Did you know that nearly one in five traffic accidents happens in a parking lot or parking garage? Improvements in infrastructure and safety applications, such as seat belts and air bags, have reduced the frequency of certain types of traffic accidents. However, accidents involving personal injury and property damage in parking lots are on the rise.

Smartphones have been blamed for this alarming trend, as they have a marked effect on the level of concentration of both drivers and pedestrians. Many people also wrongly assume that when vehicles are moving slowly, the risk of damage or injury is negligible.

Follow these eight tips to stay safe and avoid parking lot accidents.

1. Choose your parking space carefully

Most people try to park as close as possible to the building, but this can be a mistake. Not only are there fewer spaces, but the area is more likely to be congested. Remember that most malls have more than one entrance. Opting for a side entrance can help you beat the crowds and make parking easier. And a space that’s farther from the entrance is likely to be quieter. Plus, parking a bit farther back can help increase your daily step count.

2. Be risk aware

If possible, park in a well-lit area and avoid potential hazards like pillars, walls or signs, which can make parking more treacherous. Don’t park next to oversized vehicles such as SUVs or vans, as they will give you less room to maneuver and could block your view when it’s time to leave. Avoid parking near any car with dents or scuffs as this suggests a lack of care and attention on the part of the owner. If you must park in a tight spot, tuck your side mirrors in before you leave. Remind passengers (especially children) to exercise caution when opening car doors to avoid bumping a neighbouring vehicle.

3. See and be seen

Never use your smartphone while driving or walking through a parking lot. Even during the day, use your lights to ensure that pedestrians and other drivers can see you. Have a good look around before you start to park, move very slowly and keep checking your mirrors until you are safely in the space.

If the parking lot has a surveillance system, park close to a camera. You could substantially reduce your risk of damage or theft and make it much easier to recover a loss should an accident occur.

4. Practice reverse parking

Reverse parking is by far the safest method. When you leave, you won’t need to back out into traffic with reduced visibility. Ideally, find an open space where you can drive in and leave nose-first.

If you have to reverse out of a parking space, consider asking a passenger or passerby to advise you on whether the route is clear, and move slowly until you have a view of the road behind you.

5. Mind children closely

Children are often too small to be clearly seen in a rearview mirror and may make sudden, unexpected movements. When you are driving in a parking lot, pay particular attention to any children in the vicinity. When you’re walking with children in a parking lot, keep a close eye on them at all times.

6. Use designated walkways and crossings

Don’t be tempted to weave between cars. Wherever possible, use a walkway or sidewalk, even if it means walking a little farther. If there is no walkway, look out for signs that a vehicle is about to move (such as car exhaust fumes, or brake or backup lights) and keep your children close.

7. Hide your valuables

Put shopping bags and packages in the trunk, especially if the packaging shows they contain consumer electronics or jewellery. If you run out of space in the trunk, cover your purchases with a blanket or travel rug. Visible valuables are an invitation to thieves, who are unlikely to be put off by your car alarm.

8. Wear your seatbelt

Even a low-speed collision can result in personal injury. Don’t start driving until all passengers have put on their seatbelts, even if you are only moving to another part of the parking lot. If you do have to undo your seat belt, be sure to put it back on as soon as possible.

Follow these tips, and your only worry on your next shopping trip will be your bank balance.

Going on vacation? The last thing you want to come home to is damage from a broken pipe, break-in or worse. Learn how to keep your home safe while you are away.

Vacation is that time of year you happily anticipate: the opportunity to get away from it all and just unwind. You would never imagine coming back home to find a break-in, broken pipe or worse!

Although summer is considered the major vacation season for most, no matter what time of year you get away, you should take these important steps to protect your home.

