Monthly Archives: October 2010

What To Do If You Are In An Accident

Bad things can happen, even to the safest of drivers. For this reason, it’s a good idea for everyone, particularly young drivers, to know exactly what to do should they experience an accident. First of all, be prepared. Some things that may be useful to have in your car:

  • Your cell phone
  • A camera (if your phone doesn’t have a camera, you can always carry a disposable one in your glove compartment.)
  • A card with a summary of any pertinent medical information, such as allergies or chronic conditions, in case you are injured and unconscious.
  • Contact numbers for local and state police
  • Cones, warning triangles or emergency flares
  • Your insurance ID card and your car’s registration

First, don’t panic! Check to see if anyone is injured and, if so, call 911 for medical help immediately. Make sure that everyone knows not to leave the scene of the accident, as this can be construed as a hit-and-run even if that is not the drivers’ intention. If you do call 911, be provide the dispatcher with your name and contact number, a description of the accident and any injured parties, and the details of your location; make sure to stay on the line until the dispatcher lets you know it’s okay to hang up.

Then, get all cars off the road, if possible. If you cannot get a car off the road, have drivers and passengers remain in the car with doors closed until emergency help arrives. Once you have moved the car to a safe place, then raise your hood and turn on your emergency flashers to make your car more visible. Use cones, triangles, and flares to further heighten your visibility. Have all drivers and passengers move away from the cars to a safe location. Next, contact the police. Depending on the severity and location of the accident, they may or may not send an officer to the scene.

Once you have assured everyone’s safety, then take the time to exchange contact information for each car. You will need the name, phone number, and address of both the DRIVER and the OWNER of the car; if someone other than owner is driving, make sure to get both sets of details and to establish the relationship between the driver and the insurance policy holder. You will also need to exchange insurance company names and policy numbers and driver’s license numbers and license plate numbers. If there is a police officer present, make sure to also get his name and the police report number.

Next, take the time to document the accident, if possible. Take pictures of damage done to the cars and the accident scene. Make sure to cover the full extent of the damage done to your vehicle, so that you can later support any insurance claims. Write down a description of each car—the year, model, and make—and the damage done to both vehicles. Once you get home, write a brief description of how the accident happened and what ensued. While this may seem like the farthest thing from your mind at the time, your memories of the event will be fresher immediately after the accident. It can often be particularly difficult to remember traumatic events a few days or weeks later. If you notice any witnesses, see if they are willing to offer their contact details.

If a police officer is not present at the accident scene, then you should consider filing an accident report, as this could assist with the insurance claims process. You can find the appropriate forms at your local police station and/or on your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.

Throughout this process, try to remain calm, cooperative and polite in your interactions with others. However, be careful not to state to others or to police officers that the accident was your fault, as this could later be used against you in an insurance claim. Even if you feel that you are at fault in the accident, remember that there may be other factors involved that you aren’t aware of; instead, leave judgments about fault to the police.

After you’ve safely returned home, promptly report the accident to your insurance company. While you may be reluctant to do this, fearing a rise in premiums, the situation could end up being worse if the other driver claims and you do not. For example, the other party could claim for damages that weren’t apparent to you at the scene or may have a story about the accident that differs from your version. Even if you live in a “no fault” state, i.e. insurers will pay for expenses incurred regardless of fault; the other party’s insurance company can still seek payment from your insurer if it appears that you were at fault. For these reasons, it’s important to make sure that your insurer knows your side of the story up front.

This may also be a good opportunity to review your insurance policy, in order to determine what is covered and what is not. I’ll cover this in greater detail in a later entry, however.

Finally, make sure to take care of yourself! The adrenaline in your body after a crash may mask injuries that aren’t readily apparent. If you notice any unusual symptoms in the hours and days after the accident, particularly dizziness, ringing in the ears, disorientation or nausea; head injuries in particular can often go diagnosed.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Practice defensive driving so that you don’t end up in this kind of situation; however, if you are in an accident, being prepared and knowing how to handle the situation will help to minimize the trauma, damage, and cost of the accident.

To read more on a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

Check out these sites for more information about online defensive driving and business driver safety.

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How to Create and Implement a Safe Driver Policy

Whether your company manages a large fleet of delivery vehicles or simply loans out a few company cars for sales calls, creating and enforcing an effective safe driving policy can save your company a great deal of time and money. When accidents happen, whether on company time or not, employers often bear the cost: employees miss time from work, company property is damaged, and the company can be liable for damages incurred.

Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for all ages in the US. On-the-job crashes cost employers an average of $60 billion per year in revenue! In addition, these crashes will raise the cost of important benefits like disability insurance, social security, and workers’ compensation. Each crash costs an employer around $74,000; costs will exceed $500,000 if a fatality is involved. Creating and implementing an effective safe driving program will protect financial and human resources; reduce liability; and, above all, ensure the continued health and safety of employees and their families.

Safe driving policies, along with driver safety training, are proven to produce results. The National of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS) recommends a ten-step program for the successful creation and implementation of a safe driving policy. I’ll outline the basic principles of this policy below.

In 1998, Nationwide, one of the largest insurance and financial services companies in America, implemented a driver safety program along these lines. In the following year, Nationwide saw a 53% reduction in crashes, reducing the cost of operating the company’s motor vehicle fleet by 40%. Other companies have seen similarly drastic benefits. These programs are proven to work!

BECOME A SAFER DRIVER

Whether an employer or an employee, the first step towards ensuring safer driving policies at your company is to set a good example for others by being a safe driver oneself! Commit yourself to becoming a safer and more aware driver. Today’s highways are so over-crowded that even cautious and experienced drivers can have trouble navigating them safely. One has to be continuously vigilant and exacting about safety.

No matter what you do, always think safety first. Then, follow these basic good driving principles:

  • Wear your seatbelt at all times and ensure your passengers do the same.
  • Avoid frustration! Try to remain calm at all times; breathe deeply if you start to become aggravated. Also try not to frustrate others. Strive to be the most courteous driver on the road, no matter how others behave!
  • Observe all posted signs and speed limits.
  • Avoid distractions, especially cell-phone usage!
  • Maintain a safe following distance.
  • Conduct a safety check before driving, to make sure that tires, lights, and wipers are in good shape. Adjust your mirrors before setting out.
  • Be alert, pay attention to your surroundings, and always look ahead for hazards.
  • Avoid fatigue.
  • Take a defensive driving course to improve your driving skills.

 

COMPONENTS OF A SAFE DRIVING POLICY

These basic safe driving practices should be clearly communicated to all employees in your company’s driving policy. This policy will set out the basic expectations and requirements for anyone driving a company vehicle or driving a personal vehicle while conducting company business. In this policy, consider covering the following areas:

1.      Employees must maintain adequate licensing and, if driving their own vehicles, insurance.

2.      Employees must adhere to all state and federal laws.

3.      Employees must promptly report accidents, tickets, and violations.

4.      Employees must practice safe driving habits.

5.      Employees must never drive while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

6.      Employees must always wear seatbelts.

7.      Employees must adhere to clearly stated policies regarding the transportation of passengers.

These are just a few of the key points that should be covered in an effective safe driving policy.

ENSURING POLICY EFFECTIVENESS

Designing a policy, however, is just the first step. Beyond that, it takes commitment and dedication to make sure that the policy is widely understood and adopted, so that the company and its employees see real results.

 Those in leadership positions should set a positive example, both in their own driving and in the expectations they communicate to their employees. For example, those in management positions should never pressure their subordinates to text or call while driving. The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires that employers provide a workplace free of hazards. Driving is now considered a workspace and distracted driving a hazard; as more and more states enact bans on cell phone use while driving, it’s more important than ever that employees not take calls or texts while driving.

When designing a policy, it’s crucial to get all employees and senior management involved. Make sure that all levels of the company staff involved in the planning process, so that everyone will be more likely to accept and understand the policy.

Together, create a written policy that is clear, comprehensive, and effective. This policy needs to be distributed to all employees and posted in the workplace. Because we all tend to be forgetful, it’s a good idea to re-distribute the policy from time to time, so that everyone stays informed. This way, you’ll also be able to communicate any changes to the policy.

Have employees sign a safe driving agreement, so that management and staff are on the same page about what is expected and required.

Conduct annual checks of employees’ motor vehicle records. Make sure to have clearly communicated limits for the number of acceptable violations. Additionally, establish a training program for employees with repeated offenses.

Make sure to have a clear process for reporting and investigating crashes and similar incidents, so that employees know what the proper procedure is in such a situation.

Create a reward or incentive program to encourage employees who drive safely and maintain safe driving habits. Positive reinforcements are often more effective than negative ones!

Continue to provide safe driver training to employees. It’s easy for all of us to become complacent; having a little extra encouragement and advice from time to time is a great way to ensure continued safe driving. A defensive driving course is a great way to remind your employees of the importance of safe driving while equipping them with the skills they’ll need to navigate any kind of driving emergency.

For more information on safe driver policies and driving tips, check out these resources:

Network of Employers for Traffic Safety www.trafficsafety.org

Occupational Safety and Health Administration www.osha.gov

 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Business Defensive Driving http://www.businessdriversafety.com/

Automatic Transmissions: Common Problems and Maintenance

Before reading this entry, you may want to check out my previous entry on how an automatic transmission works since this will provide some useful background information that will help you to understand how and why these transmissions can fail.

