Distracted Driving: Causes, Laws, and Prevention

Whether you want to admit it or not, you probably have driven distracted.  Many people believe that it is not an issue, but the statistics are starting to prove otherwise.  In 2012 3,328 people were killed in distracted driving related crashes.

No Texting While Driving sign with a crossed out phone in hand.Actions that create distractions:

  • Texting
  • Using a cellphone or smart phone
  • Eating and drinking
  • Talking to passengers
  • Grooming
  • Reading, including maps
  • Using a navigation system
  • Watching a video
  • Adjusting a radio, CD or MP3 player

There are three main types of distractions when driving:

  1. Manual – taking hands off the wheel
  2. Cognitive -taking your mind off the task of driving
  3. Visual – taking your eyes off the road

Cell phone use, specifically texting, uses all three types of distractions listed above at the same time. It is the reason why 41 states have placed limits or complete bans on such activity while driving a motor vehicle.

Minnesota’s Distracted Law

  1. Bus drivers are banned from all cellphone use (handheld and hands-free)
  2. Novice drivers are also banned from all cellphone use.
  3. All drivers are banned from texting

Facts about Cellphone Use:

  • In 2011, 23% of auto collisions involved cell phones
  • In controlled studies, those who text and drive spent 10% of their driving time outside their driving lane
  • Another controlled study showed that most drivers took their eyes off the road for 3 to 5 seconds while texting, (Traveling at 55 mph) The equivalent to the length of a football field.

 Among Teens Surveyed:

  • 77% of young adults are confident or somewhat confident that they can safely text and drive
  • 55% say it is easy to text and drive and 34% admit to texting while driving
  • 52% admit to talking on the phone while driving

Double Standard

  • 48% of young drivers have seen their parents on the phone while driving
  • 15% have seen their parents’ text and drive
  • 27% of adults admit they have sent or read text messages while driving
  • While you are driving approximately 1 in 5 drivers around you are reading or writing a text message!

Increased Risk Taking

Young drivers who text and drive are 2 times more likely to ride with a driver who has been drinking and 5 times more likely to drink and drive themselves. Teens attitudes towards texting and driving is alarming.

Among those surveyed:

  • 97% of teens said texting while driving is dangerous but yet 43% admit to doing it
  • 75% of teens said their friends’ text and drive
  • 77% said they saw their parents’ text and drive

Texting and driving is difficult to prevent among young drivers when they see other adults and their own parents doing it.

Set the Example

Both young drivers as well as adult drivers have excuses for texting and driving.  Some feel the need to “stay in touch” or feel the pressure to “keep working” even while driving.

Show your family that you care about them by setting the example of not texting or doing other things that take your eyes off the road while driving. Young adults may not show it but they are watching your every move. They emulate what they learn from you and if what you do is good enough for you, it will be good enough for them!  Set the standards high!

Take a pledge that no one in your family will text or partake in other types of distracted driving.

Pledge that all family members will practice these steps to safe driving:

  1. You will not send or read texts while driving
  2. Before you begin driving you will inform family, friends or others when you plan to arrive at your destination.
  3. You will stop in a safe location to check voicemail or read text.
  4. You will have your passenger take your calls or read your texts.
  5. When driving alone you will turn off your phone or put it on vibrate before you begin driving.
  6. Wait to text or call someone until they are no longer driving.
  7. Stop talking to or texting someone if you learn that they are driving.
  8. Pull off the road to a safe location or wait until you’ve reached your destination before eating or applying makeup.
  9. Pull off the road to a safe location or wait until you’ve reached your destination to check emails, text, change CD’s, adjust the radio, surf the web on your cellular device, I-Phone, or I-Pods.
  10. As a passenger you will ask a distracted driver to drive safer.
  11. As a passenger you will help the driver by staying alert for dangers and not distract the driver from keep their eyes on the road.

