The Truth About Hearing-Impaired Drivers

As drivers, we rely on our vision to navigate, monitor our speed, and avoid hazards. But sight isn’t the only sense we use. When we accidentally drift into someone else’s lane, it’s their emphatic honk that sends us back where we belong. When an emergency vehicle needs to get by, it’s usually their siren that tells us to pull over.

So does that make the road unsafe for hearing-impaired drivers? Not at all!

History of hearing-impaired drivers

Though hearing-impaired drivers have been operating cars legally for years, that wasn’t always the case. In the 1920s, when cars were new and states were creating driving laws, a handful of states banned deaf people from getting a drivers license. There was even talk of a nationwide ban. But thanks to evidence compiled by the National Association for the Deaf, these bans were deemed unnecessary and discriminatory and were later repealed.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t until recently that this population was granted permission to drive commercial vehicles.

In 2006, a San Francisco court ruled that UPS was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for not allowing people with hearing impairments to drive their smaller delivery trucks. According to the judge, UPS never addressed “whether there are some deaf drivers who are as safe as, or safer than, some or all of the hearing drivers that UPS employs.”

That doesn’t mean UPS is now required to fill a quota, only that they can’t screen out applicants based solely on their hearing ability.

But are hearing-impaired drivers safe?

The 2006 ruling didn’t specifically address the safety records of deaf drivers. But according to a 2008 evidence report conducted by the nonprofit ECRI Institute, there’s no proof that drivers with hearing loss pose more risk than their hearing counterparts. When you consider how factors like focus, speed, and experience — none of which rely on hearing ability — contribute to driver safety, these findings make sense.

While no studies have been done on commercial drivers specifically, the ECRI Institute’s evidence was enough for the Department of Transportation. In 2013, they announced that hearing-impaired drivers could apply for commercial licenses to drive large trucks.

Compensating for hearing loss

Though hearing-impaired drivers may not be able rely on auditory cues, there are a variety of ways they can compensate — like learning to pay closer attention to visual cues. And as it turns out, there’s some science behind this.

The brain

According to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, extra visual acuteness likely goes beyond learned behavior. Because of the brain’s plasticity, if an area that’s mapped to one sense goes unused, it can be rewired to process other senses.

In the case of lost hearing, the brain becomes more sensitive to touch and vision. One of the authors of the study even found that people who are born deaf have better peripheral vision and process motion more keenly.

Assistive devices

Along with natural coping strategies, some hearing-impaired drivers rely on devices that use lights to signal sirens or honking. These devices provide multi-light panels to tell different types of sounds apart and alert the driver to the type of situation that’s approaching.

Additionally, some hearing-impaired drivers use panoramic mirrors to get a wider view of what’s going on around them.

Because, of course, the most important thing — hearing or not — is to stay focused and keep your eyes on the road.

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Learn about some other devices that help drivers stay safe

5 Easy Ways to Lower Your Water Bill

While much of the country is being inundated with snow and ice, large portions of the West Coast are facing the opposite problem — not enough water. The effect has been widespread water conservation, with new routines for businesses and residents alike. Just last night, for example, I was out to dinner in San Francisco and noticed that water wasn’t offered unless guests specifically requested it. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg (or cactus, in our case).

But water conservation isn’t strictly a regional issue. No matter where you live, there are a few things you can easily do to lower that water bill.

5 tips to help you save on your water bill

1. Replace your showerhead

The simplest thing you can do is replace your showerhead with one that has a lower flow rate. In the U.S., new showerheads can’t exceed a flow rate of 2.5 gallons per minute (gpm). But imagine you live with 3 people and each of you takes a 10-minute shower. That’s 75 gallons of water used … each day! By dropping your gpm a tiny bit to 2, you could decrease your daily water output by 15 gallons. And that’d save 105 gallons per week.

If you have an older showerhead (pre-1992), simply replacing it with a new one could also make a big difference. Plus, when you have less water to heat, you not only lower your water bill but your energy bill as well.

Ask your local hardware store for a recommendation. Just make sure to follow all the installation instructions exactly — a leak would be counterproductive!

2. Buy a bucket

While you’re at the hardware store, consider buying yourself a brand-new bucket. Then, while you’re waiting for the shower to warm up, stick this bucket under the showerhead.

