RMV license renewal extensions in New England

As you transition from lock-down to “real life” and take your car out of mothballs to put it back on the road, here’s an important question: did your license or registration inadvertently expire while you were watching Netflix? Is your vehicle inspection overdue? If you forgot to renew vehicle-related credentials or your credentials are about to expire, you may be relieved to know that many states have offered extensions. For example, the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles license renewal dates have been extended as follows:

  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that expired or will expire in March, April, and May 2020, will now expire in September 2020.
  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in June have been extended until October 2020.
  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in July have been extended until November 2020.
  • Driver’s licenses and ID cards that will expire in August have been extended until December 2020.

Learn more about changes in procedures, office openings, and more at MA RMV – COVID-19 Information.

Here are links where you can find out how other New England states are handling vehicle related credentials:

  • Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles issued a 180-day Credentials Extension for expiring DMV credentials. The extension includes all Connecticut driver’s licenses, learner’s permits, identity cards, emissions testing and registrations. The extension is effective immediately. See complete list at CT DMV.
  • New Hampshire Division of Motor Vehicles issued a series of bulletins, including  Options for Customers During Covid-19 Pandemic; New NH DMV License and Registration Extension Options; and NH DMV Extends Expiration Date of Previously Issued 20-Day Plates.  Stay up to date at NH DMV.
  • Rhode Island Division of Motor Vehicles – all road tests are cancelled through June 5.  Driver licenses, learner permits, IDs, CLPs, CDLs, registrations, inspection stickers, and disability placards scheduled to expire in the months of March, April, or May 2020 have been extended by 90 days. Find general information and updates at RI DMV
  • Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles – On May 26, 2020 the Governor signed Executive Order 53-A, which means if a person can register normally through their municipality or Bureau of Motor Vehicle Office they must do so immediately. If your municipality is NOT accepting payments through Rapid Renewal, by mail, by telephone, or in the municipal office the notice of March 20, 2020 still stands. See Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles for details and updates.
  • Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles – On May 8, the DMV issued a Continuity of Operations Plan for Alternative Services.  For more information, see VT DMV.

See our recent post: Get that idle car back on the road in tip-top shape

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Traffic is down, danger is up on the nation’s roadways

If you need to venture out on the roads, be sure to drive defensively! According to recent reports, many streets and highways have turned into a dangerous environment of deserted streets given over to drag racing and speeding competitions. With so many businesses shut down and people under a stay-at-home advisory during the coronavirus crisis, nationwide, traffic has dropped by  more than 40%, according to transportation-data firm Inrix. Some large metro highways report even higher drops of between 50% to 70%. But if you think less volume makes for safer roads, think again! Unfortunately, people seem to be driving much more recklessly.

According to a report in Agency Checklists, new data from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation shows that despite a 50% reduction in overall traffic on Massachusetts roads, fatalities doubled in number during April. But this troubling trend is not unique to Massachusetts. Standard Publishing talks about a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA):

“State highway safety officials across the country are reporting a sharp spike in speeding incidents. Multiple states have reported speed increases, with Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and Utah noting a significant surge in vehicles clocked at 100 mph or more.”

In addition to the increase in MA fatalities, Rhode Island and Nevada state officials report that pedestrian fatalities are increasing. Even before the recent reports, pedestrian fatalities have been creeping up over time and pedestrian deaths are now at their highest level since 1988.

The Washington Post cites both the GHSA report and law enforcement and traffic experts throughout the country, and the story is the same: speeders have taken over the roadways. In addition to drag racing and high-speed competitions, the post Post reports:

What’s more, those speeding drivers are also more distracted. A study released Thursday by the data analytics company Zendrive found motorists are braking harder and using their phones more while driving. The analysis of millions of miles of driving data based on smartphone sensors found speeding is up by 27 percent on average, while hard braking climbed 25 percent. Phone usage on the nation’s roadways steadily increased in the weeks following the stay-at-home guidelines, up by 38 percent in mid-April, according to the report.

The Post says that people may think they can get away with reckless driving because law enforcement have limited resources or have reallocated resources during the pandemic. And some psychologists think it may be for excitement to counter the boredom or as an emotional release.

Hopefully, this troubling trend is a shutdown anomaly that will ease as states begin gradually reopening. But if and when you need to be out on the roads – particularly the highways – be super alert, avoid distractions, wear your seat belt, and keep your own speed down!

