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Blog Archive: November 2016

Safety: The holiday gift that keeps on giving

Nov. 28
Here we are at that time of year again: holiday tunes playing on PA systems everywhere and tiny lights wrapped around just about anything that doesn’t move (and some things that do). Which means it’s time for holiday shopping. In a recent survey about holiday retail, respondents said they planned to spend equal amounts online and in person. And because both kinds of shopping can pose risks, here are a few tips to remember.
​Photo: Making sure there's an S for "secure" in the web address of retail sites is one of many ways to stay safe while doing your holiday shopping. 

In-person shopping
If you pay with a credit or debit card, it isn’t unusual for cashiers to ask for an additional form of ID. That way they can verify that the card you’re using actually belongs to you. However, they shouldn’t ask for your social security number. If they do, offer your driver’s license instead or simply go to another cashier to check out.

Sometimes your shopping trip is so successful, you can’t carry everything at once. That’s when it’s easier to drop some of your purchases in your car before going back into the store or mall for more. Unfortunately, that makes them a prime target for thieves. Be sure to put your purchases in the trunk where they can’t be seen. Even better, move your car to a different spot if at all possible. If someone sees you putting purchases in your trunk, all they have to do is wait for you to walk away before they can break in and take them.

Online shopping
When you’re ready to start you’re online shopping, you may be tempted to click on a link from an email or online ad. But since these can lead to fake shopping sites (that take your money and even your identity but don’t give you anything in return), take the few extra moments to type the shopping site address into your browser. 

Once you’re in, check to make sure the address starts with “https” instead of just “http.” The S stands for “secure.” And that little padlock icon that either lives in your address bar or at the bottom of your browser is further evidence that the site uses encryption.

If the site asks you to create a password and allows for more than one kind of authentication (such as sending a code to your phone that you then type in), opt in. That way no one can get into your account, even if they have your password.

So have fun finding the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. With a little extra caution, you and yours can have a happy and safe holiday season.


Why did I get new license plates instead of just stickers?

Nov. 21
You’ve probably been there: Your car’s registration stickers are up for renewal, so you head over to your local Deputy Registrar office. But instead of stickers, you come away with a whole new set of plates. And you’re probably also wondering why. You’re not alone!
​Photo: Ever wonder why sometimes you get license plates instead of just new registration stickers? Here's the reason.
Believe it or not, there’s a Minnesota State Statute (168.12, if you’re interested) that requires license plates for passenger-class vehicles to be replaced every seven years. The statute itself has been in place for nearly 40 years.

And seven years isn’t just a random number. The law requires license plates to be visible at 1500 feet and readable at 110 feet from a vehicle equipped with normal headlights. In order for that to be possible, license plates have to be coated with special reflective material.

But as you can imagine, that reflective material degrades over time. In addition to making sure Minnesota license plates are always readable, the seven-year replacement plate law has several other advantages:
  • It allows rotation and continued use of the three letters and three numbers system, which makes license plates easier to identify and read.
  • It keeps ranges of letters and numbers from being exhausted, which eliminates the need for additional system programming.
So, the next time you get plates when you’re expecting just stickers, remember there a lot of great reasons that benefit you directly.


Winter Hazard Awareness Week: How not to get left out in the cold

​Nov. 17
Considering the gorgeous spring, summer and fall we’ve had this year, it’s easy (and perhaps tempting) to forget about winter’s cold bite, isn’t it? But the fact is that we’re Minnesotans, and we know what’s coming…even if our first snowfall and colder temperatures are unusually late this year.
Photo: Winter Hazard Awareness Week is just in time, with heavy snow predicted in parts of the state. Be prepared with these tips.

In fact, the National Weather Service has predicted as much as a foot of snow over the next couple of days for the western and northern parts of our state. Which is why it’s handy that this week is Winter Hazard Awareness Week. This annual campaign is a great time to remind ourselves of safety tips to get us through the coming cold months. 

