Surviving the 3 Scariest Car Scenarios

Sometimes drivers don’t take precautionary advice as seriously as they should…until something unfortunate actually happens to them or someone they know.  The potential danger just doesn’t seem as real until drivers have some first hand experience that scares them and makes  think a little.   Since driving a car is a necessary daily event for many of us that has become commonplace, it’s perhaps easy to become desensitized to the variety and intensity of dangerous outcomes that can befall us whenever we get behind the wheel.

For some who do experience dangerous and horrific traumas, yet manage to survive them, it becomes a fervent mission to tell their story so others can avoid the same experience…and most importantly, avoid a life threatening outcome.  Kids and Cars founder Janette Fennell is an incredible example.   In 1995, she and her husband were carjacked, robbed and left in their trunk in an remote location.  Fortunately, they escaped, but didn’t discover that their infant son was unharmed until they arrived back home to find him sitting in his baby seat in the driveway.  Janette later founded the advocacy group Kids and Cars and successfully lobbied to get trunk releases required in all new vehicles.

Could something similar happen to you? Approximately 45,000 carjackings occur each year.

Carjacker In/Near Your Vehicle
The key to keeping yourself safe is to vigilantly scan your surroundings. People in parking lots tend to be arriving or leaving without much delay.  So someone just standing around for any period of time…uninvolved with getting in or out of a car…might be looking for a potential victim.  So don’t dally…quickly get in your vehicle and lock the doors.  But if someone is already in your car or about to confront you? Immediately comply and move away. Give them what they want and create as much distance between you and the intruder as possible.  If the car is stationery…get out…even if it’s in drive. If it’s moving, stop quickly and get out.

Car Trouble or Flat Tire at Night
Stay in your car and call for help!  Many people make the biggest mistake of getting out of their vehicle in the midst of or near traffic.  Traffic behind you will invariably begin to slow and stop. If an apparent good Samaritan or helpful stranger comes close… don’t open the door. Just talk to them through the window and ask them to call the police if you are unable to do so.

Car in Flashflood, Mudslide or Sinking in Water
Probably the most valuable things to have for this situation is a Life Hammer device.  It’s a small tool that makes it easier to break out windows and cut seat belts if needed…to help you escape a crashed or submerged vehicle.

One of the biggest challenges to overcome is that water will cause the power to go out and most modern cars have power locks and windows.  Trying to open the door while the car is filling up with water is almost impossible.  After it’s full, it may be too late.  The minute or so after a car lands in water, but is not yet submerged is when it’s easiest to escape and survive…according to researchers from the University of Manitoba. They recommend exiting through the side windows while the vehicle is still floating.  The key is to think and move quickly.

384 occupants die in motor vehicle crashes involving water submersion each year…according to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).

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Stranded Roadside Motorists – 7 Traps to Avoid

30 million times each year, AAA receives trouble calls from stranded motorists that need roadside assistance.  The specific reasons that generate the calls are wide and varied, but aside from physical vehicle accidents, seven (7) categories of car trouble account for the majority of the calls.  Is there a common thread that is key to minimizing or avoiding most of the car problems on the list: Timely Maintenance.  David Bennett, manager of automotive programs at the national office of AAA says that “The best thing anyone can do for a vehicle is regular maintenance”.

1. Flat Tires
Bald or badly worn tires are plain dangerous because they can’t reliably bring your vehicle to a safe stop.  Inspect your tires regularly.  You can try the old coin test on your tires, but the wear bars or indicators built into the tire tread are the safest bet for an accurate reading.

Proper inflation is the second most important tire safety concern.  Get the correct pressure for your specific car from the placard visible on the door jamb when the driver’s door is open. You can boost your gas mileage by 3% or more and make the car safer as well by timely tire checks. Check the tire pressure when they’re cold for best accuracy.

2. Engine Trouble
Many things can cause engine troble. But usually they start with issues like a broken hose that’s leaking coolant…which in turn causes the engine to overheat.  So, proactively inspect belts and hoses, looking for cracks and peeling on the belts, or softening on the hoses.  Fluid levels is another vital sign of the engine to check regularly…i.e. oil, transmission fluid, coolant or antifreeze.

3. Battery Trouble
3 to 5 years is a general rule for expected battery life. But if you live and drive in extreme heat or cold…it could be less.  Best precaution for avoiding getting stranded by a dead battery is to make sure to have your battery checked during any safety inspection or other visit to a dealer or mechanic’s shop.  Warning signs include dim headlights or interior lights and power windows that move unusually slow.

