Bicycle Safety Depends on You

The warm days of May prompt millions of Americans to pull their bicycles out of their garages, dust off the cobwebs, oil the chains and go for a ride. But the sad fact is that riding a bicycle can be dangerous. The number of bicyclists killed or injured each month is truly staggering, and children are often the victims. To help curb bike injuries and fatalities, AAA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have partnered to remind parents to set positive examples and encourage children and teens to ride safely. One key is to require children to wear safety helmets.

“Helmets, when worn properly, are up to 85 percent effective in protecting the head and brain in the event of a crash,” says AAA’s Traffic Safety Specialist Rhonda Markos. “With only 20 to 25 percent of bicyclists wearing helmets, there is a vast opportunity to reduce injuries and fatalities with this simple step. Children look to parents for guidance. When children see someone they rely on wearing a helmet, they are likely to follow their lead and do the same.”

You should also remember that concern about bicycle safety should extend beyond childhood. The simple fact of reaching puberty doesn’t protect people from possible injury. According to NHTSA, among children, 10- to 14-year-old males have the highest rate of injuries and fatalities. Older teenagers and adults are also part of overall bicycle accident statistics.

“Even the most experienced riders can crash or fall when riding a bike,” says Markos.

AAA and NHTSA recommend these easy steps to help keep bicyclists of all ages safe:

  • Wear a properly fitted bicycle helmet
  • Wear your helmet the right way: level on your head and low on your forehead, no more than two finger-widths above your eyebrow
  • Develop a family rule for helmet use and enforce it for every ride
  • It’s never too late to start wearing a helmet
  • Always follow the rules of the road
  • Bicycles are considered vehicles and must abide by the same traffic laws as motorists
  • Obey all traffic signs, and signal your intentions when turning or passing
  • Always ride in the same direction as traffic, keeping to the right
  • Make yourself visible
  • Wear bright colors during daylight hours
  • Use white front-lights and red rear-reflectors, as well as reflective materials on clothing and/or equipment, in low-light conditions
  • Drive respectfully and share the road
  • Focus exclusively on the road while driving; distracted drivers can be deadly for bicyclists
  • Be patient and pass bicyclists only when safe to do so, leaving a 3-to 5-foot clearance between your vehicle and the bicyclist

“When it comes to bicycling, safety is always the top priority,” says U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. “Because parents and caregivers are role models for children, it is especially critical they teach by example. That means wearing proper helmets and observing all the rules of the road.”

Get Your Armor On

Ronni Chasen was beloved by the Hollywood community -- and when she was murdered on her way home from a movie-premiere party in swank Beverly Hills, it sent a shock wave that is still reverberating. The seemingly senseless act of violence -- her car was struck by numerous bullets presumably fired from another car -- has added a new level of fearfulness in a moneyed society that was already wary of follow-home robberies and celebrity stalkers. One outcome of the crime is an increased demand for armored vehicles. International Armoring Corporation -- the leader in armored passenger vehicles based in Ogden, Utah -- has experienced a 150-percent demand increase in the wake of the shooting. Most of that increase has come from California, a state that already was a leader in armored vehicle sales due to concerns about drug trafficking on its shared border with Mexico. Both public figures and private individuals looking to increase their families’ safety are taking a new look at armored vehicles.

If you think today’s armored cars are much like the ones Al Capone was chauffeured in during the Roaring Twenties, think again. Current state-of-the-art armoring uses high-tech, relatively lightweight materials -- and because of that, virtually any vehicle can be armored to protect passengers of these vehicles from high-powered handgun (like the one used in the attack of Ronni Chasen) or rifle attacks. International Armoring Corporation uses a proprietary material it calls Armormax, which adds less than 400 pounds to a fully-armored, handgun-protected vehicle. At first, the cost for vehicle armoring might not seem inexpensive. Prices begin at $5,800 for a fully armored vehicle door -- which includes curved, original-looking ballistic glass window -- and many clients request that all four doors be armored. But when one considers what is at stake, $25,000 or so seems a small price to pay. Rather than buying a from-the-ground-up armored car, most U.S. clients now transform their own vehicles. Installation usually takes five to 10 days.