  1. Install a security system — Homes without a professionally monitored security system are much more likely to be burglarized. Since most break-ins involve the use of force, a home security system can be a useful deterrent alerting the authorities in the event of a trigger.
  2. Turn off the water — During the summer, turn off the main shut-off valve if no one will be home. This keeps toilets from overflowing, pipes from leaking and outside spigots from being used and left running. During the winter, you can shut off the water but be careful how much you lower the temperature in the house so the pipes don’t freeze. Consider draining the pipes to remove the risk if leaving for an extended period of time.
  3. Hold the mail — It’s a small thing, but an important tipoff to would-be burglars. Stop your mail and newspaper. Or have a friend or trusted neighbor pick it up for you.
  4. Give the illusion someone is home — Consider installing a motion-sensing light outside of your home. In addition to putting interior lamps on timers, you can also put one on your television to create the typical flickering lights of a family at home. If you are away for over a week, arrange to have your lawn mowed. During winter, have the snow removed and ask a friend to drop by every three days to check in on the house. Avoid posting on social media that you will be away from home.
  5. Adjust the thermostat  You will save you some money on utilities, but don’t set it too low in the winter. An ideal setting is 15 degrees Celsius for most homes. This is warm enough to prevent freezing or damaging the building.
  6. Unplug high-value electronics — Even if your high-end electronics are plugged into a surge protector, it’s still wise to unplug them in case a severe storm hits. Widescreen televisions, computers, sound systems and small appliances like toasters and coffee makers can still be damaged if a bolt of lightning strikes nearby or there is a power surge.
  7. Disconnect your garage door  Tech-savvy thieves have been known to hack into garage door opener codes, and some openers (depending on the brand) can be opened with a universal remote.
  8. Pick up that hidden key  Criminals will always look for that hidden key, and they will find it! Give your spare key to a family member, friend or trusted neighbor.

By adding a little pre-trip planning for your home, you can spend more time enjoying that hard-earned vacation and less time worrying.

Being prepared before a natural disaster strikes is critical. Whether it’s a snowstorm, hurricane, tornado, or earthquake, a disaster can leave your family suddenly without the essentials you need and use every day. That’s why putting together a home emergency kit is so important — it can help you get by until you get the help you need.

Here’s how you can create a home emergency kit that can bring you comfort and the essentials you need to survive a disaster.

Include necessary supplies

Most supplies in a home emergency kit are easy to find and relatively inexpensive. Necessary and basic supplies you should have in your kit include:

  • Battery-powered radio (NOAA Weather Radio)
  • Cloth and/or dust masks for all family members
  • Cash or traveler’s checks
  • Cell phone with charger
  • Change of clothing and sturdy shoes
  • Extra batteries for a radio, flashlight and cellphones
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • First aid kit
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Flashlight(s)
  • Important documents such as copies of insurance policies, birth certificates, marriage certificates, passports and bank records in a waterproof, portable container
  • Garbage bags with ties
  • Manual can opener
  • Maps of your local area
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Moist towelettes, hand sanitizer and/or hand soap
  • Over-the-counter medicine such as pain relievers, anti-diarrhea medication, antacids, etc.
  • Paper cups, plates, towels, utensils for eating and prepping food
  • Plastic sheeting and duct tape to build a shelter if needed
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Three-day supply of nonperishable food like canned or dry foods
  • Water, one gallon per person, per day
  • Whistle
  • Wrench or pliers to help turn off utilities like gas or water

Think about the needs of each family member

In addition to the basic items needed for an emergency kit, you’ll need to include any specialty items that you or a  family member needs. These extra items can vary depending on your household and may include:

  • Books, games or puzzles to entertain children who may feel anxious or scared
  • Feminine hygiene items
  • Infant formula and other baby supplies such as diapers and wipes
  • Necessary prescription medicines, like insulin, anti-seizure medicines or other drugs
  • Pet food and additional water for any pets
  • Spare eyeglasses and/or contact lens solution and cases

Keep your kit up-to-date

With any luck, you won’t have to use your emergency kit. Still, it’s important that you keep all the items in the kit up-to-date, so it’s ready for use. Review the contents of your emergency kit at the beginning of your area’s severe weather season or make a note on the calendar to review its contents on Daylight Savings Time.