4. Lockouts
The obvious, but simple solution: Get extra sets of keys and store them outside the car in your home and office.

5. Brake Trouble
Nothing is more critical to your safety than your brakes. Brake pads and rotors need to be checked at least twice a year.  Brake fluid does need to be changed every two to three years…RTFM…or check recommended time frame in your owner’s manual. Trouble signs: pulling to one side when you hit the brakes, squeaking or grinding noises and a brake pedal that feels too soft.

6. Running Out of Gas
If you like to live on the edge, you’re bound to go over a cliff every once in a while.  But when it comes to taking chances on making it to the next gas station when you’re driving at night or in a strange place…it’s not worth the risk to yourself and your passengers.


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Fast Track to Better Teen Driving?

Everyone probably remembers the excitement of getting their first car as a teenager.   If that was in the vicinity of 25-35 years ago, it may well seem like the world was a safer place back then…especially if you’re recalling mischief that was gotten away with…that could have easily gone awry.

When considering teenagers and cars, today’s reality is that drivers aged 15 to 17 are eight (8) times as likely to be involved in a car accident than those just a little bit older, ages 18 to 24, if they’re carrying passengers, according a study from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.  The cold hard fact is: traffic accidents are the number one cause of death among teens.

A San Jose, CA couple that was worried about how to teach their sixteen-year-old son good driving habits couldn’t find an answer especially inspiring.  Both husband and wife have masters degrees in computer science…so it was only natural that they invented a device allowing parents to check up on their kids’ driving progress…electronically.

Featured in USA Today  for their start-up company named Truvolo…Jaideep and Sandhya Jain invented its small flagship device that plugs directly into a car’s on-board computer.  The device then sends stats about the car’s health as well as the driving habits of the operator back to a smartphone.  Stats like G-forces produced by abrupt acceleration, deceleration and swerving…as well as information that’s usually reserved for mechanics, allowing users to catch dangerous problems well in advance of a breakdown.  The device can also issue text alerts when a driver has arrived at their destination.

“It wasn’t about wanting to spy on him, but about making him a better driver…I looked at the statistics, and the first year of anyone’s driving life has the most incidents, simply because you think you know everything but, of course, you don’t.”

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Bicycle Safety & Sharing the Road

Bicyclists are legal drivers of vehicles, with laws and regulations established for their use.  But even though bicycles are an increasingly popular and legitimate form of transportation…many bicyclists feel disrespected by motorists…often fighting for their rightful place on the road.  Both motorists and cyclists need sufficient space to safely operate in roadway traffic.  Just as in any other kind of human engagement, genuine mutual respect needs to exist between both parties.  This can be promoted by public service announcements, motorist education programs…even legal measures.

Care & Courtesy — 2 Simple Requirements for Both Motorists and Bicyclists.

  • Bicyclists have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists, including the right to ride in the traffic lane.  They can ride on all roads, except where restricted.
  • Riding against (or facing) traffic is illegal and unsafe for bicyclists to do . Bicyclists should ride on the road, and must ride in the same direction as traffic.
  • Motorists must maintain at least three feet of clearance when passing a bicyclist.
  • When a road is too narrow for cars and bikes to ride safely side by side, bicycles should take the travel lane, which means riding in or near the center of the lane.
  • Bicyclists must obey all traffic controls, signs and signals. It’s the law.

Know the Facts

  • A bicycle is considered a “vehicle” (like cars, trucks and motorcycles) in most states.  All bike riders must obey the same laws as drivers of other vehicles.
  • “Yield to Pedestrians” is a common traffic sign at pedestrian crossings…reminding motorists that pedestrians have the right-of-way. However, motorists must yield to pedestrians in crosswalks even if they’re not marked.
  • The biggest difference between motorists and bicyclists as road users is that bicyclists are less visible, quieter and don’t have a crumple zone to protect them.

Read More – AAA

Emergency Car Kits – Just In Case

They’re called Roadside Emergencies for a reason…you never know when they might happen…and they’re often serious…sometimes even life threatening.  And the reality is…no one is immune. It doesn’t matter whether your car is old or new…an all electric urban subcompact, or a 3/4 ton diesel pickup…they’re all machines and machines break sometimes.  Accidents happen too.  But being prepared with a basic roadside emergency car kit can increase your safety, reduce stress, and help you get back on the road faster.  Even if you already have a roadside-assistance or auto-club membership, you usually need phone access in order to contact them and depending on time of day (rush hour?) or season of year…you may be waiting in your vehicle for an hour plus before help arrives.  So it’s only smart to always carry certain items in your vehicle, even if it’s only used for everyday, around-town driving.   A basic kit can always be supplemented with additional items for long-distance trip or for winter weather conditions.

