What in the World Is Leap Year?

Today, February 29, is a day that appears on our calendars only once every 4 years (aka leap year). But what the heck is leap year anyway? Is it a year where we magically jump forward in time? And what about people born on leap days? Since their birthdays only occur once every 4 years, does it mean they’re 4 times younger than the rest of us?

While we pride ourselves on having answers to the most complex insurance questions, when it comes to calculating time and space, we’re just as bemused as the next guy. So we did a little digging and here’s what we found.

How leap year works

Most of us are used to thinking of a year as 365 days. But in fact, a year on earth — the time it takes the earth to orbit around the sun — is actually 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds. Simply put, every year, we lose about 6 hours (just think of what you could do with that time!).

Over days, decades, and centuries, this misalignment could throw our lives off kilter. For instance, if we didn’t account for that quarter of a day every year, after just 4 years, our measurement of time would be off by a day. After 100 years, we’d be about 25 days behind, Christmas would occur in mid-January, our calendar of the seasons would be off, and we wouldn’t know the right time to plant certain crops and harvest others.

How often does leap year happen?

To give the world back its lost time and keep our calendar as accurate as possible, an extra day (technically known as an intercalary day) is added to the calendar every 4 years. So because 2012 is a leap year, it has 366 days instead of the usual 365.

The history of leap year

Julius Caesar, the guy who came, saw, and conquered, introduced leap day along with the Julian calendar in 45 BCE. Caesar’s decision to add an extra day to the 365-day calendar system was based in astronomy and not (as could be argued) the result of a megalomaniac desire to control both empire and time.

The old Roman calendar consisted of 10 months and 304 days. In a society that relied on the solstices and equinoxes to mark important religious holidays and manage the planting and harvest seasons, this lag in time eventually resulted in chaos.

So Caesar, acting on the advice of Greek astronomer Sosigenes, reformed the calendar to 365 days with an extra day added to February (which in Caesar’s time was the last month of the year) every fourth year.

But the system still wasn’t perfect. In fact, adding a leap day every 4 years made each calendar year too long by 11 minutes and 14 seconds. And as we know, this little drift forward in time can cause big disorder in the long run.

Then in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar — the calendar we still use today — to rectify this miscalculation. After doing some fancy Copernican math, Pope Gregory and his astronomers added a new rule to Caesar’s system to account for the drift in time: leap years should not occur in years ending in “00,” unless the year is divisible by 400. So though 2000 was a leap year, 1900 was not.

Leap year 2012

If all those numbers have you frazzled, don’t worry. Just know that thanks to the Gregorian reform, our calendar year and the solar year are only half a minute off and the movement of our calendar aligns (more or less) with the earth’s rotation around the sun.

So thanks, leap day, for giving us back our lost time and keeping us all on track. And for those people born on February 29, happy birthday, leaplings!

Is Your Infotainment System Causing You to Be a Distracted Driver?

Earlier this month, we brought you news of exciting car-tech innovations from Audi. At the time, we voiced our concern about the potential distraction some of these new gadgets pose (looking at you, integrated Twitter and Facebook). Turns out we weren’t alone.

The NHTSA’s concern with onboard infotainment systems

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently proposed guidelines to help curb the level of distraction onboard infotainment systems cause. The guidelines apply to communication, entertainment, info-gathering, and navigation devices. In other words, all those devices drivers don’t need to … well … drive.

While texting and driving has garnered a lot of press in the last few years, the issue of onboard infotainment systems hasn’t factored into the distracted driving conversation nearly as much. But now, thanks to these innovative in-car technologies, drivers can text BFFs, update their status on Facebook, or let loose with a witty tweet — all while cruising down the road. As a techie at heart, Esurance loves technology as much as the next guy. But as an insurance company, we feel there’s a time and a place for everything — and the highway is no place for multitasking.

How dangerous is distracted driving?

Just how big is this issue? Big enough that the NHTSA has set up distraction.gov, a site completely devoted to distracted driving (namely how to prevent it). The site claims that in 2010 alone over 3,000 people died in distracted driving–related crashes. And that distracted driving statistic doesn’t even include injury accidents (448,000 in 2009) or fender-benders.

NHTSA’s distracted driving guidelines

So, just what is the NHTSA proposing automakers do? Here are their guidelines for in-vehicle electronic devices:

  • Simplify interactions and the time needed to work these devices, with off-road glances of no more than 2 seconds
  • Make it easy to handle devices with one hand (so the other hand is free to stay on the steering wheel)
  • Limit the number of manual inputs needed to operate these devices
  • Limit unessential info in the driver’s field of view

The guidelines also suggest including a feature to disable in-vehicle electronic devices until the car is put into park — unless the device is far enough out of the driver’s view and reach to preclude distraction. The good news is that this technology already exists. Some carmakers already use it for their built-in GPS systems. As annoyed as you might be when you have to pull over to use your device, think about the potential accident you’re avoiding. Worth it, right?