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Get that idle car back on the road in tip-top shape

If you’re among the millions who have been hunkered down in your home to help flatten the coronavirus curve, your car probably hasn’t been getting too much use. But now as many states are beginning to reopen and ease restrictions on stay-at-home orders, it’s time to show your car a little love. And even though many restrictions may be lifted, it’s likely we’ll be seeing a “new normal” so you may still be keeping a little closer to home this year than in other summer seasons. If so, AAA offers some great tips for keeping your car maintained during a driving hiatus.

While a few of the tips might be well known – taking the car for a spin each week and keeping it clean and maintained – others may be things you would not think of unless you are accustomed to storing a car seasonally. Here’s one you might not think about – and it can happen even if your car is stored in a garage:

Depending where you park, there may be mice or other critters that want to call your vehicle home. These rodents can chew on wires and cause thousands of dollars of damage, make nests in your filters and cause other messes. I’ve even had one set up shop in my glove compartment! There are a variety of sprays and granules on the market to deter these animals. Some have the scent of a predator and others smell like mint — a scent rodents don’t like.

There are other good tips about lubricating locks and hinges, adding a gas stabilizer to your tank, and more.

Consumer Reports says that cars do not like to sit idle, and cite risks such as the battery losing charge, tires gaining flat spots, rubber components such as belts and wipers drying out, as well as the critter problem. They also have an excellent guide to Car Care and Maintenance During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

But don’t stop there – it’s time for a thorough spring maintenance. Whether you bring your car to a mechanic or are a do-it-yourselfer, here’s a spring car maintenance checklist:

  • Give your vehicle a good exterior cleaning, including a fresh wax.
  • Clean the interior thoroughly. To disinfect and deep-clean, consider a detailing or a steam cleaning.
  • Change your oil and oil filter.
  • Check and replenish fluids.
  • Inspect wiper blades and replace if needed. Refill your wiper fluid.
  • Test your battery.
  • Check and rotate your tires. Check the tire treads and pressure.
  • Check and clean your lights and mirrors.
  • Check filters, belts, hoses.
  • Check alignment and suspension.
  • Fix any winter body or windshield dings or damage.

And if you have a motorcycle, May is Motorcycle Safety Awareness Month. Give your wheels a good checkup too – see our post on Motorcycle Mania: Your spring guide to insurance, safety, training, laws and more.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Wait for it … this could save your life.

This is a short post featuring a short, powerful video clip: Wait for it … this could save your life. We encourage you to watch it and share it – it’s just under 4 minutes. There’s a lot we could say about it, but we think it is more impactful to let the clip speak for itself.

Jacy Good, the young woman in the video who tells her story, is not an actress.  Here is more about how she became a passionate safety advocate.

Join 40 million other people: Take the It Can Wait pledge

Reminder: The new Massachusetts hands-free driving law is now in effect

Distracted driving – 5 seconds is all it takes

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

In the market for a new car? Calculate the full costs

If you’re in the market for a new car over the coming year, there’s a lot more to think about in terms of cost than just the sticker price. If you aren’t figuring in the associated financing costs, taxes, insurance, depreciation, gas and maintenance, you are only getting a partial picture of the true cost to drive a car. According to AAA, the cost of car ownership in 2019 was $9,282 or $773.50 a month. That’s 5% more – or $433 – than the prior year.

One of the key culprits to the costs? Finance charges, which AAA says average about 40% of the total costs.

“A key contributor to the increase was a large jump in financing costs. Rising federal interest rates and higher vehicle prices fueled a spike in finance charges, which rose 24% in 2019 from $744 to $920. It comes as long-term loans are becoming more common. Such loans offer lower monthly payments, but they ultimately cost the consumer more, meaning car buyers are paying more, and longer, for vehicles that lose value the moment they’re sold.”

Although long-term loans might seem cheaper, AAA says that they are ultimately costing the consumer more. They estimate that, on average, every 12 months added to the life of a loan adds nearly $1,000 in total finance charges.

One other key expense factor is that as new cars come equipped with more technology to make driving safer and more convenient, maintenance and repair costs go up. Sophisticated sensor in bumpers mean that a simple fender bender can require a costly replacement and recalibration of sensors. See our prior post on high tech cars equaling high cost repairs.