Unlike an engine, which can exhibit any number of odd symptoms when a problem occurs, an ailing automatic transmission will generally display one of a handful of symptoms:

  • Car won’t go into gear at all
  • Shifts are delayed or uneven (jerky or too sudden)
  • Unusual noises occur during shifts
  • “Slipping” occurs when the car is in gear
  • Car won’t go into low or reverse gears
  • Vehicle tries to move while in park or neutral
  • Shift lever is difficult to move

If the transmission won’t go at all (or if shifts aren’t smooth), your best bet is to check the transmission fluid. For step-by-step instructions on how to do this, see my previous entry on engine maintenance. You may need to add extra fluid if the level is too low. If this problem occurs repeatedly, it’s likely that there’s a leak in the system that will need to be repaired by a professional. Note that automatic transmission fluid is usually a deep red color, unlike engine oil, which is a light brown. If you notice red fluid leaking from your car or on your engine, then a leak is most likely present in your transmission.

 A clogged filter could also keep a transmission from functioning properly. If you’ve never had your transmission’s filter replaced, have your mechanic do so the next time your car is serviced. The problem could also lie in the pump. If the pump isn’t maintaining fluid pressure, then the complex hydraulic system that powers the transmission won’t function.

Delayed engagement, i.e. a lag time between when you shift gears and when the car actually starts moving, can also indicate a problem with the transmission. This will be most noticeable when the car has just begun to run, so if you want to check for transmission problems, the best time to do so would be right after you’ve started the engine and are ready to drive. The transmission should engage almost immediately after a gear is selected. If this doesn’t happen, there’s likely a problem developing.

Delayed shifting is often caused by valves sticking the valve body, which prevents shifts from happening when they should. On newer cars, which control shifts using a computer, the problem could lie in the shift solenoids that are used to trigger shifts. If this is the case, these components of the transmission will likely need to be serviced or replaced. If the problem lies in the computer itself, then a reconfiguring of the computer is likely all that is necessary. Automatic transmissions also contain spring-loaded dampeners, called accumulators, which ensure that shifts happen gently. If the car suddenly jerks or slams into gear, i.e. the reverse of delayed shifting occurs, then the accumulators are likely to blame. 

Slipping is another problem that can indicate something is wrong with your transmission. If you press the accelerator and the RPM increases but the speed doesn’t, this means that the transmission is going into gear but isn’t staying there. This is likely a sign that one of clutch packs or bands has burned out. Check your transmission fluid: if it’s dark, discolored, or burnt-smelling, then a ruined clutch is likely the culprit.

If the vehicle has difficulty with reverse or low gear, then the most likely problem is in the torque converter. The torque converter contains a one-way clutch that only allows components to spin in one direction.  If this isn’t working properly, then the vehicle won’t go into low or reverse gears.

Finally, the problem could be purely mechanical, i.e. a broken component or stripped gear. Look carefully under the hood, as metal shavings or chips could indicate that one or more gears have been stripped. If this happens, you will likely have to have your transmission rebuilt.

Maintenance

So, what can you do to prevent these problems from occurring? The most important thing is to be sensitive to the sounds and functions of your transmission so that you can notice any odd behavior as soon as it begins. The transmission is a sensitive and complex system, in which small problems can very quickly escalate into major ones. Since this system is so expensive to repair, nipping any problem in the bud will save time, money, and hassle.

Even if you don’t notice any problems with your transmission, you should still check your transmission fluid twice a year. Maintaining proper fluid levels can help to prevent problems from developing. In addition to checking the level of the fluid, check the color and odor, just as you would when checking the oil level.

Next, remember that transmission oil, like engine oil, needs to be replaced at appropriate intervals. While a complete servicing done at a dealership will most likely include a change of transmission oil, your local mechanic may not do so at every servicing. Make sure that you keep complete and accurate records of your car’s service history, including each oil change. That way, you will know if a transmission oil change is overdue. For guidelines on when such a change must be done, see your owner’s manual, which will recommend the appropriate timeline for transmission oil changes and the grade of oil which should be used. Make sure that the oil filter is changed along with the oil. Also have your mechanic check carefully for any leaks in the system when the car is serviced.

Additionally, try to avoid driving behaviors that can place excess strain on the transmission. “Rocking” a vehicle to get it out of a snow bank or rut can easily destroy a transmission in minutes. This is because this “back and forth” gear shifting causes the transmission to heat up, which will result in rubber parts—like the very important seals and gaskets—failing. The transmission fluid will also burn off, and metal parts can warp. All of this leads to a useless transmission. Towing a heavy load, driving in continuous stop and go traffic in hot weather, and racing can also cause a transmission to overheat.