“Armored passenger vehicles in the U.S. are no longer just for the rich and famous. Gone are the days of feeling it will never happen to me,” says Mark Burton, CEO of International Armoring Corporation. “These vehicles can provide a peace of mind to anyone who feels a perceived threat. These converted vehicles maintain their original appearance and performance, yet protect occupants against those random acts of violence that appear more common every day.”

Prior to the Chasen shooting and the increase of violence along the border of Mexico, most of the demand for armored vehicles had come from offshore. Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines and the Middle East have all been vibrant markets for armored vehicles -- something that might give you second thoughts about them as vacation destinations. But recent events in the U.S. have caused Americans to reevaluate their personal safety at home. As tragic events become headline news, the demand for armored vehicles increases. It is an area of safety that, thankfully, few of us have had to worry about -- but that might be changing.

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Parking Safe This Holiday Season

It happens every year at this time: Two motorists battle over a rare parking space in a crowded mall lot, tempers flare and actions spiral out of control. The holidays are no time for violence, especially over something as inconsequential as a parking space.

Unfortunately, the hustle and bustle that make this such an enjoyable time of year can also spawn temper tantrums and prompt opportunistic criminals to look for distracted holiday shoppers who may be easy targets for vehicle break-ins, carjackings and other auto-theft-related crimes. So there’s more to this season than ho, ho, ho!

One organization trying to put a stop to such mayhem is Help Eliminate Auto Thefts (H.E.A.T.), Michigan's statewide auto-theft-prevention program. H.E.A.T. coordinates citizen action with law enforcement agencies through a confidential, toll-free tip line (800-242-HEAT) and website (, and the lessons it teaches are as apropos in New Jersey or California as they are in its home state.

“The holidays are a joyous time of year filled with family gatherings and gift giving,” says Terri Miller, director of H.E.A.T. “But with overflowing parking lots and vehicles filled to the brim with purchases, the holidays are also a dream for car thieves.”

Follow these expert tips to make sure you’re careful and prepared while shopping this holiday season:

  • Stay alert and watchful in parking lots. While walking to your car, take a moment to observe your surroundings. Distractions such as talking or texting on cell phones, digging for keys or juggling multiple packages can make you an easy target.
  • Park in well-lit, high-traffic areas. Try to avoid shopping alone after dark. If possible, also avoid parking near objects that block your view of the surrounding area such as Dumpsters, bushes, large vans or trucks.
  • Place valuables and purchases in your trunk or otherwise out of view. Before leaving your car, make sure anything of value is locked in the trunk or out of sight.
  • Remember where your car is parked. Walk directly to your car and don’t spend unnecessary time wandering around the parking lot. Walk confidently and with purpose.
  • Move your car after putting your items inside. If you return to your car to drop off bags in the middle of a shopping trip, move to another area of the parking lot, even if it means giving up a prime spot. This will deter any thieves who may have seen you unload your purchases and then leave to continue shopping.
  • If threatened by a carjacker, give up the car immediately. Any attempt to resist or argue with the robber can turn a theft into a life-threatening situation. Your well-being is more important than any vehicle, and you should be aware that most carjackings involve a weapon. If you witness an auto theft or carjacking, call the police immediately.

An Unexpected Road Hazard

One morning Erma Marshall was in such a hurry that she was unable to eat breakfast. When she was behind the wheel of her car later that day, she began sweating and feeling faint. As her condition deteriorated, her vision became so blurry that she could not see her cell phone to call for help. With great difficulty, she was finally able to pull over to the side of the road safely. Had she been drugged or struck by some weird virus? No, Marshall is one of 26 million Americans who have Type 2 diabetes. Her symptoms were both predictable and, in her circumstance, unavoidable. Fortunately they did not result in a fatal crash, though her driving abilities were so impaired that they easily could have. The cure was not the administration of a miracle drug. Instead, Marshall ate crackers and drank juice to bring her blood sugar back up to the proper level.