Because cars can be such a big budget item, it can pay to do advance research to ensure you make the best purchase and consider other factors than just the sticker price. Here are some car-buying tools to help you anticipate and calculate the total cost of ownership of various makes and models.

Talk to your insurance agent!

One other source for keeping annual costs of a new car down is to talk over auto insurance options with your insurance agent.  Be sure you are taking advantage of any available discounts, such as discounts for safe drivers, low mileage, seniors, good students, and more. Plus, bundling your auto and homeowners policies with one insurer can yield discounts on both.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

New Massachusetts hands-free driving law to go into effect in February 2020

You might have been distracted over Thanksgiving and missed the news: Massachusetts enacted a hands-free driving law, making Massachusetts the 21st state to ban the use of all hand-held electronic devices while driving. This follows quickly on a similar Maine law which went into effect in September. Other neighboring states — Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island — also have hands-free driving laws on the books.

The new Massachusetts law bans any hand-held device while driving motor vehicles and bicycles. There are limited exceptions to allow for emergency reporting provisions. The law will take effect until Sunday, February 23, 2020, 90-days after the law was enacted. For about the first month, first-time violators will be issued warnings, but after that, fines will apply.

In Massachusetts Has A Hands-Free Driving Law: Four Items Everyone Needs To Know, Agency Checklists offers more details on the law, including penalties for violation:

According to the terms laid out in the new Bill, a first-time violation with result in a $100 fine, a second offense will be a $250 fine, followed by a $500 fine for a third or subsequent offense. While a first or second offense is not categorized as a “surchargeable incident” under the statute, a third or subsequent office will be considered as such.

For more on the new law, see What You Need To Know About The New Distracted Driving Law In Mass.

Hands-free driving laws in the Northeast

Maine’s Hands-free Driving Law went into effect on September 19, 2019. It prohibits the use of mobile telephones, handheld electronic devices and portable electronic devices while operating a motor vehicle, unless specifically exempted by law. Violations will be subject to no less than a $50 fine for the first offense and not less than $250 for a second or subsequent offense. The Chief Judge set the fine amount of $230.00 for a first offense and $325.00 for a second and subsequent offense.

New York state has been on the forefront of the distracted driving issue since enacting the nation’s first statewide handheld phone law, which took effect in November 2001.

Connecticut has had hands-free driving laws since 2005, prohibiting the use of any hand-held mobile electronic device while operating a motor vehicle. Penalties range from $150 for first-time offenders to $500 for a third offense. Drivers may also be subject to demerit points on their driving record.

New Hampshire has had a hands-free driving law since 2015, prohibiting all motorists from using a handheld cellphone or other device to text message or talk while driving.

Rhode Island’s hands-free driving law went into effect on June 1, 2018. Drivers cannot hold a cell phone or other wireless device while operating a vehicle. The use of headphones or other accessories that cover both ears also is not allowed.

For laws in other states, the Governors Highway Safety Association offers a listing of Distracted Driving Laws by state (but note that most recent developments such as the MA law may not yet be reflected)

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Thanksgiving on the road: best driving times & tips

Will your Thanksgiving festivities entail traveling 50 miles or more? If so, you’ll be joining 55 million other folks, according to AAA, who predicts this will be the second-highest Thanksgiving travel volume since they began tracking in 2000, trailing only the record set in 2005. That’s up by about a million over last year. Of those travelers, 49.3 will be motorists.

If you will be driving to your destination, try to get your car checked now. Be sure to check windshield wipers and fluid, tire pressure and oil and gas levels. AAA predicts they will respond to 368,000 calls for roadside assistance over the holiday, with the top three reasons being dead batteries, flat tires and lockouts. In addition to car maintenance, Gas Buddy will help you find the best gas prices wherever you are – and you can plan out expenses in advance using their Trip Cost Calculator. If you will be driving in states beyond your home state, brush up on traffic laws with the AAA Digest of Motorist Laws. This handy tool covers everything: headline use, distracted and impaired driving laws, accident reporting and more.