Finally, towing the car with the drive wheels (front or back, depending on the car) still on the road can damage a transmission as well. Your towing company should know better, but just in case, be on the safe side and check.

Even when properly cared for, however, transmissions can still break down. So, if you do notice anything amiss, get it checked out sooner rather than later.

To read more on a broad range of subjects from “How To Change A Tire” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

How to Handle a Tire Blowout

No matter how conscientious a driver you are and how well maintained your car is, driving emergencies can and do happen. When these emergencies do occur, however, being prepared and knowing how to handle the situation will help you to get you, your car, and your passengers out of danger unscathed.

One of the more dramatic emergencies that you may encounter as a driver is a tire blowout. Unlike a flat tire, which involves a slow loss of air pressure, during a tire blowout the tire loses pressure very rapidly. Because of the suddenness with which a tire blowout usually occurs, it’s particularly important that you know exactly what to do in such a situation, so that you can react quickly and effectively.

Fortunately, today’s tires are generally very reliable, so blowouts don’t happen all that often. When they do occur, they happen for several reasons. The most common cause by far is under-inflation; when under-inflated; the tire walls flex more than they should. As you drive, heat builds up in the rubber, especially on a hot day, which can result in a blowout. Over-inflation can also cause a blowout, as overinflated tires are more easily slashed and punctured by objects on the road. Over-loading, large punctures, excess wear, and age can also cause blowouts.

The best way, then, to prevent a blowout is to practice good tire maintenance. Make sure your tires are inflated to within the recommended pressure range (usually indicated in a chart on the inside of the door well.) Use a tire pressure gauge to make sure you have properly inflated the tires, or, if you do not know how to do so, have your mechanic check and maintain your tire pressure. Rotate and replace your tires as necessary, making sure to check tread depth. A good test is to insert a penny head down into the tread; the tread should at least cover Lincoln’s head. If you are going to be carrying heavy loads in your vehicle, make sure that you know your vehicle’s load index rating and don’t exceed this weight.

Unfortunately, accidents still happen, no matter how prepared you are! A thumping sound in one of the wheels can be an indicator that a tire blowout is about to occur. Should you notice such a sound, pull over and check your tires.

If a blowout does happen, the most important thing to do is stay calm. As is the case in many driving emergencies, your instinctive motions aren’t likely to be the right ones. For this reason in particular, it’s important to maintain a cool head so that you can make the correct choices—the ones that will save you and your car.

If a tire blowout does occur, the first thing you’ll notice is that the car begins to vibrate and wants to swerve towards the blown-out tire, much like when a skid occurs. (In fact, handling this situation is similar to handling a skid.) First and foremost, DON’T BRAKE! Just as when entering a skid, this will cause your wheels to lock-up and will result in a total loss of control. Instead, accelerate slightly and try to keep steering the car as straight as possible; this slight acceleration will keep your car from “jumping” into the next lane.

Next, begin to slow down by removing your foot from the accelerator; do so GENTLY. A sudden release of the accelerator will have the same effect as braking. Turn on your emergency indicators to alert other drivers to your predicament and make sure you are aware of the cars on the road around you.

 Don’t jerk the steering wheel or make sudden movements to force the car into the direction you want to go; rather, steer gently and gradually. When you have control of the car, begin to maneuver towards the right hand lane and, when you have a safe space on which to pull over, do so.

Once you have come to a complete halt, wait to get out of the car until it is safe to do so. If you know how to change a tire and have room to do so safely, then proceed! However, if you have even the slightest doubt about the safety of the situation, don’t risk it. Call a towing company instead.

Even if this never happens to you, knowing what to expect from a tire blowout and how to handle it could come in handy if you see someone else on the road having this problem. For example, you’ll know that the car is likely to shift toward the blown-out tire and can adjust your own position on the road accordingly. As with all things, maintaining a “safety bubble” between you and other cars on the road will give you the time you need to react to any potentially hazardous situation.

To read more on a broad range of subjects from “How To Pull Out of a Skid” to “How To Jumpstart Your Car”, visit DefensiveDriving.com’s Safe Driver Resources website!

Check out these sites for more information about online defensive driving in Texas, online defensive driving in Florida, and business driver safety.

Drive Safely Work Week

As you may or may not know, this week—October 4th-8th—is official Drive Safely Work Week (DSWW). While all of us should (ideally) be driving safely all the time, it’s always great to take time out to remind ourselves of the important of safe driving and to pledge to stay vigilant about maintaining safe driving practices!

