Study Shows Hands-free Technology Is More Dangerous than Thought

If you think that you’re completely safe using hands-free mobile phone technology while driving your car, a new study says otherwise.

Mental distractions can persist for nearly 30 seconds after dialing, changing music or sending a text using voice commands, according to new research by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The researchers discovered the residual effects of mental distraction while comparing new hands-free technologies in 10 vehicles and three types of smart phones (Google Now, Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana). The analysis found that all systems studied increased mental distraction to potentially unsafe levels.

Researchers found that potentially unsafe levels of mental distraction can last for as long as 27 seconds after completing a distracting task in the worst-performing systems studied. That amount of time is the equivalent of driving three footballs fields at 25 miles per hour. The faster a vehicle is traveling, the further it would go during this time.

When using the least-distracting systems, drivers remained impaired for more than 15 seconds after completing a task.

The dangers are obvious: Drivers using phones and vehicle information systems while driving may miss stop signs, pedestrians and other vehicles while their minds are readjusting to the task of driving.

The research indicates that the use of voice-activated systems can be a distraction even at seemingly safe moments when there is a lull in traffic or the car is stopped at an intersection. Mental distractions persist and can affect driver attention even after the light turns green.

Researchers rated the distraction level of the cars and smart phone technologies on a scale of 1-5, with anything above 2 deemed distracting enough to be a danger.

The best-performing system was the Chevy Equinox with a cognitive distraction rating of 2.4, while the worst-performing system was the Mazda 6 with a cognitive distraction rating of 4.6.

Among phone systems, Google Now performed best as the least distracting with a distraction rating of 3, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana earned ratings of 3.4 and 3.8.

Using the phones to send texts significantly increased the level of mental distraction. While sending voice-activated texts, Google Now rated as a category 3.3 distraction, while Apple Siri and Microsoft Cortana rated as category 3.7 and category 4.1 distractions.

AAA Foundation researchers liken the categories as follows:

  • Category 1 – About as distracting as listening to the radio or an audio book.
  • Category 2 – About as distracting as talking on the phone.
  • Category 3 – About as distracting as sending voice-activated texts on a perfect, error-free system.
  • Category 4 – About as distracting updating social media while driving.
  • Category 5 – About as distracting as a highly challenging, scientific test designed to overload a driver’s attention.

For more safety information, visit

Avoid Falling Victim to the Staged Car Crash Scam

By Meemic Insurance

The staged car accident scam is growing as perpetrators are getting craftier about entrapping unsuspecting motorists.

Scammers usually meticulously plan their staged car accidents, leaving nothing to chance. They practice until they get it right, and even if you can see the accident was staged, onlookers or witnesses may only catch a glimpse and think they see something they didn’t.

Here are some of the most common staged accidents.

The T-bone: In this staged accident, the scammer will wait for your car to proceed through an intersection and then floor it and T-bone your vehicle. When police arrive, the scammer’s helpers will claim you ran a red light or ran the stop sign.

The wave: In this scenario, the scammer will see you are trying to switch lanes and they wave you ahead. But when you do switch lanes, they will accelerate and hit your car. Once police arrive to take the accident report, they’ll lie and say you switched lanes when it was not safe to do so, and they didn’t have time to brake.

Dual-turn sideswipe: In this set-up, you have to be in a dual left-turn lane on the inside and if you are close to the lane marker, the other driver will veer into you and claim you came out of your lane and hit them.

Stopping short: The scammer will slam on their brakes when your car is close behind so that you will crash into the rear of the vehicle.

Swoop and stop: In this scenario, a car will suddenly pull in front of yours and stop. Another vehicle will simultaneously pull up alongside your car, preventing you from swerving to avoid an accident.

Furthering the Scams

These scammers and their “passengers” will often also claim injuries they didn’t incur. They may also be in cahoots with shady doctors and chiropractors, who will inflate their billings and order all types of medical services to that end.

Others may go to legitimate doctors and claim back injuries, which are difficult to prove. They may also sue for damages.

These car crash scams can leave you paying for damages you didn’t cause. They also take time. Even if your insurance company covers the crash and the damage to your car, you will still be without your car for a time, and dealing with insurance paperwork and the repair shop.

And the “accident” can lead to higher insurance premiums for you later.

How to Avoid Accident Scams

One of the best ways to avoid being the victim of a fake accident claim is by exercising caution while driving.

