Monthly Archives: April 2011

Baby on Board: Safety Tips for Pregnant Drivers

With Mother’s Day just around the corner, car safety for expectant mothers is an important (albeit controversial) topic to consider. We recently talked about the importance of child passenger safety in our car seat selection post – Child Safety Seat Guidelines Every Parent Should Know, but the safety precautions should begin even before the baby is born.

The controversial aspect of this topic centers on the potentially harmful impact of airbags to both mother and fetus in the event of an accident. In spite of concerns, both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists have set the record straight by recommending that mothers-to-be use vehicles with fully operational airbags. Air bags, combined with the following pregnancy driving tips are the best option for maximizing safety in the event of an accident:

• Buckle up, even though it can be uncomfortable. Pregnant women should wear the standard three-point safety belt at all times in a moving vehicle. It is important to situate the belt to sit low and snug on the abdomen to achieve the most safety benefits.

• Swap your small sports car for a roomier SUV or sedan during pregnancy. Driving a vehicle with spacious front seats will give you room to be both comfortable and safe.

• Continue to make room and you grow bigger. You will need to continually adjust the seats to maximize the amount of space between your belly and the steering wheel to ensure the airbags will have room to expand in the event of an accident. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recommends that your breast bone be at least 10 inches away from the dashboard or steering wheel at all times.

• Opt for being the passenger, when possible. The safest place for anyone to sit in a motor vehicle is buckled in the rear seat of the car, so claim this seat when you are a pregnant passenger.

• Avoid driving in any hazardous conditions or bad weather. This rule applies to anyone, but pregnant drivers should be extra careful.

If at any point in your pregnancy you feel uncomfortable behind the wheel, you should let others drive or opt for alternative means of transportation. You can always resume your normal driving schedule post-pregnancy, but there is no harm in being extra-cautious during those important nine months.

~R. Quick

For more information:  National Highway Traffic Safety Administration : The Pregnant Woman’s Guide to Buckling Up

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Child Safety Seat Guidelines Every Parent Should Know

Everyone wants to protect their children, and at DefensiveDriving.com, we think it is especially important that you have the knowledge and the tools to keep them safe when they are passengers in your car.

The most important rule to remember is that any child under the age of 13, no matter their weight or height, should always sit in the back seat of the car. In the event of a collision, the front seat air bags can prove dangerous and even fatal to small children.

Choosing the appropriate car seat or child restraint system is also important and can even be lifesaving. According to recent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration statistics, car accidents are the leading killer for children between the ages of 3 to 14.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recommends the following guidelines for a graduated car seat system to maximize the safety of your child.

Infants and Toddlers (0-2 years):
If your children fall within this youngest age group, they should be riding in a rear facing car seat at all times. Be sure to compare different manufacturer brands and ensure your child falls within the appropriate height and weight measurements for your model. Oftentimes, these seats are adjustable and can transition from a newborn car seat to a toddler seat; since this model should ideally be used at least until the child is 2 years of age.

Toddlers and Preschoolers (3-5 years):
Children that have outgrown their rear-facing car seats should be graduated to a forward facing car safety seat with a harness. This system should be used as long as the child does not exceed the maximum height or weight limitations.

School Aged Children (6-8 years):
This age group is too large for a standard car seat, but still to small to receive full and proper protection from the seatbelt alone, so you should use a belt positioning booster seat. This will help your child transition to using the vehicle seatbelts full time once he or she reaches at least 4 feet 9 inches height.

Once you have purchased a car seat, do not forget to register it with the manufacturer and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Once registered, you will be alerted if there are any recalls or product dangers with your particular make and model of car seat.

To learn more about driving safety, visit our Safe Driver Resources page.

~R. Quick

Defensive Driving in the Digital Age: Controversial Driving Apps

“There’s an app for that.” We all know the saying; so it’s no surprise to find there are apps for avoiding untimely run-ins with cops and checkpoints on the road.

A recent article by USA Today explores the burgeoning trend of smartphone apps that allow drivers to stay one step ahead of police officers by alerting users of upcoming red light cameras, speed traps, etc.