Most of the items on this list can and should be kept together in their own container in the trunk or rear compartment of your vehicle (except for the first item – LifeHammer).  It’s also important to make periodic checks on these items ensure they’re fresh and functional —  that the spare tire is properly inflated, batteries are not discharged, first-aid supplies are current, water is fresh, and food is dry.  Also, make it a point to know how each tool or item works, from the cellular phone to the jack, before an emergency occurs.

Far from exhaustive…and not necessarily in order of importance…an emergency car kit should aid you in getting help, signaling your car’s presence to other motorists, and tackling simple challenges

  • LifeHammer – If you haven’t heard of these devices, then you may not know of the amazing life-saving power of these tools. A LifeHammer is a device which has a sharp cutting edge on one side and a hammer on the other. It is designed to allow you to quickly escape a bad situation if you get in one. The hammer to break a window to escape the wreckage of a car and the blade to cut your seatbelt easily and quickly. If you just have one emergency tool in your vehicle, this should probably be it. Keep this one within reach of the driver at all times.
  • Duct tape – made infamous by Tim Allen on ToolTime… its uses stretch wide and far, from repairing items to providing a means to easily hack together a makeshift shelter. It never hurts to have a roll tucked away.
  • Cellular phone – Of course NOT for while driving, but in an emergency, this can be the single most valuable part of your emergency kit.  Include a car charger too.  Emergency tip: If you need to dial 911, remember that your location and phone number aren’t always available to an emergency operator when calling from a cell phone. So first, give the operator your cell number and any location information. Ignore any “no service” messages on the phone and try the call anyway. If you have trouble connecting to 911 from inside a car, get out if possible and call from the side of the road. That may help you get a better signal.
  • First-aid kit – Choose wisely.  A kit caters to treating a range of problems…from small cuts or burns to ones that require major bandaging…is best.  Take time to get familiar with how to use the kit before you need to.
  • Fire extinguisher – Car fire can start from something as simple as a wiring short circuit or leaking oil. You should get away from a vehicle that’s on fire as quickly as possible. Still, for extra security it’s good to keep a fire extinguisher in the car that can be used in any emergency or to quickly dose a small flame that’s just begun. The quicker a fire can be put out, the less damage it will cause. Multipurpose dry-chemical fire extinguishers are available in a variety of sizes. We recommend carrying a compact unit that’s labeled 1A10BC or 2A10BC.
  • Warning light, hazard triangle, or flares – If your vehicle is stuck on the side of the road, it’s vital that you give other motorists as much warning of its presence as possible, especially at night. Look for a battery-powered warning light that can be placed far from the vehicle. Reflective hazard triangles and flares are also effective and don’t need batteries.
  • Tire gauge – Use the guage on a monthly basis to check the inflation pressure in all four tires and the spare tire. Because ambient temperature affects tire pressure, it’s also advisable to check the pressure after a significant change in temperature.
  • Jack and lug wrench – Almost all vehicles come with these items for changing a tire. Refer to your owner’s manual on where they’re located in the vehicle and how to use them. Models that come with run-flat tires do not have a spare tire. Run-flat tires can be driven a limited number of miles with little or no air in them. They have very stiff sidewalls, which provide support when the tire is deflated. Learn more about the warning signs of imminent tire failure.
  • Foam tire sealant or a portable compressor and plug kit – For minor punctures, a foam tire sealant can get your vehicle back on the road quickly. Only use it in an emergency, however, as many tire shops will refuse to repair the tire because of the sticky residue these sealants leave inside it. Be sure to choose a sealant that’s labeled as non-flammable, and don’t consider this a permanent fix. A portable DC-powered air compressor can also be used to inflate a tire–and is especially handy for one that suffers from a slow leak. To fix a puncture, however, you need to have it professionally repaired.
  • Jumper cables or a portable battery booster – Jumper cables are easy to use as long as you have a second car available to provide a jump. Refer to your owner’s manual for instructions. A portable battery booster eliminates the need for a second car.
  • Flashlight – This can be critical at night. Choose one that is bright and weatherproof. In addition, a flashlight with a magnet, flexible mounting system, or a stand will free up your hands for other tasks. Also, have extra batteries and a bulb available.
  • Gloves, hand cleaner, and clean rags – Even the simplest jobs can get your hands dirty. Having these on hand will help keep that dirt from getting on your clothes or your vehicle’s interior.
  • $20 in small bills and change – Keep this available for miscellaneous use. And resist dipping into it for a spontaneous ice cream cone on a hot day.