Apps to control Phone Usage

Many parents are looking for ways to keep tabs on their young driver’s cellphone use while behind the wheel. It would be a good idea to place these apps on all family cellular devices. Especially if all of you have pledged to not use your phone while driving but are having a hard time sticking to the pledge!

You can find many Apps for your cellular phone that help you control the use of it while driving. What the apps are capable of doing vary from what type of controls you want on the phone. Some apps will read your text and emails to you as you are driving and automatically respond to the messages without you having to even pick up the phone.  One app tracks your texting, tweeting or Internet use while you drive. Other apps will completely block you from using your cellular device while the vehicle is in motion.  One app will even place your calls, texts and emails on hold while you are driving but still allow you the ability to place a “911” call in an emergency.

Your insurance agent can also be a good resource on ways to control or monitor cell phone use. They may even have a young driver’s program that will help reduce your insurance rates.

Free Claims Process Tip Sheet!
Free insurance claims process tip sheet.

Insurance Advisors, Inc.

Sources: Distraction.gov


Potholes and Vehicle Damage

Dogging potholes: The Midwest’s Spring Pastime

It is that time of year in the Midwest for the dreaded pothole!!!  As we finally thaw out from a bitter winter, we now have to switch gears from keeping our vehicles from sliding into ditches and other vehicles, to avoiding that potential vehicle damaging pothole.

Avoiding potholes is obviously the best practice but not always possible.  Here are some tips to help prevent damage from potholes:

  • Maintain proper tire pressure, this will keep the tire from pushing in towards the rim and damaging it if you do hit a pothole.
  • Keep a good distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you so you can identify potholes ahead of time and avoid them.
  • In inclement weather reduce your speeds so you have ample time to drive around the potholes.
  • Avoid that water! Accumulated water puddles in the street may be covering a pothole underneath it.  The size and depth unknown until you hit it.

Full car in a deep pothole.What parts of our vehicle can be damaged by hitting a pothole?

  • Tires, potential puncture, damage or wear
  • Wheel rim damage
  • Shocks & Struts
  • Suspension
  • Steering alignment
  • Exhaust system
  • Engine damage

Have your vehicle inspected if you think you have damage from hitting a pothole.

The collision coverage on your auto insurance policy will usually cover damage to your vehicle due to a pothole.  Call your agent to get exact coverage information.

By: Christine Gaffron, Insurance Advisors

Sources: Insurance Information Institute
Firestone Complete Auto Care

How to Prepare for a Flood

March is Flood Awareness Month

flooded street with flood caution sign3/16-3/23 is Flood Awareness Week in Minnesota no matter where you live, spring time can bring the possibility of flooding to your area.  With that said, it is a good idea to be aware of the different types of terms used to describe flooding and to be prepared in case of a flood.

Flood Watch:

This is issued when flooding is possible in the area that you live.  Stay tuned to your local news via TV, Radio or a NOAA radio for further information.

Flood Warning:

This is issued when flooding is actually happening or will occur soon in your area.  Evacuate the area immediately if you are advised to do so.

Flash Flood Warning:

Issued when a flash flood is occurring or will occur soon.  Walk to higher ground immediately.

Urban and Small Stream Advisory:

Issued when small streams, streets and low-lying areas are flooding.

Preparing for a Possible Flood

  1. Purchase a NOAA weather radio with battery backup.
  2. Find out what your communities official flood warning signals are.
  3. Know the elevation level of your property and how flooding may affect it.
  4. Identify any dams in the area and find out if they pose a hazard.
  5. Check with your city in regards to flood evacuation routes and where to find higher ground.
  6. Put together a disaster kit, include flash lights, a battery operated radio or NOAA weather radio and extra batteries.  Pack a first aid kit, sleeping supplies and clothing.  Stock up on shelf stable food and bottled water. Include rubber gloves and rubber boots.  If you have pets, include food and pet carriers.
  7. Place important documents such as insurance policies, deeds, property documents and personal documents (i.e. social security cards and birth certificates) in a safe place offsite.  You can also keep these documents in a fire proof portable file box that you can take with you in an emergency.
  8. Have a predetermined meeting location for family members to go to in case you get separated due to an evacuation.  Ask an out of town relative to be a point of contact for family members.  Family members can call this person and report to them that they are safe.