One such app, which is said to be the most popular of its kind, is called PhantomAlert. It provides an online database users can download to GPS devices or smartphones. It uses audible alerts to warn drivers of nearby patrol cars, school zones and DUI checkpoints.

According to the article, apps like PhantomAlert prompt both positive and negative opinions. On one hand, the app may encourage drivers to slow down or be more aware of their surroundings (pro). On the other, features such as the DUI checkpoint navigator hypothetically may validate drinking and driving to users so long as they don’t get arrested (con).

The issue of driving-related apps has even reached the Senate level, where four U.S. senators, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., are urging Apple, Google, BlackBerry App World and Research in Motion to stop the sale of apps they believe encourage drunken driving. A recent article by Time magazine states the senators opposed to the sale of the apps believe the technology allows drivers who have been drinking to find a suitable route home without facing the possibility of being stopped by a police officer.

In turn, Research in Motion has responded by saying they will remove the apps from their store; but the jury is still out on whether other app providers will follow suit. Apple has yet to issue a formal response and Google says the senators have not cited examples specific enough to inspire them to discontinue the apps.

A recent story by CNET outlines how industry officials are reacting to the recommendations made by the senators. According to the article, PhantomAlert CEO Joe Scott said that although RIM has stopped the sale of an unspecified number of driving-related apps, the media exposure has increased downloads on other platforms by as much as 8,000 percent.

Among them is Apple’s Fuzz Alert, which uses audio notifications to alert users of red-light and speed cameras when they are within a certain range of the cameras’ locations. Fuzz Alert owner Steve Croke said his app is trending near the top of the navigation category in the app store as a result of the recent surge in attention. He added that less than five percent of the checkpoints featured in Fuzz Alert are for DUIs, and that the DUI feature was not the reason he created the app.

Although app developers are receiving support from advocacy groups such as the Association for Competitive Technology (ACT), other politicians (including Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden) are following the lead of the concerned senators by sending letter of their own to Apple and Google.

As app makers continue to deal with censorship and legality issues, the fate of these types of driving apps remains uncertain. And whether you enlist the help of a driving app or not, it is best to remain alert and aware of posted signs in any given area while driving. Traffic laws are put in place to ensure the safety of drivers and therefore should be followed at all times. Better to obey the law now than end up in traffic court later!

To read about other types of apps that benefit drivers, see the blog “Driver Smarter: Smartphone Driving Apps Worth Trying.”

~ B. Waldman

Drive Smarter: Smartphone Driving Apps Worth Trying

At DefensiveDriving.com, we want your experiences on the road to be as safe and stress free as possible. To help achieve this, look no farther than your phone (not while behind the wheel, of course). Smartphone apps are quickly becoming a huge part of our daily lives, and there are a wide variety of apps that are driving and car related that are a valuable asset for any driver. We have compiled a list of some of our favorites that you should check out.

Hands Free:
Mobile phone use while driving is the main culprit of distracted driving; so many apps have been developed to help prevent this dangerous practice. If you cannot be out of touch with your emails and texts while driving, consider investing in a hands-free application such as DriveSafe.ly Pro. This program is available for Apple, Blackberry, Android and Windows phones and is designed to read text messages and emails out loud while you are driving in addition to allowing you to verbally draft your responses. You can also purchase hands free GPS apps such as the Magellan RoadMate that give verbal directions for your desired route.

Phone Blocker:
Help protect your teen drivers by eliminating the temptation of partaking in distracted driving by using a phone blocker application such as txtBlocker and TeenSafer. Because there is a higher prevalence of texting and distracted driving in teens, these apps are designed specifically for parents to restrict cell phone use while driving by disabling keypads and blocking incoming calls, e-mail, and text messages. According to Consumer Reports, these apps are activated when the phone is in pre-set zones, time blocks or once it is moving faster than a specified speed.

Gas Price Comparison:
Save money on your next tank of gas by using a price tracker application such as AAA’s Triptik or Gas Buddy. These apps help you find the best deal in your area by comparing current prices from your local gas stations. This will also be beneficial for out of town trips because it will give you directions and a map to the gas station you choose.