Though the NHTSA isn’t forcing these restrictions (yet), we’re optimistic that automakers will take them seriously. To do so, however, they’ll have to strike a balance between providing the technology consumers want and including the safety features they need.

Obama on distracted driving

On a related note, President Obama’s recent budget request put aside $330 million for distracted driving awareness programs. And if the NHTSA has its way, the only connecting we’ll be doing in our cars is with the road.

Speaking of cars and staying connected, for lots of driving-related updates, you can connect with us on our Facebook page. But please wait until you’re out of the car and safely settled at your cubicle … er … at home.

Want to know more? Read the NHTSA’s press release.

Related links

Top 5 dangers of eating and driving
Car tech innovations from Audi
Full text of NHTSA’s infotainment guidelines (PDF)

3 Surprising Ways Esurance Helps Customers Save on Car Insurance

In the latest Esurance commercials, we talk about … what else … savings. More specifically, we talk about how Esurance was built to help you save on car insurance.

“Born online, raised by technology, majors in efficiency. So whatever they save, you save. Hassle, time, paperwork, hair-tearing-out, and yes, especially dollars.”

This, however, has led a few of our friends and fans to wonder, “How exactly does Esurance save you money?” It’s a darn good question and we have some darn good answers.

Top 3 ways we’re built to save  you money on car insurance

1. Born online (no envelope lickers)

As a dot-com survivor, we know what it takes to make a business run online. And with more than a decade’s worth of experience under our belt, we’re getting pretty good at it (if we do say so ourselves).

Our unique online customer experience helps us limit our expenses substantially — and it’s not hard to see why. Think about how much paperwork you get from your various financial services providers each year. Then multiply that by hundreds of thousands of customers. Now add in the costs … paper, ink, stamps. Even having someone to lick the envelopes and drop them in the mail costs money. It all adds up.

By offering our customers the option to handle most of that paperwork electronically, we’re able to save (big time) on overhead costs. And that’s a savings we can then pass along in the form of great rates. Meaning everybody wins.

2. Raised by technology (useful gadgets galore)

With easy-to-use online tools, super handy mobile apps, and a Twitter account (@EsuranceCares) designed specifically to help customers with their questions and concerns, we’re pushing the envelope on what can be done to make car insurance easier. And the more we’re able to make the experience smoother — from quote to claim — the more time and hassle we help you save in the long run.

But don’t get us wrong. Just because we’re constantly working to improve our online and mobile tools doesn’t mean we’re a company based solely on technology. We’re also comprised of living, breathing car insurance experts who work round-the-clock to field calls from customers, answer their questions, and help them find ways to save money. Which leads us to our next point …

3. Majors in efficiency (calibrated services and comparison quotes)

By offering a wealth of online and mobile tools as well as 24/7 expert service, we provide our customers with a streamlined process that lets them choose the easiest approach.

This is not only more efficient for our customers, it’s also more efficient for us since we’re able to calibrate our services more specifically. Plus, in the true spirit of saving customers time and money, we offer online comparison rates from other companies. We’ll even help customers buy whichever policy is priced right for them (whether it’s from us or not). How’s that for efficiency?

Now that you know our (not-so-secret) sauce and can see how simple the equation is, why not get a car insurance quote to see how it works? Find out if being born online, raised by technology, and majoring in efficiency can add up for you. Or just keep us in mind next time you’re shopping for car insurance. Either way, thanks for stopping by.

Melting Ice and Snow: Is Kitty Litter an Alternative to Salt?

With winter storms blasting parts of the country with as much as 9 inches of snow, many drivers are currently on winter storm watch. Even if you don’t have to brave the tempest, the recent storms are a good reminder to get that winter car kit in good working order (It may be almost March, but winter’s still packing some punch!)

Kitty litter for melting ice and snow

Did you know that of the 11 essential items to keep in your winter car kit, kitty litter is one of the top 3? If you find yourself stuck in snowy slush, non-clumping cat litter can be a lifesaver (or at least a timesaver). Pour it in the path of your wheels to help get traction.

And, as anyone who’s ever lifted a bag of cat litter knows, it’s really heavy, so if you keep it in the trunk, it’ll add weight to the rear of your vehicle, which can also improve traction.