Prepare your home

  1. Familiarize yourself with how to shut off you water, gas and electricity at the main switches and valves.  Learn how your heating system works and where gas pilots are located on your gas appliances. Before you leave turn the electricity off at the main breaker if you think your electrical outlets will be under water.  If time allows place sandbags around the outside of your home to help keep the flood waters out.
  2. If you live in an area that has a high potential for flooding consider having a licensed plumber install an interior or exterior backflow valve.  Have your electrical outlets, switches and circuit breaker panel installed 12 inches above the expected flood levels for the area.
  3. Consider purchasing flood insurance. Regular homeowners insurance does not cover flood damage. You must purchase separate flood insurance to be covered in case of a flood.  First check to make sure your community is registered for the national flood program, then check with your insurance agent for pricing.  In some cases, you may need a certificate of elevation to get the best rate.  Flood insurance policies take a minimum of 30 days to go into effect from the time of submission, unless mandatory coverage is requested for a loan.  Insurance companies may not issue you a policy if there is a threat of flooding in your area due to an impending storm (like a hurricane).

By: Christine Gaffron, Insurance Advisors

New Traffic Intersections

woman driverNew Intersections in Minnesota

Many states have begun to build two new types of intersections to help with traffic congestion and safety; Roundabouts and Diverging Diamond Interchanges. When you drive across the United States you can experience these new intersections in states like Missouri, Utah, New York, Tennessee and Wyoming to name a few.

Minnesota’s Department of Transportation opened Minnesota’s first diverging diamond intersection in October of 2013 in Pine Island, MN and opened a second one on October 16, 2013 in the Baxter/St. Could area.

Diverging Diamond Interchanges (DDI’s)

A Diverging Diamond Interchange (DDI), also known as a Double Crossover Diamond Interchange (DCD), is becoming more common where intersections meet highways.  DDI’s/DCD’s are built above the freeway or highway, and require less land to be built on.  It also reduces the amount of time needed for traffic to get through the intersection by reducing the number of perpendicular intersections at each interchange. Pedestrians also benefit by having less corners to navigate.  The pedestrian has access on each side of the intersection and a main crosswalk access is in the middle of the intersection. Concrete barriers provide protection to the pedestrians from potential harm.  The cost of building a DDI is far less than a conventional loop and ramp intersections.


Roundabouts are a circular intersection with a central island.  Traffic travels in a counter clockwise motion.  Approaching traffic must yield to vehicles already in the roundabout. Roundabouts eliminate intersection conflicts because there is no perpendicular or opposing direction turns to have to deal with like at a normal four-way stop intersection.

European cities have used various types of roundabouts since about the 1900’s.  Cities and townships in Minnesota are beginning to use more roundabouts to control intersections. Roundabouts reduce crashes at busy intersections where accidents occur at a higher rate or where more than two intersections come together. Accidents at roundabout intersections have been known to be decreased by 39 percent for all crashes and decreased by as much as 89 percent for fatal crashes. Roundabouts provide smoother traffic flow. Also, when traffic is not idling at an intersection, vehicle emissions and fuel consumption is reduced by as much as 30%

When approaching a roundabout:

  • Slow down as you approach the roundabout.
  • For multi-lane roundabouts, as with any intersection, get into the appropriate lane as you approach the roundabout.
  • Yield to pedestrians and bicyclists crossing the roadway.
  • Watch for signs or pavement markings that require or prohibit certain movements.
  • When entering a roundabout, yield to vehicles already in the roundabout. Do not cross into the roundabout until all traffic from the left has cleared.
  • After entering the roundabout, drive in a counter-clockwise direction until you reach your exit.
  • Do not stop, pass or change lanes within a roundabout.
  • If an emergency vehicle approaches, exit the roundabout immediately and then pull over.