Accident Help:
Car accidents can be a scary and stressful situation for any driver, but applications such as Iwrecked (available on for Apple and Android) can help ease the stress and guide you through the steps that need to be taken. This program allows you to instantly access all of the information about your car (make, model, insurance details), and gives you fields to fill out with the contact and insurance information of the other party. Iwrecked also allows you to create accident reports in pdf forms, contact the authorities or your insurance company at the touch of a button and find nearby taxi and towing companies.

Auto Repair:
Breakdowns, repairs and preventative maintenance are all aspects of car ownership that can prove pricey, but applications like RepairPal, Auto MD and DriverSide will help you find the right mechanic at the best price in your area to complete the work. These apps allow you to compare mechanics based on customer reviews, get price quote estimates specific to your make of car, and locate roadside assistance such as tow trucks.

Our next blog will look at more controversial apps that allow drivers to stay one step ahead of police officers by alerting users of upcoming red light cameras, speed traps etc.

~R. Quick

Decoding the lingo: The true meaning of traffic tickets, citations and moving violations

Getting pulled over is never fun. Being stopped by a police officer can be intimidating and sometimes confusing if you are unfamiliar with the different types of tickets.

The DefensiveDriving.com team recommends getting acquainted with the definitions and consequences of terms related to driving faux pas. Being well versed in matters of the road may help drivers more confidently interact with police officers in any situation.

A traffic ticket (also known as a citation) is a notice issued to a driver by a police officer accusing him or her of violating a traffic law(s). Examples include:

• driving with a suspended license or without a license;
• driving without insurance or with insufficient insurance;
• driving with expired registration or without proper registration;
• making an illegal U-turn;
• reckless driving;
• running a red light or stop sign;
• leaving the scene of an accident (e.g. hit-and-run incidents); or
• speeding.

Any law that is broken while a car is in motion is referred to as a moving violation. But citations also come in the form of parking violations, which may be issued for illegally parking in a handicapped spot or parking in a no-parking zone, among other things.

All tickets may result in a penalty, such as a monetary fine or points on your driver’s license. In Texas, a moving violation is worth 2 points on your driver’s license; and a moving violation that results in an accident is worth 3. If you acquire 6 or more points on your license, you probably will be faced with annual fees known as a surcharge.

Surchargeable violations usually are those that constitute a crime, such as driving without a license, driving without insurance or driving while intoxicated. In addition to paying the fine for the original ticket, annual fees can range from $100 per year to $2,000 per year for three years. If you’ve racked up 6+ points on your license, the surcharge fee is $100 per year for the first six points and $25 per year for each additional point for three years.

Once you receive a ticket, you have 10 days to decide how to proceed. It is the driver’s responsibility to contact the court. You may either pay the fine or choose to appear in traffic court to contest the charges.

Drivers also may have a traffic ticket dismissed by taking a defensive driving course, most conveniently done online through a course such as DefensiveDriving.com. In most states, completing a driver’s education course will dismiss a traffic ticket if the moving violation was not criminal.

Upon completion of the program, the results will be entered on your driving record and your ticket points automatically will be reduced. You then will need to submit your certificate of completion to the court for final dismissal of the ticket.

Not only does taking a defensive driving course allow you to have a traffic ticket dismissed, it also gives you the opportunity to reduce your insurance rates and/or have points removed from your license. You do not have to have received a ticket to take a defensive driving class.

Parking tickets, however, may not be dismissed through defensive driving. To contest a parking ticket, you will need to submit a dismissal request letter to the court. Websites such as ParkingTicket.com make it easy and convenient for you to write an appropriate letter; and if the court declines your request for a dismissal, ParkingTicket.com will create an appeal letter for you at no charge.

So remember: It’s up to you to determine your course of action after you receive a ticket. Whether you pay the fine, contest the charges in traffic court or enroll in a defensive driving course, take into consideration how your decision may affect your driving record.

~B. Waldman