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Winterize Your Car for Safety

Winter weather can be your car’s worst enemy.  The obvious wet and slippery conditions produced by rain, sleet and snow make the roadways more treacherous…especially at night.  But colder temperatures also make it challenging for your vehicle’s engine to run normally.  Potholes take their toll on tires, wheels and suspension systems.  Salt and gravel grind away at your car’s body and paint.  Two particular aspects of your vehicle that are especially vulnerable to Winter are its battery and antifreeze.  If your battery is anywhere between middle aged and senior citizen status, its worth ten extra minutes at your local gas station or oil change center to have it checked out.  The reason for checking your antifreeze is a bit more obvious. Engines don’t like frozen radiator fluid…and the slushy results can be highly damaging and costly.

As always, there are preventive measures you can take to help your vehicle combat Winter stress.  In addition to battery and antifreeze, here are a few more important points to look at when giving your car a Winter checkup:

  1. Tires & Tire Pressure – if you live in a moderate to heavy snow geography…Winter tires aren’t magical, but their added traction offers safety that can’t be ignored
  2. Belts, Hoses, Wipers & Fluid – they lead longer lives in newer cars, but belts & hoses aren’t immortal. Also, mix de-icer into your fluid reservoir.
  3. Emergency Car Kit – if you’re a DIYer, contents should include the obvious like a first-aid kit, flashlight & flares.  But many convenient pre-made kits can be easily purchased too.

Read More – Edmunds

Staying Safe While Driving Alone: 7 Tips

It’s Fall and while many students have taken long drives back to college, many people in the San Francisco Bay Area perform daily commutes that span hours each way.  As we’ve all heard, It’s far more dangerous to hop in your car for a daily commute than hopping on a plane to fly across the country.  And while only “8% of workers in the USA have commutes of an hour or longer…nearly 600,000 full-time workers endure “megacommutes” of at least an hour-and-a-half and 50 miles”…maybe the worst part is that 76% commute alone. (USA Today).

It’s true that no one is immune to vulnerability, but for women…the freeways and expressways are a different environment.  When you’re out of your element and neighborhood, there’ s no one to help notice that someone may look suspicious or out of place because the roadways are inherently a transient environment.  Here are several tips for EVERYONE…young or old…male or female…for responsibly minimizing potential dangers while on the road.  Increasing your personal safety can be as simple as planning ahead.

  • Tune Ups – keep your car well and regularly maintained…especially your tires and a full gas tank..
  • Roadside Assistance – if you purchased a car without it, take the initiative to get your own.
  • Map out your route and destination…especially if it’s not familiar to you. An old fashioned paper map, as well as setting and testing your navigation system. Going to a hotel?…make an advanced reservation & plan to arrive before dark.
  • Doors Locked ALWAYS…whether you’re in the car or out.
  • Cellphone & Car Charger – always take them with you, but don’t even talk hands-free…it’s a distraction to what’s going on around you.

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Travel Safety for Road Trips – AAA

Roadside Assistance Preparedness

It happens when you least expect it. You’re driving to the airport to pick up a family member when…BAM…the steering wheel suddenly jerks your hands hard to the left. You swerve, narrowly avoiding a car in the next lane…but manage to slow down and maneuver onto the shoulder of the freeway and stop the car. Your hands shake uncontrollably, but after 2-3 minutes you eventually catch your breath and start to think semi-rationally about what to do next. But what DO you do next? This hasn’t happened to you since you were back in college. After poking your head out the window, your see that your left front tire is the culprit…definitely flat.

Immediately you wonder, “Should I try to change the flat tire myself?…or just call a tow truck and have them do it?”. But you’re not exactly in the proper attire for a tire changing occasion, and quickly decide you’d probably hurt yourself or ruin your suit or dress. So tow truck it is! But did Roadside Assistance come with your Car Insurance Policy?…that’s right, it was about $5 a month extra. Did I actually buy that feature though? Nothing seems clear at the moment, so you say to yourself, “Crap, I’ll just call customer service at my insurance company and ask.” OR…”Crap, I’ll just Google it on my smart phone and see if it’s possible to get a towing company that can get here and help me fast enough to still get to the airport on time and pick up my brother.”

From that point on, it all boils down to three basic ideas:

  1. Having Your Information (insurance/roadside assistance membership) handy
  2. Describing Your Location
  3. Assessing Your Problem so the tow truck driver can know what to expect

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Towing & Roadside Assistance - Gilroy, CA