Since diverging interchanges have reduced traffic delays by 60 percent, improved safety to pedestrian and bicyclists’ access and lowered construction costs, MN Dot will continue to build DDI’s throughout the state where this type of interchange fits the areas traffic needs best.

Source: Minnesota Drivers Manual

Ice Fishing Safety

Minnesota Ice FishingA very popular winter past time in the upper Midwest is Ice Fishing.   There are many ways of enjoying fishing on a frozen lake in the winter.  You can walk out on the lake, drill a hole in the ice and start fishing with nothing but the blue sky above you.  You can fish in a portable ice house that protects you from inclement weather. Or, once the ice is thick enough, you can put a more substantial ice house out on the lake at the beginning of the season and leave it there until the required removal date at the end of fishing season. Ice house removal dates vary from year to year so check with your state’s DNR for the specific ice house removal deadline.

Before venturing out on frozen ponds, lakes or rivers CHECK the THICKNESS and CONDITION of the ICE! Be aware that snow covered bodies of water may not be safe.  Snow acts as a “blanket” preventing water from freezing completely.  The snow may also be hiding cracks or open water.

When going out on the ice keep some sort of sharp object close at hand that you can use as a spike to jab into the ice and help pull yourself out of the water if you fall in.  It could be as simple as a screw driver, ice chisel or hand spikes purchased from the store.  It is also a good idea to wear a life vest, which may help keep you buoyant if you do fall into the water.  However, DO NOT WEAR the life vest in an enclosed vehicle.

Minimum Clear Ice Thickness for these scenarios:

Walking                          4 Inches

Snowmobile or ATV       5.5 – 6 Inches

Automobile                     8-12 Inches

Pickup/Truck                  12-15 Inches

Transporting Ice Houses

In Minnesota wheeled fish houses have to be licensed as highway vehicles, registered with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and follow all rules of the road during transport of the house on public roads.  They require proper lights and trailer lights.  The width of the wheeled fish house may not exceed 102 inches or 8.5 feet.  If your trailer weighs more than 3,000 pounds it is also required to have brakes.

Fish House Safety

At the beginning and during the fishing season you should check your fish house for safety hazards.  Most fish houses are heated with propane fueled heat sources.  Check your propane tank for leaks at the connections to any gas lights, stoves or heaters you may have it connected to.  Check the hose lines for leaks as well.  Keep your propane tank outside the fish house.

Check to make sure you have adequate ventilation inside the fish house for the type of heater you are using to heat your fish house.  Vents may need to be checked for birds nest or other debris after being stored for the off season.  If the vent is on the roof, make sure you keep it clear of snow!

Equip your ice house with a Carbon Monoxide Detector, as well as a Smoke Detector and a Fire Extinguisher!

Always check with your insurance agent on coverage for your ice house and your fishing gear.

Be Safe and Good Luck Fishing!

*Source: MNDNR

Alternative Heat Sources for Your Home

Wood and Pellet Burning Stove Safety| Space Heater Safety.3 Types of Alternative Heat Sources for Your Home

These past few winters seemed to have been colder than normal, forcing people to look for alternative heat sources for their homes.  Most people are looking for alternative ways to heat the rooms they occupy the most while turning down the thermostat in rooms not used as much such as bedrooms, laundry rooms and basements.

Three types of alternative heat sources are wood burning stoves, pellet burning stoves and portable space heaters.  All are good ways to heat the rooms used most in the home and reducing the monthly heating bill.

Wood Burning Stoves

These stoves are not set into a wall like a fireplace so a person can walk completely around the stove.  It includes a fire chamber, a stove pipe connected to a chimney for venting out the smoke it produces from burning wood.  It uses chopped wood for fuel.

Pellet Stoves

This kind of stove is similar to a wood burning stove except for two things.  It uses wood or corn pellets for fuel and it is vented out from an exhaust vent on the stove out to a vent through the wall.

