Surprising South Dakota: Get to Know Our Newest State

Car insurance from Esurance is now available in South Dakota! And, lucky for us, Sioux Falls is home to one of our biggest regional offices. We’re pleased to be here because, as our South Dakotan colleagues know, the Mount Rushmore State is a very cool place.

Giant sculptures

In South Dakota, the phrase “rock face” takes on a whole new meaning. Nowhere else will you see historical figures immortalized on such an epic scale.

Mount Rushmore

When it comes to iconic symbols of America, the “Shrine of Democracy” is hard to beat. The idea came from local historian Doane Robinson, who suggested carving famous Westerners into the Black Hills to promote tourism. But master sculptor Gutzon Borglum decided it should be more national in focus and chose 4 presidents as his subject (Washington, Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Lincoln). Borglum’s original design showed the presidents from the waist up, but funding ran out after the faces were completed. Though the sculpture is truly massive — Washington’s nose alone is 20 feet long — it will eventually be dwarfed by an even more titanic South Dakotan sculpture …

Crazy Horse Memorial

Located 17 miles from Mount Rushmore, this statue of the celebrated Lakota chief has been in the making for over 60 years and is the largest mountain sculpture currently in progress. Crazy Horse’s head alone is 87 feet high and could fit all of Mount Rushmore’s heads inside it. The entire carving is expected to stretch 563 feet high and 641 feet long when completed.

Geological wonders

If you like your natural landscapes sweeping and spectacular, South Dakota is your kind of state. Here are 2 of the best places to drop your jaw.

Badlands National Park

The Lakota people and French traders both called this region “bad” as in dry, rugged, and tough to travel through. But today, people call it “bad” as in “awesome” with its nearly 244,000 acres of dramatically chiseled spires and gullies, those mixed-grass prairies where buffalo roam, and one of the richest fossil beds on earth.

The Black Hills

Sacred to the Lakota Sioux, the Black Hills are possibly the oldest mountains in America and are chock-full of impressive features: the highest point in the U.S. east of the Rockies (7,242-foot Harney Peak), the third-longest cave in the world (Jewel Cave), and the first cave to be designated a national park (Wind Cave). Wind Cave was discovered when a local cowboy went to investigate a whistling sound and the breeze rushing out of the cave’s small mouth knocked the hat off his head. Along with the wind (which changes direction depending on barometric pressure), this cave also features the world’s largest display of boxwork — a rare, mysterious, honeycomb-shaped type of mineral deposit.

Motorcycle heaven

Sturgis is to bikers what Vegas is to gamblers: pure paradise. Every August, this (usually) small Black Hills town is host to the world’s largest motorcycle rally — a 6-day extravaganza of chrome and leather (and ink). What started as a small weekend race with just 9 participants back in 1938 has grown into a huge event that can attract up to 600,000 people. (If you go, make sure your motorcycle coverage is ready to roll.)

Dazed by maize

As offbeat roadside attractions go, The World’s Only Corn Palace in Mitchell is top of the crop. The building’s vast exterior is decorated with elaborate murals made of corn, grain, and grass as a way to showcase the bounty of South Dakota soil. The murals have a different theme every year and are swapped out just after the annual Corn Palace Festival (which is going on this week!).

Discover more road trip must-sees >

Other South Dakota fun facts

  • Belle Forche, a town located near the western border of the state, is the geographical midpoint of the United States (if you include Hawaii and Alaska).
  • The famous chase scene across the top of Mount Rushmore in the film North by Northwest was actually filmed on a studio lot.
  • The name “Dakota” comes from a Sioux word meaning “friend” or “ally.”

Want the facts about car insurance in South Dakota? We’ve got everything you need to know right here. If you have any tidbits to share about the fortieth state, we’d love to hear them. Leave your comments below or visit our Facebook page.

Are You Driving a Flex-Fuel Vehicle and Don’t Know It?

Does your car harbor a secret craving for ethanol? If you aren’t sure, you’re not alone. Though there are millions of flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) on the road, many owners aren’t aware they have one.

