NO FLASHERS: Florida rules of road for driving in rain

Somewhere in Florida, nearly every sunshiny summer day is interrupted by a thunderstorm – or a brief, blinding, monsoon-like downpour. I got caught in one on I-4 last week. Several drivers on the interstate had their emergency flashers on.

Why, oh why, are so many people unaware that it is illegal to drive with flashers blinking?  What are drivers trying to say by hitting the hazard button? (Yes, we already KNOW it’s raining!)

The smart thing to do if drivers consider torrential rain too dangerous to drive in (which it can certainly be) is to move over to the side of the road – or better yet, take the first exit off the interstate.

Another Rainy Day Driving Law: Whenever you need to use your windshield wipers, you also need to turn on the headlights. Not the parking lights or daytime running lights. Other drivers need to see these beacons of light through the rain. The Florida Highway Patrol has safety tips.

Spread the word that emergency hazard lights are for parked cars only, not those on the interstate or those surfing along any water-clogged roadway. Check section 316.217 of the Florida Statutes on traffic control.

Posted in Auto, Driving Safety, General, Safety | Leave a comment

Do older cars need collision coverage?

Let’s say the new-car smell wore off years ago, and the air freshener mimicking the scent can’t hide the stinky fact that your car’s best years are in the rearview mirror. You’ve always had full coverage, and that made sense then – but does it make sense now? Like so many things in life, the answer to that question is: It depends.

Your insurance company will only pay what your car is worth in today’s market. The decision on whether to keep comprehensive and collision coverage depends upon the car’s value. So, you have to do the math. A general guideline is that when auto insurance premiums reach 10 percent or more of what the possible claims payout would be, then it’s time to consider dropping comprehensive and/or collision coverage. But proceed with caution!

First, know the differences between the two coverages. Collision is self-explanatory; it’s for physical damage to the car caused by colliding with something. Comprehensive is for everything else, such as fire, theft, hail damage, vandalism, a broken windshield, a giant tree limb falling on your car – even flood damage. With a list like that, you can see that comprehensive coverage is worth keeping, for many reasons. Collision covers the dents in the fender – and worse. But if you wouldn’t repair a mechanical problem or major body damage because the car has little resale value, then you may want to drop the coverage. Again, the big caution is to first ask yourself what makes economic sense for your personal situation.

Don’t risk saving money on auto insurance today if there’s a good chance it will cost you more than you can afford down the road. In other words, choosing the lowest cost option could be costly! Do the math and consider what you gain by having better coverage, rather than what you may save by playing the odds that you could be untouchable on the highway and “unsuable” in court.

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Lightning Safety Awareness Week: Zap the myths

This is Lightning Safety Awareness Week , and we could all use a refresher course. Main lesson: If you are outside and hear thunder, get inside. Or, as the National Weather Service says, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”

Separate the myths and facts. A few facts are these:

  • Lightning CAN strike the same place twice.

  • It can strike without clouds and rain overhead.

  • Your house is generally a safe place to be, but stay away from anything that conducts electricity to avoid a shocking reminder of exactly why.

  • High structures, pointy shapes and being “in the middle of nowhere” are lightning attractors.

  • Lightning speaks with a forked tongue. In other words, it can have multiple attachment points and can spread out some 60 feet after striking the earth.

Lightning demands your respect, so give it from afar. Florida leads the nation in the number of lightning fatalities, and the number of deaths in the first half of this year is already equal to that of 2013.

The Lightning Protection Institute is the place to go for information on protecting your property with protection systems. In Florida, we get more lightning strikes per square mile than any other state, particularly this time of year with tropical storms nearly a daily occurrence. Thankfully, we’re not in the top for the number of lightning-related insurance claims. Some of that may be due to damage amounts being small, such as when a TV blows out. It could also be related to renters who don’t have insurance, which is what happened when lightning struck an apartment complex in Tampa early this month, destroying 18 units and displacing residents.

Check out – and share – these lightning safety videos. Be safe!

This is Lightning Safety Awareness Week, and we could all use a refresher course. Main lesson: If you are outside and hear thunder, get inside. Or, as the National Weather Service says, “When Thunder Roars, Go Indoors!”

Separate the myths and facts. A few facts are these:

  • Lightning CAN strike the same place twice.
  • It can strike without clouds and rain overhead.
  • Your house is generally a safe place to be, but stay away from anything that conducts electricity to avoid a shocking reminder of exactly why.
  • High structures, pointy shapes and being “in the middle of nowhere” are lightning attractors. 
  • Lightning speaks with a forked tongue. In other words, it can have multiple attachment points and can spread out some 60 feet after striking the earth.