Kitty litter for driveways

But how does kitty litter stack up against good old-fashioned salt when you want to de-ice your driveway? Well, as it turns out, kitty litter stinks when it comes to melting ice.

Salt, used since the 1930s to keep snow-covered roads from freezing and becoming dangerously slick, is still one of the best methods for melting snow and ice on your driveway. The reason is simple: salt not only melts ice by lowering the freezing point of water, it also provides added traction once said melting is done. In fact, one pound of salt can melt roughly 46.3 pounds of ice!

Kitty litter, on the other hand, is nothing but glorified clay. While it will help with traction, it won’t actually melt snow (chemically speaking). It’ll just absorb it, leaving you with gobs of wet clay.

So before the next storm hits, make sure you have some salt (any kind will work) on hand for fast de-icing action. And if you happen to be more of a sweet tooth than an ol’ salty dog, sugar will also work in a pinch.

Environmental impacts of salt

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 43 percent of all salt used in the U.S. is utilized for de-icing purposes (roughly 15 million tons a year!). And while salt is incredibly useful, excess salinity can damage vegetation and contaminate groundwater. So, with this in mind, salt your driveway only when you must, and try not to over salt. (Just like cooking, a little will often do.)

More winter driving resources

11 must-haves for your winter car kit
Find out what you need to have in your winter car kit.
6 simple tips for using snow chains
Even if you live in a place where it rarely snows, it helps to know the basics, just in case.
Greatest winter driving tips
Whether you’re facing down a blizzard in Babbitt, Minnesota, or waiting out a thunderstorm in South Ogeechee, Georgia, use these tips to stay safe (and hopefully warm and dry) this winter.

Presidents Day Predictions: What Would Our Former Presidents Drive?

Presidents Day is upon us, and what better way to celebrate our forefathers than by giving them new rides (American-made, of course). Here’s a list of cars we think some of our former presidents might drive.*

Our Birthday Boys

George Washington (born February 22, 1732)
As commander of the Continental Army, Washington helped liberate us from British rule. He also went on to establish the office of president, setting some pretty important ground rules for our modern-day democracy. Away from the public eye, Washington was an innovative agriculturalist and astute businessman.

Such a complex man would require a versatile vehicle — something befitting official state functions yet still rugged enough for weekend excursions to Mt. Vernon with Martha. For you, Mr. Washington, we have chosen the aptly named Jeep Liberty, a car with a well-regarded military history, just like yourself.

Abraham Lincoln (born February 12, 1809)
President Lincoln was a self-taught man from a modest frontier family. Though he rose to power and prominence, he never put much stock in flash or extravagance. Therefore, a luxury or sports car simply wouldn’t do.

Forward-thinking in his views on slavery, yet conservative politically, we think Lincoln falls somewhere between electric car and traditional sedan. With that in mind, we’ve chosen the Lincoln (obviously) MKZ Hybrid — a traditional-looking sedan with a modern twist (and we’d be happy to provide the modern car insurance to go with it).

More Presidential Rides

Since pondering former presidents’ cars is just so darn fun (and a good distraction from our other work), we couldn’t stop with just the birthday boys. Here are our other presidential picks.

Thomas Jefferson — Chrysler Town & Country
The Sage of Monticello had a big family — just how big is open to debate — so naturally he’d need a safe, reliable minivan to tote the kids around.

James Madison — Chevy Corvette
At just 5’4”, “Little Jemmy” might have wanted a car with BIG attitude. Need we say more?

Andrew Jackson — Harley Davidson
“Old Hickory” was tough as nails and we’re pretty sure he’d fit right in with the Harley crowd.

John Tyler — Chevy Monte Carlo
Who? What? Exactly.

Ullyses S. Grant — Dodge Charger
Grant charged and the enemy surrendered. We figure he’d like a car that reflected his style.

Chester A. Arthur — Cadillac CTS-V
“Prince Arthur,” as his nickname implied, was known for indulging in the finer things in life.

Franklin D. Roosevelt — Ford Fusion
Practical, reliable, great mileage … we could be talking about the car or the 4-term president.

Harry Truman — Ford Fiesta
Known for living modestly after his presidency, we think he’d go for an economical car.

John F. Kennedy — Ford Mustang
Do we really need to give a reason for this one?

Think we missed the ball? Got some more? Let us know your choices for presidential cars on our Facebook page!

*We’re just having some Presidents Day 2012 fun (it is the jolliest of holidays, after all). We’re in no way advertising or passing judgment on any of the cars (or presidents) listed in this post.