For Marshall, who was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in 1990, the experience was a wake-up call, and she shared her story with others to help educate them about the potential dangers of low blood sugar and what can be done to help prevent it from occurring. What even longtime diabetics might not know is that traveling can interfere with blood sugar management and lead to low blood sugar levels, which can cause serious complications -- like loss of consciousness -- if not treated quickly. Of course, loss of consciousness while driving can have deadly consequences. According to a recent survey conducted by the American College of Endocrinology (ACE), 37 percent of people with Type 2 diabetes have experienced low blood sugar when driving or traveling.

While many diabetes patients recognize the importance of controlling high blood sugar, they may not know the risks of extremely low blood sugar. Six percent of people with Type 2 diabetes have had to go to the emergency room at some point as a result of low blood sugar. Even when the reaction is not that extreme, more than half (55 percent) of patients with Type 2 diabetes have experienced an episode of low blood sugar. The most commonly experienced symptoms are shakiness (91 percent), sweating (76 percent) and dizziness (75 percent). About 1 in 5 (21 percent) have needed assistance from others -- not good if you are alone driving a car.

What can you do to avoid the possibly dangerous effects of low blood sugar? ACE suggests packing more snacks, drinks and blood sugar testing supplies than you think you will need, so that you are prepared in the event of travel delays. If you are taking a long car trip, test your blood sugar before leaving. If it is 70 mg/dL or below, eat or drink something that will raise it quickly, and wait until your blood sugar is back to normal before getting behind the wheel.

While traveling, research nearby restaurants and grocery stores so you know your healthy options for meals and snacks.

If you have Type 2 diabetes, you are aware that you have to take and keep control of your blood sugar level. The important thing to remember is that this is more critical than ever when you are driving a car.

Young Drivers Play With Fire

Nearly half of young Aussie drivers who get behind the wheel the morning after a big night out believe they are probably still drunk. That was one of the findings of a recent study conducted by one of the country’s leading car insurance companies, AAMI, and it indicates the depth of a problem that is not confined to Australia. Young drivers all over the world, including the United States, are disproportionately more likely to be involved in a fatal accident than older drivers -- and that should send chills down the backbones of parents the world over.

Data from the 10th annual AAMI Young Drivers Index showed 46 percent of young drivers believed they may still have been over the legal limit when driving the morning after a night of heavy drinking, despite the fact they were risking heavy fines, criminal convictions and most important, the safety of road users. The fact that they suspected they were impaired and still drove is the crux of the issue.

“It’s a damning statistic,” says AAMI spokesman Mike Sopinski. “Many young drivers need to have a long, hard think about alcohol and start making better personal choices before they jump behind the wheel.”

The index analyzed the driving attitudes of people between the ages of 18 and 24 in relation to alcohol, drugs, speed, fatigue and technology usage, and the results were, well, sobering. For instance, though Australia has embarked on a strong campaign against drunken driving by young people, its effect has been limited. In the most recent study, 12 percent of young drivers say it’s OK to drink and drive if they feel capable, down just three percentage points from the 15 percent who felt the same way in 2001.

But at least attitudes on drinking and driving indicated a move in the right direction. That was not the case with three other dangerous behaviors: mobile phone use, aggressive driving and driving while fatigued. In a recent survey, mobile phone usage behind the wheel has rocketed upward from 30 percent in 2001 to 50 percent. And young people are now three times more likely to tailgate (i.e., drive too closely to the vehicle in front of them) out of anger or frustration than they were 10 years ago. In 2001, only 12 percent said they were likely to tailgate, versus 36 percent in the most recent survey. The number of young people who said they would pull over if they were tired has plummeted from 64 percent in 2001 to just 38 percent in the most recent survey.

Professor Russell Gruen, director of The Alfred hospital’s National Trauma Research Institute, says that while some things have changed over the past decade, one thing has not: Young drivers are still overrepresented in fatality statistics. Injured drivers are most commonly male and under 24 years of age. Of the 2,471 admissions to Gruen’s hospital for road-related trauma between 2002 and 2009, 1,767 were young men between the ages of 18 and 24.

“Every injured young driver brings a painful reminder of the fragility of the human body, even when it’s young, strong and seemingly immortal,” says Gruen. “In a split second, a young person with a promising future can become a road toll statistic.”