What’s a flex-fuel vehicle?

FFVs look just like regular vehicles, with one major difference: they can run on either gas or E85 (a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline).

Automakers began producing FFVs in 1988 after the Alternative Motor Fuels Act instituted credits for alternate fuel vehicle production. The first commercial FFVs were rolled out by Ford in 1996, and in 2006, the “Big 3” automakers (Ford, GM, and Chrysler) pledged to double their FFV production. FFVs are also available from many foreign manufacturers, including Audi, Nissan, VW, Mercedes, and Toyota.

Why would I want to use E85?

Generally, using ethanol blends like E85 leads to a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. For starters, CO2 is captured when ethanol crops are grown. And ethanol blends offer better combustion than gas, which means fewer pollutants are released. E85 can also help reduce our oil dependency. While it’s true you’ll get 25 to 30 percent fewer miles per gallon with E85, you may get better power and performance.

Approximately 95 percent of the ethanol produced in the U.S. is made from corn. As an alternative fuel, corn ethanol is not without controversy. But, it’s good to know you have a choice.

If you don’t have an FFV, however, using E85 is not recommended.

How do I know if there’s an FFV in my garage?

There are several ways to tell if your car is a flex-fuel vehicle:

Check the gas cap. Beginning in 2006, FFV manufacturers started putting distinctive yellow gas caps on their vehicles.

Check the fuel door. FFVs often have a sticker inside the fuel door that tells you which fuels can be used.

Go online. The U.S. Department of Energy has a searchable list of vehicles by type and model year.

Check for badges. Many models (especially recent ones) have a badge on the exterior that says FFV or Flex-Fuel.

Check your owner’s manual. If you do have an FFV, your owner’s manual will also tell you about any special parts or fluids your vehicle requires.

Yep, it’s an FFV. Now what?

Fill ‘er up … if you can find a station that sells E85. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there were nearly 10 million FFVs on the road in 2011 but only 1 in 10 used E85. This is due, in part, to a lack of awareness, but it’s also because there are currently only 2,344 ethanol stations in the U.S. (with the highest concentration located, predictably, in the Corn Belt). Use this station locator to find a station near you.

Share your views

Are FFVs a great way to green the planet or just a PR tool? If you have an FFV, what’s your experience with station availability and vehicle performance? Let us know.

Warning: You May Be Using Your Hazard Lights Incorrectly

Living in a congested city like San Francisco exposes me to a lot of creative driving and parking techniques. But one that’s always irked me is when people double park and put their hazard lights on, as if that somehow makes it legit. I get that San Francisco is high on cars and low on parking spots. But blocking traffic so you can run in to get a scone? Come on!

I know hazard lights were created to, well, alert other drivers of hazards, but seeing them used for so many other purposes has me confused.

When is it actually okay to use hazard lights?

It turns out the answer is more complicated than I thought. Of course, if you’re parked and need assistance, it’s okay to turn them on. But what about when you’re driving? As with most laws, it varies by state.

In some states, you’re free to drive with your hazards as you see fit. In others, it’s not permitted at all. And some states permit it if there’s an emergency or a hazard on the road that you want to make other drivers aware of, like a rockslide.

One common exception, even in states that don’t otherwise allow hazards, is funeral processions. Some states also consider bad weather to be cause for hazard lights, but there’s debate as to whether this behavior should be encouraged.

Should you use your hazards in bad weather?

Though there’s no definitive right or wrong answer (unless it’s illegal in your state), there are some things to keep in mind. Your hazards may make you more visible in the rain or snow and alert other drivers that you’re traveling below the speed limit. But they may also put you at risk.

In some cars, turn signals are disabled when the hazards are turned on. And even if they work, it can be hard to distinguish a turn signal from a hazard light. If drivers can’t anticipate your next move, your accident risk could increase.

Another issue with using your hazards is that it may cause confusion for other drivers. Most people expect to see hazards when there is a specific danger to look out for. If drivers are busy looking for a hazard or slowing down in anticipation of one, it means they may be taking their eyes of the road, as well as disrupting the flow of traffic.