The water you capture can be used to water your plants, fill your pets’ drinking bowls, or wash your dishes. You could even transfer it to a large container in your fridge for drinking.

As long as you clean the bucket first and take it out of the shower before the soap suds start flying, this otherwise-wasted water has dozens of uses.

3. Turn your faucets off

Many people keep the water running while they wash their hands or brush their teeth. It doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you think about the number of times you do these things each day. All that unused water adds up.

Next time you wash up for dinner, try wetting your hands and then turning the water off before soaping and scrubbing. Then, just turn it back on to rinse. Same with brushing your teeth — you only need the water to rinse your minty-fresh mouth when you’re done.

4. Soak your dishes

If, like me, you don’t have a dishwasher, you know how much water it can take to clean up after a big meal. But if you can tolerate a few more hours of dirty dishes, try letting them soak in soapy water overnight (here’s another use for that bucket of reclaimed water from the shower!).

When you wash them the next day, you’ll use far less water than if you’d done it immediately after dinner. Just remember: don’t let that sink run while you’re scrubbing!

5. Go pro

If you really want to save some water, there are always more extreme measures you can take. Have a dog and a yard? Wash Fido while he stands on a dry patch of your lawn. When it rains, set up some containers to catch rainwater for later use. And if it’s time to replace your houseplants, do so with succulents, which require far less water.

Saving water is something we Californians have to do to mitigate the setbacks of an unusually dry season. But no matter where you live (or how much rain you might be getting) these tricks could help you save a few bucks. And who doesn’t want that?

Save on more than your water bill

At Esurance, efficiency is in our DNA — from water-saving tips to helping you save time and money on insurance. And now we can even help you save on gas with our new web app, Fuelcaster™.

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Diversity in the Workplace: Social Change at Work

At Esurance, diversity and inclusion aren’t just buzzwords, they’re core values. So when it comes to diversity in the workplace, we don’t just talk about it, we have a team devoted to it. In 2012, our diversity and inclusion team got to work developing Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) to help provide support for associates in our offices around the country.

What’s an ERG?

Employee Resource Groups bring together associates with common interests to serve as a source of support for one another. Some of the key benefits of these groups include:

  • Offering professional development opportunities
  • Creating a respectful and open work environment
  • Providing the chance to connect with other like-minded associates
  • Reaching out to support local communities

But Esurance associates aren’t the only people who benefit from ERGs — our customers do as well. By employing and supporting people of different backgrounds, we’re able to better understand and communicate with our diverse customer base.

And since our ERGs have been overwhelmingly successful, we plan to continue celebrating diversity in the workplace with even more groups in the future.

Esurance Veterans Engagement Team & Supporters (EVETS)

Our first group, EVETS, launched in 2012 and consists of associates dedicated to supporting veterans and veteran-related issues. EVETS partners with our Talent Acquisition team to aid our veteran-recruiting efforts and offer support to current associates who are veterans or have veterans in their lives.

The group also creates career development opportunities for former military personnel, promotes awareness of veterans’ issues and concerns, and helps serve the needs of veterans in our community.

Recent EVETS activities have included:

  • A job fair for veterans in Sacramento
  • Participation in Tampa’s Run for the Fallen (which spotlights the sacrifices made by the men and women in our armed forces and their families)
  • Veterans Day celebrations in each of our offices

ePride

As a longtime supporter of Pride — we offer the married rate to domestic partners even in states that don’t recognize the union — it’s only natural we’d also support equality within our company.

So we created ePride, a group of associates dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) community and their allies at Esurance. Through community outreach and workplace collaboration, the group works to increase awareness of key LGBTQ issues.

Women’s Innovative Network (WIN)

Women have made huge strides in the workplace, but there’s still work to be done. Enter the Women’s Innovative Network (WIN), which is dedicated to supporting the women at Esurance and championing work/life balance initiatives for all associates.

WIN’s goal is to create a culture of inclusion through associate engagement, leadership development opportunities, and community outreach. Recently, for National Wear Red Day, WIN asked Esurance associates to join the American Heart Association in raising awareness for women’s heart disease by wearing red to work.