Tailgating or failing to leave enough space between your vehicle and a vehicle ahead of you leaves you vulnerable to becoming the victim of a staged accident. All the driver ahead of you has to do is abruptly stop to cause you to crash into the rear of their vehicle.

If you believe you are being targeted by someone staging an accident, do not leave the scene. Call the police and let the officers who respond handle taking a report of the accident.

Keep a camera (if you don’t have a smartphone), pen and paper in the car so that you can take photos and notes at the scene.

Take pics from every angle of the involved vehicles, with special focus on the damage. Also, capture on camera the license plate, as well as photos of the driver and all the passengers in the other vehicle.

Take down the following information:

  • Driver’s license number.
  • Vehicle registration information.
  • Car insurance information.
  • Name, address and phone number.
  • The general look (height, weight, etc.) of the other car’s driver and passengers.

Also, be sure to call the police if you suspect that you were in a staged accident. Whatever you do, don’t offer cash to the other driver to settle the damage.

When you report the accident to Meemic or your insurance company, you should say if you suspect a scam.

For more safety tips, visit

How to Build a Pollinator Garden in Seven Steps

Pollinators are in trouble. You can help by planting a pollinator garden! You can plant a garden anywhere – your yard, school, church, business or even in a pot for your front steps.

A simple, native flower garden will attract beautiful butterflies and birds to your yard and help pollinators stay healthy. In addition to nectar from flowers, monarch butterflies need milkweed to survive, so if you notice the leaves on your milkweed have been chomped, don’t worry, it’s a great sign!

Before gardening

Gather your supplies and research what varieties of milkweed and wildflowers are native to your area. You can also look up pollinator-friendly plant lists for your region. If you’re starting from seeds, find a local seed supplier.

What you’ll need

  • A yard, raised bed or some flower pots
  • Garden tools to break the soil or build a raised bed
  • Extra dirt and mulch
  • Native milkweed and nectar plants

Seven easy steps

Choose your location: Butterflies enjoy basking in the sun. Gardens should be planted in sunny spots, with some protection from the wind.

Take a look at your soil: Break ground to see the consistency of the soil in your yard. Soil may influence the kinds of plants you can grow, or may require special considerations. If you find that your soil type doesn’t match the plants you’d like to plant, you might consider building a raised bed or using flower pots.

Choose your plants: Find a nursery near you that sells native and local plants and milkweed for your area. Native plants are the ideal choice because they require less maintenance and tend to be heartier.

  • Choose plants that have not been treated with pesticides, insecticides or neonicotinoids.
  • Plant perennials to ensure your plants come back each year and don’t require a lot of maintenance.
  • Choose a diversity of plants that bloom throughout the seasons to ensure pollinators benefit in the spring, summer and fall. This will also ensure that your garden is bright and colorful for months!

Choosing seeds or small plants: Small plants that have already started growing in a nursery are simple and show instant return on pollinator visits, especially if you are planting in a small space. Seeds are best if you have more time. If you’d like to use seeds, plan ahead to plant in spring or fall, giving the seeds time to germinate. Seeds can also be best if you are doing a very large garden as they tend to cost less. Remember to water your seeds even before you see plants.

Plant your flowers and milkweed: For small plants, dig holes just big enough for the root system. Cover the roots with dirt and reinforce with dirt or straw mulch to reduce weed growth. For seeding, spread seeds across your freshly prepared garden and cover them with dirt. Consider adding some flat rocks so butterflies can bask in the sun!

Wait, watch, water and weed your garden: It may take some time, but you will eventually see butterflies and other pollinators enjoying your garden. Make sure to weed and water your garden to keep it healthy.

Best of luck, and thank you for helping monarchs, bumble bees and other pollinators!

Source – U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Voya Unsung Heroes Awards

Each year, 100 educators are selected to receive $2,000 each to help fund their innovative class projects. Three of those will be chosen to receive an additional $5,000, $10,000 and $25,000. All awards must be used to further projects within the school or school system.

Apply by April 30, 2019.

Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award

The National Association of Geoscience Teachers presents its Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award to K-12 educators who have made exceptional contributions to the stimulation of interest in the earth sciences. Any teacher or K-12 educator who covers a significant amount of earth science content is eligible. Self-nominations accepted.

Nominations due May 1, 2019.