Lightning demands your respect, so give it from afar. Florida leads the nation in the number of lightning fatalities, and the number of deaths in the first half of this year is already equal to that of 2013.

The Lightning Protection Institute is the place to go for information on protecting your property with protection systems. In Florida, we get more lightning strikes per square mile than any other state, particularly this time of year with tropical storms nearly a daily occurrence. Thankfully, we’re not in the top for the number of lightning-related insurance claims. Some of that may be due to damage amounts being small, such as when a TV blows out. It could also be related to renters who don’t have insurance, which is what happened when lightning struck an apartment complex in Tampa early this month, destroying 18 units and displacing residents. 

Check out – and share – these lightning safety videos. Be safe!

Posted in Lightning, Safety | Leave a comment

The right insurance keeps your boat afloat

Living in Florida means boating season never ends. With the right insurance protection, your boating days can be as carefree as a day at the beach. The type of insurance coverage you get depends upon the boat.

If you have a small boat, such as a canoe or kayak, you may have coverage under your homeowners or renters insurance policy. Coverage is usually about $1,000 or 10 percent of the home’s insured value. That amount of coverage includes the small boat, motor and anything you may use to tow it. It does not typically include liability insurance.

Extra liability coverage for boaters makes good sense. Some insurers exclude liability coverage for jet-skis under standard property insurance policies because of the high rate of accidents and injuries. Check with your insurer to see what’s covered and ask about additional protection that you can purchase through an endorsement. If you own a jet-ski or plan to rent one, check out our jet-ski safety video.

People who own small boats need to “go large” on safety. According to the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2013 Boating Statistics, eight of 10 boaters who drowned were in vessels of less than 21 feet. And, 84 percent of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket. Alcohol use is the leading contributor to boating accidents, along with operator inattention and inexperience. Not unlike the statistics for highways.

To cover physical loss for larger boats (and those valued above $1,000), you need broader coverage. With a watercraft policy or an endorsement to your existing homeowners policy, you’ll be covered for every type of loss or damage to your boat, including theft. There are a few coverage exceptions (such as normal wear and tear). Many boat owners choose a discounted package that covers the boat, motor and trailer.

Some people may decide to go without insurance on their boat because it’s paid in full, so no lender is “forcing” them to get coverage. That’s always an option, I guess, if you can afford to sink your investment. Back in 2004, when Florida experienced multiple hurricanes, you probably saw images of boats slammed together near marinas or flung into streets by high winds, resting a block from the ocean. I remember talking to a woman after Hurricane Ivan who said she had just sunk $10,000 into remodeling her yacht, which was found smashed to bits in a parking lot. “That’s not covered under my homeowners insurance, is it?” she asked. She knew the answer before asking the question, and now so do you.

Posted in Boats, General, Homeowners+Renters, Hurricane preparedness, Liability Insurance | Leave a comment

Definition of sanity means repeating hurricane season prep

It’s Hurricane Season, and here’s the drill:

Newspapers print their hurricane guides.
TV stations develop specials on preparedness.
County emergency managers host hurricane expos.
The director of the National Hurricane Center says Floridians are not well prepared.

Blah, blah, blah. Every year, it’s the same thing, and most people react by doing…..nothing. Until the last minute, of course, when a storm is barreling down too close to home, and there’s that crazy, mad rush to the grocery store.

It’s said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. That line has been credited to Albert Einstein and others. But whoever said it, it wasn’t a genius. Doing the same thing over and over again – in the name of hurricane preparedness – is sanity. To hold onto yours, each year you should:

  1. Review your insurance coverage.
  2. Consider getting flood insurance.
  3. Conduct a home inventory or update your existing inventory. Here’s a free online tool at www.KnowYourStuff.org.
  4. Visit your county’s website and see if you are in an evacuation zone. If you are, then develop a plan for evacuation.
  5. Tackle affordable home projects to prepare for high winds.

As you are well aware, the last hurricane to hit Florida was Hurricane Wilma in 2005. In the eight-year lull from devastating storms, what actions have you taken to be better prepared? If you can’t think of a single thing, then stop thinking and start acting. Doing nothing is certainly an option; it’s just not a good one.

At the very least, buy yourself some hurricane supplies during the sales tax holiday that runs from May 31 to June 8. It’s a start, and preparing for natural disasters is an activity that bears repeating.