Portable Space Heater

The most common type of portable space heater is run on electricity.  It usually has a fan to distribute the heat it produces and a control for regulating the temperature of the heat.

Safety Tips for Wood/Pellet Burning Stoves and Portable Space Heaters

  • Never leave stoves or heaters unattended
  • Always have a Fire Extinguisher nearby
  •  Don’t build too big of a fire
  • Make sure your home is equipped with both a Smoke Detector and a Carbon Monoxide Detector
  • Don’t burn trash in wood or pellet burning stoves
  • Always supervise children near stoves or space heaters
  • Keep furniture, fuel sources, books and other items 3 feet from stoves and space heaters
  • Clean out ashes from stoves on a regular basis
  • Make sure the space heater has an automatic shut off if tipped over
  • Keep your pets away from the stove or space heater

Whether you are considering a wood/pellet burning stove or a space heater for your home it is a good idea to do some research to ensure you choose what fits best for you and your family. Once you have made your decision make sure you check your homeowner’s insurance policy. Some insurance companies require additional coverage on wood or pellet burning stoves.

By: Christine Gaffron

Don’t Let Your Driving Routine Become Routine

Distractions are everywhere – and we hear daily about the dangers of distracted driving.  But letting your daily drive get too routine can also be a hazardous distraction when you’re driving.

Driving HabbitsHave you ever arrived at your destination and realized you didn’t remember  much about getting there? It happens to the best of us even when we think we’re practicing good, responsible driving techniques. This experience is usually referred to as highway hypnosis or automatically, which is the ability to do routine things, like walking, speaking, repetitive work tasks and driving without  thinking about the many details that go into each effort. That leaves our minds free to converse with other passengers, to think about what we’re going to do when we reach our destination or to plan a project or activity.

Can it be dangerous? Definitely. A recent review of articles on highway crashes attributed to inattentive driving include the following:

  • A Colorado woman killed when her motorcycle was rear-ended.
  • A Wisconsin woman killed when a driver drifted off the road and struck her as she walked alongside the highway.
  • A Florida bicyclist who suffered a closed head injury, spinal fracture, ear damage and a shoulder fracture when hit by a truck.

While it’s difficult to determine how many accidents can be attributed to driver inattention, some experts estimate it may be as high as a million crashes  a year. So how do you limit the likelihood that you’ll find yourself driving on auto pilot? Here are some tips to help you avoid reaching your destination wondering “How did I get here?”.

  •  Don’t drive when you’re tired. It’s a lot easier to get hypnotized by the road when you ‘re tired. And worse yet, you risk falling asleep at the wheel. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates at least 100,000 crashes – including over 1,500 fatal accidents are caused annually by drivers who drove when they were too tired to get behind the wheel. Open windows if you feel sleepy  or stop and get a soda, coffee or water to drink.

Focus on driving.  Easier said than done when the kids are fighting in the back seat and you’re running late. But it’s better to pull off and settle the fight than to put your driving on auto and run into the car in front of you when it does a quick stop – all because you were trying to stop the kids from fighting.

Insurance Advisors, Inc.

Driving Safety: Winter Survival Kit

Always Carry A Winter Survival Kit!

winter survival kit for car

Safe winter driving and lowering distractions can only go so far. Accidents happen. Everyone should carry a Winter Survival Kit in the car. In an emergency, it could save your life and the lives of your passengers. Assemble winter survival kits for all of your vehicles. Keep them inside the vehicle where they will be readily accessible. The kit should include:

  • A shovel
  • Windshield scraper/ broom
  • Flashlight with extra batteries
  • Battery powered radio
  • Water
  • Snack food/ energy bars
  • Matches & small candles
  • Extra hats socks & mittens
  • Emergency flares & reflectors
  • First aid kit with pocket knife
  • Necessary medications
  • Blankets or sleeping bag
  • Tow chain or rope
  • Road salt, sand, or cal litter for traction
  • Booster cables
  • Cell phone adapter to put into lighter
  • Fluorescent distress flag & whistle to attract attention