Diversity in the workplace

ERGs are just one of the ways we celebrate diversity here at Esurance. In fact, we’ve been recognized as a top place to work by numerous organizations. These awards acknowledge our efforts to create and maintain a workplace where diversity and equality thrive.

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4 Ways to Tell If You’re an Aggressive Driver

Does it seem like there are more angry drivers on the road these days? It might not be your imagination. In a recent poll by the Washington Post, the number of drivers who confessed to feeling “uncontrollable anger toward another driver” doubled between 2005 and 2013. And those are just the honest answers — people are far more likely to see aggression in other drivers than in themselves.

Whatever the actual number may be, it’s a growing problem … and a potentially deadly one.

Aggressive behavior is thought to be a factor in 2 out of every 3 traffic deaths. (Tweet this.)

What is aggressive driving?

Aggressive driving involves deliberate behaviors that put people and property at risk, such as speeding, running red lights, tailgating, cutting off other drivers, and weaving through traffic. Usually, it includes a combination (or all) of the above. And if a driver moves beyond acting out in frustration and actually tries to use their vehicle to do harm, aggressive driving becomes “road rage,” a criminal offense.

What causes drivers to behave aggressively?

There are many possible factors (bad mood, running late), but traffic congestion is a major contributor. That sea of taillights at rush hour has drivers seeing red in more ways than one. Over the last 2 decades, cities of all sizes have seen huge increases in traffic, and as more and more people begin commuting to and from work, congestion is predicted to get even worse.

Cars can also make drivers feel territorial — they consider their vehicle part of their personal domain and react defensively if they feel threatened. Plus, drivers often feel a sense of anonymity and power behind the wheel that encourages them to act in ways they normally wouldn’t.

On top of that, there’s an element of learned behavior. Children learn aggressive driving behavior from watching how their parents drive.

4 ways to tell if you’re an aggressive driver

Do any of these behaviors sound familiar?

  • You hit the gas when the light turns yellow
  • When someone tries to merge at the last minute, you “teach them a lesson” by not letting them in
  • You lay on your your horn when someone is slow to respond to a green light
  • You’re frustrated by a slow driver in the left lane, so you ride their bumper or zoom past them on the right

If so, you’re letting aggression get the best of you behind the wheel.

How can you avoid becoming an aggressive driver?

Aggressive driving not only puts you and others in danger, it can be expensive as well. Most insurers won’t cover an accident resulting from deliberate or reckless behavior, and a road-rage incident on your record can substantially raise your rates.

To keep your inner Mr. Hyde from coming out, try these tips:

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get where you’re going since being late sends frustration levels through the roof
  • Avoid driving when you’re angry or stressed
  • Adjust your schedule to avoid peak traffic times if possible
  • Use traffic reports or traffic apps to prepare yourself for (or ideally, avoid) delays
  • Listen to music, the news, or an audio book if you find background noise soothing rather than distracting
  • Don’t take things personally — give other drivers the benefit of the doubt
  • Remember that red lights and traffic jams are beyond your control, and getting upset won’t change anything

How can you avoid conflicts with other drivers?

While there’s no excuse for driving like a jerk, here are a few things that can help keep you from lighting someone’s fuse:

  • Use the left lane for passing only
  • Remember to always use your turn signals
  • Be courteous and allow plenty of room when passing and merging
  • If you make a mistake, acknowledge it with a friendly wave
  • Use your horn only when necessary
  • Don’t use hand gestures to express your frustration

What should you do if an aggressive driver challenges you?

The best way to diffuse the situation is to let it go. Reacting may cause the problem to escalate. If confronted by an angry driver:

  • Avoid eye contact with the driver if possible
  • Don’t respond to or return hand gestures
  • Give the driver plenty of space
  • Resist the urge to put them in their place by racing or blocking them
  • If the driver follows you, drive to a police station, store, or other public area — do not go home

Ultimately, your best protection against aggressive drivers or other road hazards is to learn defensive driving techniques, and always buckle up.

Stay safe out there! And of course, make sure you have the right car insurance coverage.

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Are You Sure You Want to Be an UberX Driver?