DSWW is a project of the Network of Employers for Traffic Safety (NETS), a non-profit organization comprised of private and public organizations that are committed to ensuring traffic safety in the workplace. Each year, NETS develops and promotes a safe driving curriculum for employers. While the “official” DSWW occurs during the first week of October, these materials are available year-round and are designed to be used at any time. So, don’t worry- the week may be half over, but it’s certainly not too late to plan a Drive Safely Work Week for your company!

Each year, DSWW has a different theme. This year’s topic is distracted driving, a huge—and growing—issue in the US. Why is distracted driving such a hot-button topic? Distracted driving is involved in 20% of crashes annually—that’s over 300,000 crashes. In 2008, 6,000 people were killed and over 500,000 injured in crashes involving distracted driving.

Lack of awareness contributes to making distracted driving such a huge problem. Many of us are probably driving distracted without realizing it. Distracted driving isn’t just about talking on your phone, although that’s the leading cause of distracted driving. Anything that takes your eyes, hands, or attention away from the task of driving is a distraction. Being drowsy will increase your chance of an accident by 400%, while reaching for a moving object will make you nine times more likely to have an accident.

Distracted driving is also a bad habit, and like many bad habits, it’s hard to break. You may not realize you’re drifting off into a daydream, or fussing over the radio, until it’s too late. While driving, you can have as little as half a second to react to a dangerous situation, so there’s no time to spare for distractions.

For these reasons, raising awareness by educating yourself and those around you and making a zero-tolerance safe driving pledge to yourself are two of the best ways to combat distracted driving. The DSWW curriculum is designed to help employers and employees do these tasks together, ensuring a safer work environment, reduced liability for employers, and healthier habits for employees.

As an employer, why is promoting safe driving so important? When car accidents cause damage to company cars and injure employees, the company takes on an added burden. Plus, employers can be liable for damage caused by employees driving vehicles on company business. Essentially, legal liability is incurred when a person or company takes on a responsibility to act and then fails to do so. In the case of distracted driving and related laws, employers arguably have a clear duty to keep others safe by not allowing employees to drive distracted.

As an employee, avoiding distracted driving and implementing safe driving practices could save your life or the lives of those you love. It can also reduce stress. Taking time away from hand-held devices, work-related tasks, and family pressures while driving can be a welcome source of relaxation; you may not realize it, but multi-tasking while driving can place a lot of strain on your system. You’ll also save money on insurance premiums and car repairs. If you have children, setting a good example for them—no matter how old they are—will help to ensure they grow up to be mature and responsible drivers.

Finally, states are increasingly implementing bans on the use of mobile devices and other distractions while driving. In Texas, for example, drivers in school zones are banned from using mobile devices, as are young drivers for the first 12 months after licensing and bus drivers carrying passengers under the age of 17. Forward-thinking companies and individuals should implement safe driving policies to make sure they stay ahead of legal demands. You can find up-to-date information on state driving laws at the Governors Highway Safety Association website, http://www.ghsa.org.

So, how can you participate in DSWW? First, check out the resources at trafficsafety.org/dsww2010. There, you’ll find a wealth of information and other resources for employers and employees, along with materials for DSWW’s five day program.

On Day 1, employees are encouraged to update themselves on the most recent state laws and to download an interactive tool that will keep them abreast of any changes. On Day 2, employees complete a self-assessment to determine what, if any, distracted driving habits they engage in; many will likely be surprised! On Day 3, employees test drive call-blocking software, designed to inhibit cell phone use while driving. On Day 4, employees are encouraged to explore car-pooling and public transportation options. Finally, on Day 5, management and employees come together to sign safe driving pledges and to show their support for combating distracted driving.

 However, ensuring safe driving in your workplace goes far beyond one week! DSWW is a great springboard for launching more comprehensive safe driving policies and practices. Another great way to improve employee driving safety is to send employees to a defensive driving course. At such a course, employees will not only be educated about distracted driving and other dangerous habits but will also learn about common emergencies encountered while driving and important strategies and techniques for avoiding and dealing with these situations. For example, do YOU know how to make an emergency lane change? If not, check out this link. How about dealing with brakes that suddenly fail? For more information on this, check out this video. These are just two of the many useful skills that your employees would learn in a defensive driving course. Plus, you may be eligible for a discount on your insurance premium; check with your provider.

Employees can complete such a course online, anywhere, and at their own convenience. To learn more, check out BusinessDriverSafety.com, the number-one ranked defensive driving course in Texas!

 

For more information on distracted driving, check out http://www.distraction.gov.