Posted in Hurricane preparedness, Hurricanes, Property insurance | Leave a comment

When April showers are a deluge, flood insurance valued

“April showers bring May flowers,” as the saying goes. But it was no shower that hit Pensacola this week. It was a deluge. Some places in this Panhandle city reported 22 inches of rain within 24 hours.

Escambia County is in a state of emergency, and officials urged residents to be cautious as floodwaters were rising. Some roads are closed, and people are being asked not to drive around town. It may look like a few inches of water gently streaming over the roadway, but sometimes…..there’s no road under the water. If you have comprehensive coverage on your auto, you are covered for flood damage.

If it rains where you live, it can rain really hard – and for hours and hours. Again, we have another vivid example about why flood insurance is important coverage to have.

Average monthly rainfall in Pensacola in April is about four inches. Can you imagine getting five or six times the monthly rainfall in one day? Imagine it. It happens. It happened this week.

There was a photo posted about the flooding that showed water inside a Pensacola home as high as the doorknob. That’s about 3 feet of water. Even a couple of inches of water can cause major damage. Here’s hoping those homeowners had flood insurance.

If you’re curious about how many people in your county have flood insurance, here’s a math project for you. Locate your county’s number of flood policies from the FEMA website, then look at the housing data from the Florida Housing Data Clearinghouse. The housing data section has a chart headed “Year Structure Built,” and you’ll want that total number. In Pensacola, about 14 percent of homeowners have a flood insurance policy. Sounds rather low, maybe?

Yes, Florida has more flood insurance policies than any other state. We don’t have the highest annual precipitation; Hawaii does, ahead of us by 9 inches. A drop in the bucket, one that can be filled in a matter of hours.

Posted in Flood, Hurricane preparedness | Leave a comment

Season of preparedness starts early; notes from the Hurricane Conference

Hundreds of people were thinking about bad weather this week at the National Hurricane Conference in Orlando. This annual event is a forum for education and training in hurricane preparedness.

Here are a few quick notes based on topics discussed at the general session:

  • About 70 percent of Florida buildings were constructed before Hurricane Andrew hit, which proved the necessity of developing strong building codes. This means 70 percent of the structures in Florida do not have the resiliency needed to withstand high winds.
  • One speaker said we fool ourselves thinking that Florida’s now-exemplary building codes will help buildings survive when there is such a huge gap in new vs. old building codes. The code affects just the 3 percent of new construction added to the building inventory each year.
  • Coastlines have not been “scrubbed” by storms in decades. Conversations about whether to rebuild or retreat should be held now in communities, not in the midst of disaster recovery.
  • The intensity of storms may not be increasing, but the exposure is. Too many people live where the storms want to go.
  • Average annual insured losses from natural disasters in the U.S. are about $58 billion. If money is invested to harden homes, losses – and the arduous process of recovery and rebuilding – could be reduced.

Those are just a few highlights, and I’ll share more in the coming weeks. It’s probably safe to say that most of the attendees at the Hurricane Conference are above average when it comes to preparedness. They work in emergency management, law enforcement, the military or are government employees who focus on safety. The Insurance Information Institute was there, too, offering insurance workshops on topics ranging from flood coverage to understanding what’s in your policy. The first step to preparedness is education, and all progress begins with a first step.

Posted in Building Codes, Hurricane preparedness, Insuring Florida, Mitigation, Property insurance | Leave a comment

Cancel, nonrenewal have different meanings for insurance

Perhaps you (or someone you know) are among those Floridians who have had the experience of getting a letter from a property insurance company saying it would not be renewing your coverage. And, perhaps, your reaction was to shout something along the lines of, “I’ve been cancelled!” But that’s not what happened. You were not cancelled; your policy was not renewed, and there’s a big difference.

Nonrenewal of an insurance policy means you still have coverage until the insurance contract expires. On the other hand, a cancellation means the coverage ends before the expected expiration date.

A property insurance policy is typically for a one-year term, and after that year passes, either you or your insurer may decide not to renew it. If the insurance company decides not to renew it, Florida statute on insurance contracts requires at least 45 days’ advance notice. The law also requires that you be given a reason the policy won’t be renewed. If the reason doesn’t make sense to you, call the insurance company for a more detailed explanation. And, if that answer raises even more questions or concern, talk to the state’s Division of Consumer Services.