For example, if you’re one of the many Minnesotans who doesn’t bat an eye at driving in winter weather, take a moment to congratulate yourself—then complete your Winter Safety Checklist. It starts with winterizing your vehicle to minimize your chances of breaking down when it’s cold and snowy out.

Travel throughout Minnesota will be significantly impacted during this weekend’s storm, so it’s important to be ready. Do you have a winter survival kit in your car? Creating a kit won’t take much time and could make all the difference for you and your family. Always look at weather predictions before you leave. If your phone doesn’t have a built-in weather app, here’s a list of weather alerts or emergency preparedness and warning apps you can sign up for. Then be sure to tell someone where you’re going and notify them when you arrive safely. If you don’t report when you’re supposed to, you’ll be easier to find on the way. And if you have to wait for help in your car, make sure you know what to do—and what not to.

Your phone becomes indispensable during winter outings (but please don’t surf or text on it while driving). Do you know what information to give a 911 operator if you’re in an unfamiliar area? Snowplows will soon be a common sight on Minnesota roads. Do you know how to stay safe around them? (Hint: Among other things, it’s important to stay back at least five car lengths to allow for a snowplow’s slow speed and the additional stopping distance needed for wet or icy conditions.)

You may be sad to say goodbye to fall, but remember that winter is a lot more fun when you’re safe and sound.


Eight great reasons to take a motorcycle training course

Nov. 14
Motorcycle training season is over for another year, and many riders have come away with some great new skills and a lot more confidence. If you’re still on the fence about taking a motorcycle training course, consider that over 5,500 students participated in 529 courses around the state this year. 
​Photo: A RiderCoach congratulates a student on the range during a motorcycle training course. ​​

In our Basic Riding Course alone, there were 4,648 students, of which 1,362 were women (in case you were thinking it was all men). And over 98 percent of them said they felt respected and encouraged by their RiderCoach, and that their RiderCoach was well prepared, an effective communicator, and showed concern for their personal safety.

Still not convinced? Here are eight of our favorite quotes from real students about their motorcycle training experiences:

1. “I really enjoyed the course and felt prepared to take my bike out on the road way. I would and have recommended to people to take this course!!!”
2. “I was probably the student in my class with the least amount of experience and I was nervous at the beginning. But, once on the range, it didn't take long for me to feel at ease. Because this was such a positive experience, I will be taking further training classes to grow in my ability. I will also be a walking commercial for this course.”
3. “I haven't ridden in 31 years-----this course was an excellent refresher--very glad I took it.”
4. “This course was amazing! I learned so much about safety and riding defensively. I am 60 years old and was the oldest student during the course. I am happy to say I passed my motorcycle license/endorsement the first time.”
5. “I was very pleased at how quickly I picked up riding skills. The instructors were very clear in their directions and gave excellent examples. They were exacting in their correcting which helped me learn quickly.”
6. “I am planning on taking this class at the beginning of each riding season. Thank you for having an excellent curriculum and wonderful instructors.”
7. “This course is an exceptional opportunity to work on riding skills in a well-established and controlled environment, with helpful coaching and demonstrations. Taking the time to put in practice on the range helps me to be a better rider on the street.”
8. “I strongly encourage this class not only for beginners, but experienced riders as well. I learned many things that I had simply not thought of.”

If you’re interested in learning more about our motorcycle training courses, check them out on our website and watch this video​. Registration opens Feb. 1, 2017. Hope to see you on the range next spring!


Youth firesetters need our help

​Nov. 10​
Yes, children are smaller than us—but when they start fires, they can be big and even deadly. It happens more than you’d think, even here in Minnesota. For example, last year, there were 386 youth-set fires in our state, according to the State Fire Marshal Division's 2011-2015 Youth-Set Fires Report.​ Of the ignition sources listed, lighters were the most common.