Kit Tips

  • Reverse batteries in flashlight to avoid accidental switching and burnout.
  • Store items in the back seat in case the trunk is jammed or froze shut.
  • Choose small packages of food that you can eat hot or cold

Winter Survival Tips

  • Keep your gas tank half full.
  • Tell someone where you’re going.
  • Stay in your vehicle – it’s a good shelter.
  • Avoid overexertion.
  • Let fresh air into your vehicle


Christmas Tree Safety

Before you deck the halls this holiday season, be fire smart. A small fire that spreads to a Christmas Tree can grow large very quickly.

Picking the tree

  • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles that do not fall of when touched

Placing the tree

  • Before placing the tree in the stand cut 2 inches from the base of the trunk.
  • Make sure the tree is at least three feet away from any heat source, like fireplaces radiators, candles, heat vents or lights.
  • Do not block any exits with your tree.
  • Add water to the tree stand. Be sure to add water daily.

Lighting the tree

  • Use lights that have the label of a recognized testing laboratory, some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use.
  • Replace any string of lights with worn or broken cords or loose bulb connections. Connect no more than three strands of mini string sets and a maximum of 50 bulbs for screw-in bulbs. Read manufacturer’s instructions for number of LED strands to connect.
  • Never use lit candles to decorate the tree.
  • Always turn off the Christmas tree lights before leaving home or going to bed.

Christmas Tree SafetyAfter Christmas

Get rid of the tree after Christmas or when it is dry. Dried out trees are a fire hazard, and should not be left in the home or garage, or leaning against your house. Check with your local community to find a recycling program.

Driving Safety: Deer in the Headlights

Watch For Deer While Driving!

Deer Crossing Minnesota

For those of us who live in Minnesota, we are well aware that most any season is “peak” for deer and auto collision. Here are some tips to prevent a collision between your car and a deer.

  1. Pay attention to your surroundings. 
    Look for the yellow traffic sign with a deer on it. If you see one, it means you’re entering an area with an active, concentrated deer population. Make sure your eyes are always moving, and pay  particular attention to the side of the road. AND, don’t forget to pay attention to what other cars are doing. The car in front of you may brake suddenly. If you notice something out of the ordinary, slow down.
  2. One deer probably equals many more.
    Deer usually travel in herds, so if you see one cross the road, look immediately to where the deer came from. There are probably others ready to cross. Deer are most active between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m.
  3. High beams, high beams, high beams.
    Use your high beams as much as oncoming traffic will allow. High beams do a great job lighting up the road in front of you, especially the side of the road where the herd may be hanging out. If you feel your head lights aren’t lighting up the road properly, consider taking your car to your local mechanic for a check up. A headlight may be burned out or need an adjustment.
  4. Never swerve for a deer or other animal.
    While swerving is an instinct many of us feel when an animal runs in the road, it can put you in a more dangerous situation. Swerving can cause you to lose control of your car, put you in the lane of oncoming traffic, or cause you to hit a tree or ditch and overturn your vehicle. The best techniques are to remind yourself not to swerve and to braked firmly.
  5. Consider purchasing deer whistles.
    While there is conflicting data on whether or not deer whistles actually work, they’re a cheap precautionary measure. I believe it’s worth giving them a try.
  6. Stay calm and safe.
    If you do hit a deer, another natural instinct is to get out of your car to check the damage. But can you really determine the extent of the damage just by looking at it? Probably not. I recommend you stay in your car. From there, you can do a number of things that will keep you and your family safe:
    Call 911           Turn on your hazard light          Call your insurance agent
  7. Knowledge is power.
    Make sure you understand what coverage’s and limits of insurance you have on your auto insurance policy. Comprehensive insurance provides coverage for damage that results from hitting an animal. Without that coverage, you’ll be left with the bill.