Confusion, unnecessary slowdowns, bad weather … seems like a recipe for disaster or, at the very least, a traffic jam. Instead, turn on your low beams (high beams can cause glare in rain, snow, and fog) and avoid driving in bad weather whenever possible.

Hazard light laws by state

Curious whether your state allows you to drive with your hazard lights on? Check out these general rules (last updated on 8/19/13):

Permitted in all
or most cases

Not permitted

Permitted only in emergency or hazard situations

ConnecticutColorado (unless under 25 mph)Arkansas
Washington, DCFloridaCalifornia
New HampshireNew JerseyMinnesota
New YorkNew MexicoMontana
North CarolinaRhode IslandOhio
North DakotaOklahoma
OregonSouth Carolina
South DakotaVirginia
UtahWest Virginia


Double parking on the other hand? Not cool no matter where you live — even if you use your hazard lights.

Hazards lights may not be the best solution for driving the rain, but here are a few other suggestions.

And hazard lights are just the beginning. Check out more tips on how to manage windshields, windows, and even the all-important rearview mirrors.


Tech to the Rescue: 3 Distracted Driving Breakthroughs

Director Werner Herzog recently produced a powerful documentary on texting and driving. We’ve reported on that topic before, and watching the video reiterates how dangerous it really is … and how devastating the effects can be.

But there’s more to distracted driving than just texting. From phone calls to GPS maps, technology always seems to be vying for our attention behind the wheel. Yet, as surprising as it sounds, tech can also be a big part of the solution.

Here are some exciting new innovations that can help drivers stay more focused and alert.

Less distracting GPS

Having recently completed a 3,500-mile road trip guided almost exclusively by Google Maps, I appreciate the value of having GPS on my smartphone. But I also realize the danger of looking down at my screen every few minutes to make sure I’m heading the right way.

A new head-up display (HUD) from the makers of the Garmin navigation app eliminates the need to keep glancing down. This portable device, which attaches to your smartphone, projects directional arrows and distances onto a transparent film on your windshield. The brightness adjusts automatically, so the device can be used day or night. Voice prompts are also available.

Drowsiness detection

Not all inattentive driving is due to distractions — nodding off causes accidents too. In fact, falling asleep at the wheel causes over 100,000 accidents each year in the U.S. To combat driver drowsiness, the University of Leicester (UK) has developed a breakthrough technology combining high-speed infrared cameras that track eye movement along with an electroencephalograph (EEG) that precisely measures brain activity. When collected simultaneously, this data can tell when a driver is getting sleepy.

In the future, this technology could be built into vehicles, unobtrusively monitoring drivers and alerting them when they show signs of fatigue (such as erratic eye movements and brain patterns consistent with sleepiness). Loud beeps or other signals would let you know it’s time to stop for coffee, trade seats with your passenger, or maybe pull over for a power nap.

Keep your teens from texting

At Esurance, we know teens tend to underestimate the dangers of risky behavior, so when it comes to cutting out texting and driving (and other less-than-safe driving habits), they might need a little help.

As a part of our teen driver safety program, Esurance will soon offer customers Esurance DriveSafe™, a state-of-the-art tech solution that monitors driving behavior like speeding, hard braking, or turning too aggressively and provides customized reports on how safely your kids are driving. You can then use the reports to coach your teen on safe driving habits. The device also restricts cell phone use while driving — when the car is in motion, this device prevents your teen from texting, calling, or surfing the web*.

We’ll be making an official announcement about this exciting new technology in the upcoming months, so keep an eye out!

So is tech a friend or foe?

I think most of us would agree that tech is a necessary part of our lives. The issue isn’t texting or calling — it’s doing those things behind the wheel. But, as long as there are innovators willing to tackle the problem and drivers willing to seek out solutions, we don’t have to choose between being safe and staying connected.

Have you discovered any apps or techniques that help with distracted driving? Share your tips or suggestions below.