​Photo: Know a youth firesetter who needs help? Call our helpline at 800-500-8897
Of course, not all of these were set on purpose. Children are naturally curious about fire and tend to imitate adult behavior. In fact, children and adults alike find fire fascinating.  
Fire is part of American culture, from the baby’s first birthday candle and the holiday table to the Fourth of July fireworks, the cozy fireplace, and the recreational campfire. 

But although curiosity in children is normal, starting fires is not. Nor is it a phase. In fact, fire is potentially deadly, and it moves fast. Young children just don’t understand that, older children, and even adults overestimate their ability to control a fire.

Research shows that without intervention, youthful firesetting behavior tends to continue. Children who repeatedly start fires need help.

The Minnesota State Fire Marshal Division has developed a helpline as an opportunity for citizens to find the help they need to curb firesetting by juveniles. A simple call will get help on the way. The incoming call will be answered by an automated system, and then reviewed by a deputy state fire marshal. The deputy will then forward the case to the youth fire intervention team for assistance. 

There are 10 youth fire prevention and intervention regions across the state, consisting of mental health professionals, social services, juvenile justice and fire department representatives, and peace officers.

Early intervention is critical for kids who start fires. If you’re worried, don’t hesitate to call.  

The number for the Youth Firesetter Helpline is 800-500-8897. You can learn more about youth firesetting on the State Fire Marshal Division’s website.


Get your furnace or fireplace checked by a pro

Nov. 7
It’s true that we’re having an unusually long, warm fall this year in Minnesota. It’s also true that winter is inevitable, and with it comes those temperatures that make us appreciate our furnaces and fireplaces.

Photo: Get your furnace or fireplace checked by a prevent a fire in your home. 
But fireplaces and chimneys were responsible for a sobering 173 residential fires last year; and fixed, portable, and central heating units were the cause of another 88. That’s 261 excellent reasons to get your fireplace and/or furnace cleaned and inspected by a professional before the cold weather hits.

If you use portable heaters, make sure to keep them at least three feet away from anything flammable, and turn them off when you leave the room or go to sleep.

If you have a woodstove, be sure it’s properly installed and ventilated. And never, ever use your oven to heat your home.

And remember that fire isn’t the only way heating units can turn into killers. If they’re not functioning properly, stoves, furnaces and fireplaces can put off dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.

That’s why it’s important to have CO alarms in your house. To make sure they’re working properly when you need them, test them once a month.

So for now, make yourself a hot cup of tea and snuggle under a blanket on the couch with your phone. Then use it to call a professional to clean and check out your heat sources so that when it’s time to use them, you’ll know you and your family will be safe.


Fall back on fire safety: Change smoke alarm batteries

Nov. 3

It’s not that daylight saving time is easy to remember; it’s that you have no choice. If you don’t set your clocks back an hour this weekend, you’ll be an hour early to work Monday morning. Another important task that should be performed every six months is changing the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. So why not do them at the same time? 

Photo: Smoke and carbon monoxide alarms
save lives ... but only if they work. Change their batteries when
you change your clocks.

The best motivation for this? Smoke and CO alarms save lives…but only if they work. Last year in Minnesota, 16 percent of the state’s 57 fire deaths took place in homes without smoke alarms or with inoperable smoke alarms. And the most common reason they’re inoperable? Dead or missing batteries. 

The peak time for home fire fatalities is between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., when most people are sleeping. That’s why smoke alarms are so important, and why you should have one on every level of your home, both inside and outside sleeping areas. 

What’s more, smoke alarms need to be tested once a month and replaced every 10 years (there’s a manufacture date on the alarm; give it a look when you replace the batteries this weekend). And of course, have a plan in place for when the alarms actually go off. Make sure everyone in your home knows it and practice it together.

So as you go around your house this Saturday night or Sunday morning setting each clock back one hour, why not grab a handful of fresh batteries to pop into the smoke alarms as you go? Two birds, one stone, and a much safer family.