Best times for Thanksgiving road travel

If you’ll be on the road, AAA says that in the Boston metro area, avoid traveling between 4:30-6:30 PM. Google offers tools that might help you avoid the worst traffic times. Below, see the heaviest times mapped for major metro areas (click above link for larger). You can also use their calculator for avoiding traffic – enter the major metro departure city for various days to see predicted traffic patterns based on prior years.

chart illustrating worst traffic over Thanksgiving weekend
Here are some other safe Thanksgiving traveling tips:

 

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

Last-Minute Halloween Liability Issues

Halloween is scary enough, we don’t mean to add to your fright, but if you are a homeowner or an apartment dweller, there are some safety precautions you should take to greet the little ghosts and goblins who will be ringing your bell or roaming the streets.

A few years ago, Christopher Boggs wrote a great Guide to Homeowners Liability for Injury to Trick or Treaters. He notes:

When the porch light is on, trick-or-treaters are considered invitees; the homeowner is inviting them onto the property (though not for a mutual benefit). Because of this relationship, the homeowner owes the candy seekers the level of “reasonable” care that falls under Ordinary Negligence.

Now anytime you have anyone visit your home, they could suffer an injury or an accident – that’s why you have insurance. But on Halloween, a steady stream of small feet traipsing across your porch in the dark increases the risk. Plus, you are giving out food.

Here are some tips to minimize Halloween hazards and reduce your risk.

  • Keep porches and walkways well-lit and free of debris and clutter that might be tripping hazards
  • Put reflective tape on your steps and along your walkway
  • When decorating, avoid candles – use LED lights and battery-powered lights instead.
  • Keep pets away from kids to avoid bites, scares or allergic reactions. Even friendly pets can be overexcited or upset by the unusual activity and may be skittish or overly protective.
  • Avoid mystery treats. Distribute labeled treats and tell parents what they are and if they contain nuts.
  • Provide alternative allergy-free treats – consider small non-food trinkets.
  • Be cautious about any spooky pranks for kids or guests – make sure they are safe and not too scary to young children.
  • If you are hosting an adult party, you have particular responsibility to take care in the serving of alcoholic beverages. See our post on holiday parties and liability issues.
  • If you are driving any time on Halloween, be super cautious. Little monsters may be out at any hour and frequenting normally quiet neighborhoods. Be particularly cautious at dusk an early evening.

Protect your home and car too!

Halloween is a huge night for vandalism. Here are a few tips to protect your property from fire, theft and vandalism.

    • Don’t overload electrical circuits with lights.
    • Paper and dried plant decorations can easily ignite. Keep them away from flames, lights, and electrical cords.
    • Lock up bicycles, gas grills and other outdoor valuables.
    • Park your car in a garage, if possible. Mischief makers may egg your house or car.
    • If you don’t have shelter for your car, consider stopping at the car wash for a coat of wax that may offer some protection.
    • If you are out trick or treating with your kids or partying with your peers, make your home looks occupied. Leave lights and the TV on.
    • Doorbell cams and motion activated lights can offer added protection.
    • If your car or home is egged, deal with it right away that night or in the morning before damage can set in. See How to Remove Egg Stains From Your Car’s Paint Job and 4 Ways to Wash Egg off your home

    Call your agent

    If you should suffer any damage to your property or have any accidents during Halloween weekend, file a claim as soon as possible to get the claim process in motion. Be ready with the details of where and when the event occurred, along with the names and addresses of any injured parties or witnesses to the event. If there is damage to your property, report it to the police, take photos, and record the details so you won’t forget them later.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

How to avoid rogue tow truck scams

Bad enough if you are in an auto accident – that’s stressful enough. You might be injured or at the very least, shaken up. Suddenly a tow truck appears on the scene saying they are from your insurance company. While that might seem like lucky timing, it should actually raise your suspicions. High pressure tactics from rogue tow truck operators can lead to exorbitant towing and storage fees or your car being taken to a body shop that is in league with the tower. The National Insurance Crime Bureau recently released a public service announcement to raise awareness about rogue tow truck operators and how to avoid becoming a victim.

NCIB offers these tips:

  • Never give permission to a tow truck operator who arrives unsolicited to take your vehicle.
  • If you or law enforcement did not call a tow truck to the scene, do not deal with that operator.
  • Do not provide tow truck operators with your insurance information.
  • Do not provide tow truck operators with personal lien holder information.
  • Determine that the tow truck signage is identical to what appears on any documentation the tow truck operator provides (they may say they “work with” your insurance company).
  • If the tow truck does not display signage identifying the name of the tow company, ask for company identification.
  • If a tow operator’s legitimacy is in doubt, call the police.
  • Do not give a tow truck operator permission to tow your vehicle until they:
    –Provide a printed price list, to include daily storage fees and miscellaneous charges that will apply if they tow your car (if the prices seem too high, ask the police or your insurance company to call a towing service for you).
    –Provide printed documentation indicating where the vehicle is being towed if it is not a location of your choosing.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud offers more information on tow truck cons and scams, as well as extensive tips to for what to expect and what your rights are.

