Gender and Car Insurance

Auto insurance actuaries make generalizations about groups of people to help them determine auto insurance rates. Though it sounds surprisingly un-PC, your gender can generally predict driving behavior and, hence, how likely you are to be involved in an accident. And in spite of the stereotype of the ditzy female driver, you might be surprised to learn who pays more when it comes to gender and car insurance. Ready?

Generally, males between the ages of 16-25 pay more for auto insurance than females the same age. It may seem like gender discrimination but there are good reasons why:

  • Males typically drive more than females. The more miles you drive, the higher your chances are for accidents and auto insurance claims.
  • Young males take more risks behind the wheel. Insurance companies charge inexperienced drivers — both male and female — higher auto insurance rates since they’re more likely to file an auto insurance claim or get a speeding ticket sometime during their young driving careers.
  • Young adult males push their limits behind the wheel. As a result, men are more than twice as likely to die in car crashes as women.

However, male drivers can look forward to more equitable car insurance rates with their female counterparts as they mature. (Assuming they survive their young risk-taking days.) As their driving experience grows, males will find that they pay less for auto insurance — especially with a good driving record and few to no auto insurance claims.

Related links

MSNBC: Women drivers? They’re safer than men Car Insurance Rates: Men vs. Women

How to Make Hand Signals for Driving

We recently noted an increase in web searches for “hand driving-signals.” Hmmm. At first we wondered if this was in reference to the kind of hand signals you might make when someone cuts you off in traffic, but with a little digging we realized that people are actually curious about good, old-fashioned hand signals for driving.

Though they may seem antiquated and unnecessary, knowing the proper hand driving-signals can be a lifesaver if your turn signals or brake lights fail. But unless you’re a centenarian, a driving test instructor, or both (highly unlikely), you might not remember how hand driving-signals work. So what better time for a refresher?

Here’s everything you need to know about hand driving-signals:

hand signalshand signals

Right turn hand signal

To signal your intention to turn right, rest your left elbow on the windowsill and raise your forearm up so it forms a 90-degree angle with your arm. Keep your left hand open.

Left turn hand signal

To make a left-turn hand signal, act as if you’re physically blocking someone with your arm. Just stick your left arm straight out with your hand extended past the side mirror.

Stop or slow down hand signal

To let other drivers know that you plan to stop or slow down, stick your left arm out the window, pointing down, with your palm facing the vehicles behind you.

Although seldom used anymore, these driving signals are standard across the U.S. and also used by an ever-increasing number of cyclists. Plus, you could also be tested on them during the written driving test (in which case, we’re happy to help you boost your score).


Safety First: Top 3 Car Seat Tips

Does your child really need a car seat? It depends on age and weight, but most likely yes! All 50 states and the District of Columbia have child-restraint laws, so check the laws in your state. If it says something like, “Must be in child restraint if 5 years and younger or less than 60 pounds,” this means any child 5 or under, no matter what his/her weight, must be in a car seat AND any child weighing less than 60 pounds, no matter what his/her age, must be in a car seat. Some states also specify which ages require a rear-facing seat.

But let’s back up a sec. First you have to buy one, right?

Buying a car seat

The biggest rule is never buy used. And replace the one you own if it’s ever been in an accident, even a fender-bender (the replacement seat is likely covered by your insurance policy). It’s also time to replace if: it’s more than 10 years old (some say 5), the expiration date on the plastic base has expired, or it’s been recalled.

Look for the following big safety features when you shop for a new seat:

  • 5-point harness with a 2-piece chest clip
  • top tether restraint
  • LATCH system
  • At least 4 shoulder-strap slots and 2-3 crotch-strap positions
  • Tilt indicator on the side of the seat

You can check Consumer Reports for the top-rated models, but keep in mind that the best seat is the one that fits your child’s size, is correctly installed, fits well in your vehicle, and is used properly every time you drive.

Installing a car seat

In a standard car, the safest place to put a car seat is in the middle of the rear seat. This places it in the very middle of your car’s crumple zone for maximum protection. The seat should be firmly installed and not wiggle or budge when you push it.

A neat trick to accomplish this is to put a thickly folded towel under the body of the seat before installing, and use the full weight of your body to weigh it down as you strap it in. Most important, read the seat’s instruction manual! If it’s missing, contact the manufacturer or download it online.

Never put a car seat in a seat with an active airbag — these can deploy at speeds of over 180 miles per hour and can be fatal to children.

Once you’re done installing your seat, check your work by going to a Child Safety Seat Inspection Station…just to be on the safe side.

Find out what experts consider the safest seat in the car.

Insuring a car seat

If the car seat’s occupied during an accident, Esurance will replace the seat automatically since its safety has been compromised. If the car seat’s unoccupied at the time of an accident, however, we handle it on a case-by-case basis, but usually err on the side of caution by paying for a new seat.

If your car seat’s stolen, it should be covered under your homeowners or renters policy. Since the seat isn’t permanently attached, it’s considered personal property, but policies vary, so read yours carefully to make sure.

There you have it. Not as complicated as you thought, eh? With a little research, a pass through the instruction manual, and maybe some help from the experts, even something as important as child restraints can be a snap!

Additional resources:

Rockaby Baby: lullaby renditions of rock bands

How to Rev Up Your Tax Return: Car-Related Tax Deductions

Good news. This year, we’ve been granted a 3-day reprieve on our taxes. Since Washington, D.C., will be celebrating Emancipation Day on April 15, the tax deadline’s been moved forward one business day. And because the 15th happens to fall on a Friday, we’ll actually have until Monday, April 18, to drag our feet, er … file our taxes.

Whether you’re a DIY master or a regular customer at your local accounting firm, chances are you want to get the most out of your tax returns. IRS regulations can be complicated, however, and it’s not always clear what you can and can’t deduct.