To keep your kit current and the items safe for use, you should:

  • Check expiration dates on all food items. Replace any expired foods.
  • Check expiration dates on all medicines and replace expired medicines.
  • Check getprepared.gc.ca for any additional recommended items you should add to your kit.
  • Update the kit according to your family’s changing needs and clothing sizes.

Keep your kit close by

The best place to keep your kit is somewhere cool and dry. That environment will help keep food from going bad.

But you also should have the kit somewhere you can easily reach it during an emergency. This may vary based on what types of emergencies your area experiences. If you experience tornados, you may want to keep the kit in the basement or shelter, for instance.

Make sure all family members know where the kit is and it can be accessed quickly if you need to leave your home in a hurry. You can also create smaller kits for your work or your car, so you are ready to go whenever disaster strikes.

A home emergency kit takes only a few hours to prepare but can save a life. Before severe weather season arrives, get your kit ready to go so your family can rest a little easier.

Water damage can be devastating, costly and destructive to your home. The causes of water damage can range from weather-related flooding to an overflowing toilet in your master bedroom.

Do you know what types of water damage your homeowners policy covers? For most destructive events, like fires, your coverage is fairly straightforward and easy to understand. But water damage is different, as some types of water damage are covered and others are not. The general rule of thumb is if it comes from the top down (like rain), it’s covered; if it comes from the bottom up (like an overflowing sewer), it’s not.

But there’s much more to it than that.

Types of water damage

Since water damage can originate from many different sources, water that has overflowed or flooded a home is classified into three categories:

Category 1 — clean water: Uncontaminated water that poses no threat if people are exposed (for example, water from a sink overflowing)

Category 2 — gray water: Water that may contain contaminants with the potential to cause illness if people are exposed (for example, sump pumps or discharge from dishwashers)

Category 3 — black water: Contaminated water that will cause serious illness if people are exposed (for example, sewage spills, standing water or floodwater)

What’s covered

Essentially, your insurance company will cover any sudden and accidental water damage. For example, if a pipe bursts, your washing machine hose breaks or your water heater ruptures, damage to your floors and walls will be covered.

Depending on the type of water damage, there are two different coverages in your homeowners policy that apply — dwelling coverage and personal property coverage.

Dwelling covers the cost to repair a structure in your home damaged by water. If your wall is damaged from a burst pipe, dwelling coverage will cover the cost to repair the wall.

Personal property covers any belongings that were damaged due to sudden or accidental water damage. If your bookcase is damaged from a burst pipe, for example, your insurance will cover the cost to repair or replace it.

Every insurance policy will have coverage limits — the maximum amount you will be reimbursed for a claim. Make sure to look over your policy so there are no surprises. Also, review your deductible so you know how much you will need to pay out of pocket if you submit a claim.

What’s not covered

There are a few situations when water damage is not covered. Some examples are:

  • Water damage caused by an overflowing sewer
  • Water damage that occurs from flooding
  • Water damage from a leaky pipe that hasn’t been maintained

You can purchase separate water backup coverage, which may help with damage from an overflowing sewer or drain. If you’re in a flood zone, you can purchase a separate flood insurance policy. Even if you’re outside a flood zone, it’s a good idea to consider flood insurance due to flood events, such as flash rains and ground saturation.

Prevention begins with routine maintenance

Keeping up with home maintenance can help you avoid some types of water damage. Inside your home, inspect appliance hoses (for dishwashers and washing machines) for cracks or leaks and replace them every five years. Check for leaky faucets, as well as the caulking around showers and tubs. When you leave for vacation, turn off the main water shut-off valve. Outside your home, inspect your roof and check downspouts. Remove any debris that may have accumulated and make sure downspouts are positioned in a way that they drain water away from your house.

Water damage is one of those events that can be tricky. Even if you think you’re covered, you may not be in every case. To avoid any unpleasant surprises, review your homeowners policy and understand where your coverage ends. Your insurance broker will be able to recommend the right policies and endorsements to help you navigate your options.