Related links

Watch Werner Herzog’s documentary, From One Second to the Next

Find out more about distracted driving:
Distracted Driving Facts and Solutions
Driving with Glass: Possibilities and Pitfalls

* This functionality is available only on Android™, Blackberry®, Windows® and newer feature phones. iPhone® users will get a reminder not to text while driving and parents will receive notifications about their teen’s iPhone use while driving.

7 Surprising Ways You Might Be Violating Your Apartment’s Lease

Most tenants can recognize activities that will surely violate an apartment lease (like throwing all-night parties or inviting this guy to house-sit). But in your haste to move in, you may have skimmed over some of the less obvious lease violations. And it’s not always easy to separate fair conduct from something that could have your landlord inking up the old eviction stamp.

With that in mind, here are some activities that might appear harmless at first, but could come back to bite you.

 1. Letting friends crash at your place long-term

Your landlord is around, so you introduce him or her to your pal/indefinite roommate: “This is Lance … he’ll, um, be here awhile.” Innocent enough, right? Whoops.

Friendly as Lance is (whoever he may be), the idea of an unofficial tenant living in your place might scare your landlord and be a lease violation. The reason? Packing your pad with mysterious peeps can be a damage or liability risk and could cause complications if eviction becomes necessary.

 2. Owning a water bed

Many landlords might declare having liquid-filled furniture, like water beds, a lease violation. Though it’s not especially easy to puncture a water bed, a carelessly placed sharp object could be enough to warrant an ark. In other words, water beds pose a continuous damage risk your landlord likely won’t want to deal with. On the bright side, for renters who simply cannot forego aquatic relaxation, putting a chaise lounge in your tub is still fair game (but don’t quote me on that).    

 3. Upgrading your TV service

Say football season is approaching and you decide to upgrade to the deluxe sports package. No problem, right? Well, it depends on how you purchased this package. If it was by signing up for satellite TV, that might be a lease violation. Since you don’t own the building, your apartment lease may forbid you from attaching objects like a dish to the building.

 4. Taking a long, unannounced vacation

If you start buying Panama hats in bulk, it’s probably best not to let your landlord see the receipts. Taking a long trip without telling your landlord how long you’ll be gone could actually be prohibited by your apartment lease. Many landlords worry about what can happen in unattended units (burst pipes, bug infestation, etc.), so they may want the right to enter your place while you’re jet-setting. Besides, if you’re going to be away for a while, it’s probably wise to have someone looking in on your place.

 5. Overcrowding bedrooms

You may think that as long as rent is paid by all the tenants in your apartment, you have the right to add as many residents as you like. Not always true. Many leases, especially those written for apartments in college towns, restrict the number of occupants in any one bedroom.

We know that when money is tight, the prospect of dividing up your rent like an extra-large pizza is tempting. But in this case, it’s best to follow the rules and observe the capacity laws.

6. Grilling

You: “You’ve got to try this duck confit burger I grilled up!”

Landlord: “Oh, it’s delicious! So tender. You’re a true artiste with the spatula. You’ll have to give me the recipe. Now get out, punk.”

Coldhearted, perhaps, but not totally out of line. Many lease violations come from using outdoor fire of any kind — and that includes grilling. This rule is common in large, multi-unit buildings where there isn’t much outdoor space. But even if you rent a house and have an entire yard to yourself, it’s always best to check your lease carefully before you break out the lighter fluid.

 7. Losing your stuff to burglary

Wait a minute … how could being the victim of theft possibly be a violation on your part? Well, it’s not the theft, but rather your lack of protection against it. See, some landlords actually require tenants to purchase renters insurance as part of their apartment lease. And, with all that renters insurance can do (like replacing your belongings after a burglary, for starters), who can blame them?

Get a renters insurance quote with us and see just how affordable coverage for your treasured possessions can be (and get your landlord off your back in the process).

Don’t let a lease violation put you out in the cold

Rental laws vary from city to city, so be sure to check the laws in your area. And even though your lease may be long and look boring, always read it thoroughly before you sign it. (That goes for any legal document, really.)

Related links

You’ve learned what you can’t do as tenant. Now check out some common renters’ rights to see what you can do.