To help you figure it all out, we spoke with Gail Rosen, a certified public accountant with more than 30 years of experience. Here are the top 4 car-related deductions:

1. Tax deductions for business use

If you use your vehicle for business purposes, charity, or medical reasons, you can deduct your driving-related expenses using either of these methods:

  • Standard mileage rate. To compute your deductions using 2010’s standard mileage rate, multiply the number of business miles traveled by 50 cents (charity is 14 cents and medical is 16.5 cents) per mile. Your car insurance expenses are factored into the standard mileage rate. Keep in mind that if you deduct using the standard mileage rate, you can’t deduct your vehicle expenses — including depreciation, lease payments, gas, maintenance costs, insurance, or registration fees — for that year.
  • Actual car expenses. Unlike the standard mileage rate, this method of deduction takes into account all of the expenses associated with your car (gas, car insurance, car payments, repairs, etc.). In this method, you add up all of your vehicle expenses related to business use and multiply that number by the business percentage (business miles for the year/total miles for the year).

The tax regulations on this can be tricky, so be sure to visit the IRS website’s section on car expenses or your local tax professional for more information.

2. Tax deductions for donating a car

If you donated a car to a qualified charitable organization last year, you could be eligible for a tax deduction.

If the donated car is worth more than $500, the deduction will be the amount for which the charity actually sells the car without materially improving it. Your tax bracket will also determine how much you get back. For example, if you donate a car and it sells for $4,000, your deduction will be determined by multiplying that amount by your tax bracket (25 percent, 30 percent, etc.).

Some quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Check the value of your vehicle before donating
  • Make sure that the charity is eligible to receive tax-deductible donations
  • Be sure to itemize deductions on Schedule A of Form 1040

3. Tax credit for hybrids

Owning a hybrid provides many benefits, one of which is a tax credit from Uncle Sam. If you bought (or put into use) a new, qualified hybrid on or after January 1, 2006, you could receive up to $3,400 in income tax credit from the government. The dollar amount varies depending on the date of purchase as well as the make, model, and year of your car.

To qualify, these requirements must be met:

  • The car must be put to use after December 31, 2005
  • The car must be purchased on or before December 31, 2010
  • You must be the original buyer of a new hybrid (the credit does not apply to used hybrid vehicles)
  • The car must be driven predominantly in the U.S.

The tax credit for hybrids expired on December 31, 2010, however, so this tax season will be your last chance to claim the credit.

4. Tax credit for EVs

2010 was the year of the EV. Owners of EVs purchased on or after 2010 qualify for a federal income tax credit up to $7,500. The credit amount will vary depending on the capacity of the battery in the vehicle.

To qualify, these requirements must be met:

  • The vehicle must be new
  • The vehicle has to be certifiably electric
  • The vehicle was acquired for use (not for resale)
  • The vehicle must be placed into use during or after 2010
  • The vehicle must be used predominantly in the U.S.

If you’ve already filed your taxes this year, then bravo. If not, you have until April 18 to make the most of 2010 and qualify for as many deductions as you can.

Good luck and (many) happy returns.

Additional resources

Search for eligible charities
Get the guide to vehicle donation
Get the scoop on the hybrid tax credit
Get the scoop on the EV tax credit

Gadget-Driven: Vehicle Safety Meets Cool Technology

As our worlds become more and more high-tech, so do our expectations for our vehicles. In fact, many of us now rank technology over safety when shopping for a new car. As an insurance company, the idea of so many nifty gadgets distracting drivers from the road makes us twitch a little. But as an online innovator with roots in the dot-com era, the opportunity for technology to advance vehicle safety makes our actuarial hearts go pitter-patter.

Here are a few of the safety technologies we’re most excited about:

Tailgate prevention

Ford is currently developing “intelligent vehicle” technology, part of which is designed to warn you if you’re traveling too close to the car in front of you. According to an NPR report, “The technology enables cars in close proximity to one another to share information wirelessly. The premise behind it is that most crashes are avoidable if drivers have enough time to react.”

Using GPS and Wi-Fi, intelligent vehicles will be able to talk to each other (within 1,500 feet), communicating things like latitude, longitude, and speed.

Blind Spot Detection

Like its name implies, Blind Spot Detection (BSD) technology uses sensors to detect if there’s a vehicle in your car’s blind spots. It then alerts you using lights in the mirrors or audible alarms.

Already available in certain Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, and Volvo models, Business Wire reports that BSD systems could be in 25% of new cars by 2016.

Collision Warning Systems

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Collision Warning Systems (CWS) “use algorithms to interpret transmitted and received radar signals to determine distance, azimuth, and relative speed between the host vehicle with the CWS and the vehicle or object ahead of it in the lane.”

Simply put (for those of us who don’t have advanced engineering degrees), CWS warns drivers if an object is approaching too quickly. Some systems will even apply the brakes if imminent threat of collision is detected.

Vehicle apps

In addition to built-in safety devices, many manufacturers are also developing vehicle-specific apps for smartphones. GM’s OnStar app enables you to control your vehicle remotely (can’t remember if you locked the car?), access info like fuel levels and tire pressure, and track average miles per gallon. It even recommends oil changes.

Similarly, the Nissan LEAF™ app lets you begin charging your battery, see when a charge is complete, check estimated driving range, and turn the climate control system on or off.

Good driving reigns

While all of this technology may one day deliver an accident-proof car, the best way to avoid collisions in the meantime is to stick with good old-fashioned safe driving. Check out these 7 Tips for Good Driving, and be your own safety device.

Know of any cutting-edge technological advancements for cars? Let us know.

Related links

Find out about some pretty cool new innovations from Ford
Just how do Google’s driverless cars get around?