Anyone who’s ever tried to hail a cab in the rain can appreciate the convenience of Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) like UberX, Lyft, and Sidecar. These companies are based on a similar model: ordinary drivers use their own cars to transport passengers, who use their smartphones to request a ride. (To clarify, UberX is a new ridesharing service launched by Uber in 2012. The company also offers a range of higher-priced Uber car services using professional drivers.)

Seems like a great way for regular folks to earn a little extra cash. And the ridesharing aspect means fewer cars on the road. So everyone wins, right?

Not exactly. Critics complain that TNCs take business away from cab drivers (as well as profits, since cabbies have to pay for commercial insurance). There’s also been controversy regarding Uber’s policy of raising prices at peak times. And, on January 27, Uber was named in a wrongful-death lawsuit involving a 6-year-old girl struck and killed by an UberX driver on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco. Though the driver wasn’t carrying a passenger, the lawsuit claims he was logged into the UberX app at the time and was distracted by checking his phone for a fare.

Then there’s the question of insurance. And it’s a big one.

TNC drivers could face coverage gaps

In September 2013, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) established new rules, defining a TNC as “a company or organization operating in California that provides transportation services using an online-enabled platform to connect passengers with drivers using their personal, non-commercial vehicles.” It concluded that TNCs are “providing passenger transportation for hire,” which is a livery service.

Most standard auto policies don’t provide coverage for livery vehicles — if you use your vehicle for business purposes, you need commercial car insurance. But many TNC drivers are unaware of this.

Though TNCs are now required to carry $1 million in liability insurance, this coverage is designed to protect riders and pedestrians and pay for damages to other vehicles. The policy doesn’t have to cover the driver’s car or the driver’s injuries (and it doesn’t kick in at all unless the TNC driver is found at fault). And because of the livery exclusion, the driver’s standard personal insurance likely won’t cover accidents either. So, instead of adding to their income, the TNC driver could be left holding the bag.

There’s also disagreement about what constitutes “working” for a TNC. Uber claims no responsibility for the New Year’s Eve accident because the driver wasn’t carrying a fare. But, from an insurance standpoint, if a TNC driver is available through the app, they’re driving as a livery service and therefore won’t be covered.

Esurance and TNCs

Though we can’t speak for all insurance companies, the livery exclusion is pretty universal. According to our definitions of coverage, TNC drivers would need commercial insurance since a personal auto policy through Esurance doesn’t cover both personal and commercial use of a vehicle. In all states except California, we’re unable to offer a standard policy to TNC drivers. And in California, the driver’s standard coverage doesn’t apply during a rideshare trip.

If you’re driving for a TNC, the California Department of Insurance urges you to contact your insurance company and see if there are gaps in your coverage that are putting you at risk. You might be better off with a commercial policy. (Esurance doesn’t offer commercial auto insurance, but you can get it through our partner.) Since Lyft is already available in 20 cities (and UberX in dozens), this is good advice no matter where you live.

Keep in mind that carpools or commuter rideshare programs (where drivers give unfamiliar passengers rides to work in order to take advantage of carpool lanes) aren’t subject to the livery exclusion. The CPUC has determined that traditional carpools don’t qualify as TNCs. If you aren’t making a profit from carpooling, it’s not considered a business, even if your passengers contribute to the cost of gas and tolls.

What’s next for UberX and other TNCs?

Services like UberX are a new and unique creation, and deciding how to regulate them has posed some challenges. California was the first state to coin the term “Transportation Network Companies” and institute a formal set of rules for TNCs. These new regulations may set a precedent for other states and municipalities going forward, and in fact, a bill that would classify these companies as TNCs is currently moving through the Colorado Senate. But the controversy involved with the wrongful-death lawsuit shows that the issue of liability is far from resolved.

Some TNCs have addressed the liability gaps by working with insurance carriers and voluntarily adjusting their coverage. Lyft, for example, recently announced additional coverage for their drivers in 3 categories: collision, uninsured motorist, and underinsured motorist.

Look for more posts on this topic as the situation evolves.

UPDATE: Since this post was written, Uber and Lyft have announced extended liability coverage for their drivers. Sidecar proclaimed its intent to increase the coverage for their drivers as well. However, insurance regulators throughout the country have expressed concerns that serious coverage gaps still exit. The California Public Utilities Commission is expected to weigh in soon — we’ll keep you posted.

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