Insurance companies in Florida can only cancel a policy that has been in force for more than 90 days if the policyholder:

  • Failed to pay the premium,
  • Committed fraud or made a material misrepresentation on the insurance application,
  • Had a substantial change in the risk covered by the policy, or
  • Had coverage with an insurer that is cancelling all such policies in a given class of insureds, such as if it is no longer handling that specific line of business.

In these instances, the insurer is required to provide 10 days’ written notice of cancellation.

Florida statute does allow an insurer to terminate policies within the first 90 days of coverage. Why would a company do that? Well, just like you might change your mind about a purchase and want to return it, some insurers may decide the same thing. This doesn’t happen very often, but it’s happening right now to some people in South Florida who thought they had coverage with a private insurance company locked in for a year – and then learned otherwise.

If an insurance policy has been in effect for less than 90 days and an insurer decides to cancel the coverage, it must give the policyholder at least 20 days written notice, along with a reason for the cancellation. A reason given in this most recent case is for “exposure management.” Exposure is the possibility for loss, and what the company appears to be saying is that it took on more policies in the most vulnerable parts of the state than what it now deems fiscally prudent. So, it’s invoking a “return policy,” so to speak.

Posted in Homeowners+Renters, Insuring Florida, Property insurance, Risk | Leave a comment

Building a Plan B Mindset for Business Continuity

Does everything in your life work out exactly as you planned? Mine neither. Seems that life is nothing but Plan B – or something nearer the end of the alphabet. There are professionals who make a living planning for events other than the Perfect Day. I got to deliver a presentation on the Florida insurance market and business preparedness to a group of them recently, the Tampa chapter of the Association of Contingency Planners (ACP).

These professionals are crisis management experts and know all about disaster recovery and resuming business as usual after unexpected events. And, like many of us, they continually learn new things about being better prepared for disasters. One of the chapter officers had an interesting tale to relay about best-laid plans and how the pros keep learning.

Last month, several counties around Tampa Bay were under a tornado warning, and it looked like the twister was heading toward this individual’s place of employment. So, the tornado response plan was activated. Employees were directed to the stairwells to wait for the all-clear signal, while the executive team went to the conference room to keep tabs on the weather and be ready for the worst. That was part of the plan. Then they noticed a couple of things. There was no weather radio in the conference room; the radio was located in another part of the building. There was also no TV in the room, so they still couldn’t monitor breaking weather alerts. That practice drill proved valuable.

Does your company wait until a real threat to test its disaster response plan? A plan on paper is a good thing, and putting it into practice – before you need to – is a brilliant move. The first step is to get the plan on paper. If it’s only in your head, it’s not a plan. The Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety has an Open for Business tool to create a business continuity plan. It’s free, easy to use, and vitally important to help every business stay in business after a disaster.

Sometime, even the smallest oversight can present a big obstacle to disaster recovery. And, you won’t know what the obstacle it until you run a drill.

Posted in Business, Hurricane preparedness, Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety | Leave a comment

Making Bike Week a Safe Week

A sure sign of spring….it’s Bike Week in Daytona. What started as a motorcycle race along the beach in 1937 has morphed into a 10-day festival, bringing thousands to Volusia County. Bike Week – and every week – is a time for giving consideration to the two-wheelers on our roads.

There are a lot of registered motorcycles in Florida, more than 628,000 of them. That gives Florida the #2 slot, behind California, in the number of motorcycle riders. Ownership of motorcycles is also on the rise, as people look for less expensive ways to get around, considering the high cost of gas. But owning a motorcycle sometimes does carry a high cost. According to an analysis of motorcycle crash trends in Florida, registered motorcycle riders account for less than 4 percent of drivers and nearly 19 percent of all traffic fatalities. The analysis by the Center for Urban Transportation and Research at the University of South Florida relays that factors such as population and proximity to motorcycle rallies are reasons for increases in motorcycle crashes and fatalities. So, if you’re going to Bike Week and events like it, proceed with caution.

How much more dangerous is it to ride a motorcycle than in a car? Statistics on motorcycle crashes are scary – and not surprising. A motorcyclist is about 30 times more likely to die in a crash per mile driven than someone in a car. Driver behavior, of course, has much to do with motorcycle injuries and fatalities, specifically alcohol use or failure to wear a helmet. Those two behaviors are linked because motorcycle riders killed in traffic crashes at night were more likely to have blood alcohol levels over the legal limit and less likely to be wearing a helmet.

Bike Week is a blast. No doubt about it. And, the organizers have put together a “Survival Guide.” I didn’t see any safety tips on the website. Maybe everybody knows this stuff?

Posted in Motorcycles, Motorcycles | Leave a comment