Check out the full article but here are a few tips from their list:

Think ahead: Join an emergency road service club or organization such as AAA. Also know your auto insurer’s roadside assistance program, with the tollfree number printed on your insurance card. They’ll set you up with reputable towing firms and repair shops.

Photos. Take a photo of the scene, including the tow truck. Use your cell phone or a disposable camera stored in your glove compartment.

Complain. File complaints if you’re scammed. Contact your insurer, state insurance department, local Better Business Bureau and the police.

Know your rights. State laws protect you if your vehicle is towed while you were away, such as while shopping. Confirm and complain if you suspect violations of these rules in most states:

  • The property owner or manager of a business that had your vehicle towed must be at the scene and sign the towing authorization in most states;
  • The operator must leave a small sign at the scene. It should have the firm’s name, address, phone, reason for towing, and who requested the tow;
  • Towing firms must take a photo of your vehicle in the “illegal” spot and notify the local police department to ensure the car is not classified as stolen. Get the photos from the towing firm (though expect a fee); and
  • The towing operator must release your vehicle if you will not or cannot pay the requested towing free. This is true in most states, and then becomes a matter for civil courts.

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.

When will you be driving a robotic car? Take an interactive online trip

Whatever you call them – robot cars, driverless cars, autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars – they are definitely in your future. But the question is, how far in your future?

They’re being tested already – more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles are operating in 36 states right now. Most states, but not all, require a backup driver.

Take an interactive urban trip as the backup driver in the Washington Post’s autonomous (self-driving) car simulation. It offers an interesting perspective on  the strengths and weaknesses in the way these cars work and how they interact with the environment around them. The Post invites you to sit in the passenger seat and play the role as the backup driver. And that’s an important role because the cars may miss some hazards and they can’t operate in certain weather conditions that interfere with their sensors, causing them to pull over suddenly and shut down entirely.

This interactive  feature is a fun way to learn more about how the cars work and their limitations. You can learn more about some of the system’s weaknesses in article in Insurance Journal by Alan Levin and Ryan Beene: Automated Driver Assist Cars Still a Work in Progress:

The radars and cameras used to sense obstructions ahead each have their limitations and computer software that evaluates the data is still a work in progress, according to the experts and advocates. In many cases, they are better at tracking moving vehicles ahead than recognizing parked ones.

But there are definite pluses, too:

To be sure, automated driving systems have clear potential to improve traffic safety by supplementing the driver. Automatic emergency braking alone has been found by IIHS to reduce rates of rear-end crashes by half, and the insurer-funded group estimates that the system could reduce police-reported crashes of all types by 20%.

Many autonomous or self-driving features are already making their way into our new cars now. These are generally referred to as advanced driver assistance systems. See 7 Self-Driving Car Features You Can Buy Now (and Some You May Already Have) from Autotrader. And cars.com breaks down self-driving features by car make.

But event these new tech features have a ways to go before they are up to par and winning driver acceptance. A recent survey by JD Power showed that many driver-assist features are seen as annoyances;

J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study, published today, surveyed more than 20,000 consumers earlier this year, most of whom purchased or leased a model-year 2019 vehicle during the previous 90 days. Nearly a quarter of the group found alerts “annoying or bothersome” from systems that mitigate lane departure or actively center the vehicle, the study said. Such alerts range from hands-on-the-wheel warnings to lane departure chimes. For those who find them annoying, more than half said they sometimes disable the systems; among those who weren’t annoyed, only one-fifth or so indicated the same.

Some of the complaints can be chalked up to drivers being unfamiliar with the technology and uncertain about how it operates, so presumably we’ll all get more comfortable with things as we grow familiar with them.

So it’s not likely you’ll be able to read the latest best sellers while lounging in the back seat of your robot car on your upcoming commutes. But on the other hand, sophisticated technologies are leading to safer cars and fewer accidents – a big win for us all!

Reprinted from Renaissance Alliance – no usage without permission.