And the driver usually fails to brake.

In fact, drivers who hit pedestrians while traveling straight hit the brakes only 13 percent of the time. And according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, fewer than 12 percent of all incidents involved a “dart-out,” i.e., someone appearing out of nowhere in the middle of the roadway.

(Click the images to enlarge.)
All frontal crashes

Fatal frontal crashes
Though the auto industry is working hard to reduce the possibility of such incidents, until such sci-fi-style technologies become standard — and even after they do — there’s the human factor to consider.

Here are the top 5 things you can do to keep pedestrians safe and your premiums down. When you’re driving, try to keep the following in mind:

1. Don’t drive distracted

The easiest thing you can do to avoid a pedestrian collision is to avoid distraction. That means putting the cell phone away and letting that call wait — yes, that goes for you Bluetooth users as well. (Studies show that even talking on a cell phone with a hands-free device affects driver response times.) It also means keeping your fiddling with the stereo to a minimum and letting that breakfast bagel wait till you’re in the office.

2. Use your turn signals

The controls are right there, next to the steering wheel. It takes no more than a flick of the wrist to turn them on. Pedestrians look for those signals just as much as your fellow drivers do. And like drivers, they rely on them to know your intentions, and when it’s safe to go.

3. Don’t California roll

Most often employed on back streets free of traffic control lights — exactly where the intrepid pedestrian is most vulnerable — this hurried driver’s tactic threatens pedestrians with much more than a gentle tap. Even at the generally slow speeds at which drivers use this technique, a collision is still going to hurt a pedestrian — and your car insurance premium.

4. Look both ways

We know your mom taught you this one: lesson number one when crossing the street. And like most things mom told you, it’s still important. Even if you’re turning onto a one-way street it pays to crane your neck right and left before you hit the gas. Doing so will ensure you see pedestrians approaching from either direction, and hopefully, avoid running them over.

5. Slow down

If you’re driving in an area with crosswalks that aren’t traffic-light-controlled, slow it down. There’s nothing more unnerving for a pedestrian than trying to cross the street as a driver approaches without visibly slowing down. Making it clear that you are slowing down is a great way to communicate that it’s safe to walk.

Keeping your fellow users of the road — pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists — in mind is the surest way to ensure safer streets and better insurance rates. So keep your eyes on the road, your right foot ready to brake, and your hands at 10 and 2 — and watch out for those on 2 legs as well as 4 wheels!

Teen Driving: 6 Essential Safety Tips

So your son or daughter is approaching driving age — how’d that happen so fast? No doubt your teen is desperate to be given the keys to the family car, or perhaps for a car of his or her own. It’s something that most parents face with varying degrees of anticipation and dread. So in honor of National Youth Traffic Safety Month®, here are a few teen driving tips for helping them make the transition to “driver” as smoothly and safely as possible.

1. Getting started

Say you’ve got an eager beaver with driving fever, but she’s not yet the minimum age for a permit. She can get started on safety early with a fun online driving class. Driver-ZED™ is a cool interactive DVD that puts teens in the virtual driver’s seat and is a great way to instill a few safety basics before they ever hit the road (or driveway, or parking lot).

2. The drivers permit

The age at which your teen can apply for a learner’s permit varies by state. Remember Drivers Ed in high school? Your teen may want to sign up (it’s required in some states), which can make it easier to get the permit and can potentially lower insurance costs. In any case, he or she will need to study the DMV manual to learn the all-important rules of the road and pass the written exam.

3. Insurance

Before your teen starts driving, contact your insurance company about requirements in your state. Car insurance for your teen doesn’t have to be expensive, so ask about ways you can save money on your teen’s policy, such as a Good Student discount.

4. Practice driving

Once they have their permits, they’re ready to start practicing (oh no!). Teaching your kids to drive is a time-honored, albeit sometimes tense, rite of passage. And while many state DMVs offer helpful lesson plans, you might feel more secure signing your teen up for driving school. This will help keep your car and your relationship with your teen intact — check with your local DMV for approved schools.

5. Talk about safety

You’ll also want to have a serious heart-to-heart with your teen about safety and responsibility. Things most of us take for granted, such as always wearing a seat belt, observing the speed limit, and not driving when tired or upset, need to be driven home to teens.

Distracted driving — which can include eating, putting on makeup, or adjusting the music, not to mention the big ones like texting or talking on the phone — is extremely dangerous and often illegal. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 16 percent of all drivers younger than 20 involved in fatal crashes were reported to have been distracted while driving.

Using a phone while driving, even if it’s hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration of .08 percent (Source: University of Utah). And according to the California DMV, teen drivers failed 54 percent of driving tasks, including avoiding a swerving vehicle, while talking on the phone.

Last, but certainly not least, make sure your teen agrees never ever to drive when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

6. Parent-teen driving contract

Before you set your child loose with the keys to the car and a full tank of gas, set boundaries by putting a contract in place. This will make him or her understand that you mean business (before anything goes wrong). You can use a complex or simple contract, just make sure you both sign it.

There. Now don’t you feel a lot more confident about the whole process? No? We understand. Seeing your son or daughter grow up is both joyful and painful. But with good planning, ground rules, and communication, helping your teen learn to drive safely should be one of the joys.

Additional Resources

Esurance Insight: Teen Drivers and Their Car Insurance
IIHS US map of minimum age for unsupervised driving
IIHS US map of nighttime driving restrictions
IIHS US map of restrictions on passengers for drivers with intermediate state licenses

Top 7 Driving Phobias (And How To Conquer Them)

April was Distracted Driving Month, which got us wondering, are people distracted by their driving phobias? So we polled our Facebook community to learn more about what exactly gives them the behind-the-wheel heebie-jeebies. Here’s what they said shakes them up:

  • 27% Driving on mountain roads without guard rails
  • 27% Driving in bad weather (ice, snow, and rain)
  • 20% Driving near large trucks
  • 4% Becoming unable to drive
  • 4% Driving over bridges
  • 3% Driving near intoxicated drivers
  • 1% Veering off the road (uncontrollably)
  • 1% Fearing that the hood latch would suddenly release

If any of these driving anxieties sound familiar, here are some tips for staying calm on the road (no matter what happens):

Consider taking driving lessons, even if you’re a pro.

A good instructor can guide you through driving situations that make you feel uncomfortable and help you bolster your confidence. As an added bonus, some insurance companies (like yours truly) offer a discount for taking a defensive driving course. See discounts in your state.

Be a defensive driver.

Driving with a reasonable level of caution will help you stay out of harm’s way and effectively steer clear of unnecessary anxiety.

Understand bad weather basics.

If black ice and winter storms make you especially tense, brush up on storm driving techniques (our blog is loaded with winter driving tips!). It’s also a good idea to refresh yourself on what to do if you’re caught hydroplaning.

Pull over and breathe.

Sounds too simple, but sometimes just focusing on your breathing helps relieve anxiety and distraction.

If you tend to get freaked out behind the wheel every once in a while, we hope these tips will help you enjoy the drive. And for the 13 percent who said you “ain’t scared!” of anything, hats off to you, you brazen road warriors!

How do you overcome your driving anxiety? Send us a tweet or post on our wall to share your tips.