Autumn Leaves are a Driving Hazard

Autumn's leaves are beautiful to see, but when wet or in piles, they present driving hazards unique to the season.

The Car Care Council reminds drivers to prepare for fall driving conditions by having their vehicles' tires, brakes and wipers checked before heading out. Home and business owners also should be aware of the hazards created by fallen foliage.

Most motorists know that puddles or standing water can cause loss of control, and they adjust their driving accordingly. But fewer drivers, especially inexperienced ones or drivers new to an area with heavy foliage are aware of the dangers of wet leaves.

A single layer of wet leaves can make braking, steering and stopping difficult. This effect is particularly dangerous at intersections and is intensified at downhill stop signs. Acceleration can be affected, too. Fishtailing can result on leaf-strewn interstate entrance ramps and other areas where hard acceleration may be necessary.

Even when dry, leaves can present a challenge. Piles of leaves can obscure steps, potholes, curbs, street and parking lots markings - even present a fire hazard should leaves contact a hot muffler or tailpipe.

The Council reminds motorists that tires can affect the car's ride, handling, traction and safety, and that they are a critical connection between the car and the road in all types of driving conditions. To maximize tire life and safety, check the inflation pressure and the tread depth, and inspect the sidewalls for cracks or punctures. As a general rule, tires should be rotated and balanced every 6,000 miles.

The brake system is the car's most important safety system. Brakes are a normal wear item for any car, and brake linings, drums and rotors, as well as brake fluid, should be checked at each oil change.

To help ensure the performance and safety of wipers, blades should be replaced every six months or when cracked, cut, torn, streaking or chattering. Only windshield washer fluid should be used, and it should be checked monthly.

The Car Care Council is the source of information for the "Be Car Care Aware" consumer-education campaign.

For more information or to receive a copy of the council's new Car Care Guide for motorists, visit www.carcare.org.


Tips on Preparing for Emergencies

Disasters are often unpredictable. Whether it's a hurricane, tornado or something else entirely, planning ahead can keep you and your family safe.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors offers a few simple steps Americans can take to prepare for severe weather and other disasters:

  • Create a family emergency plan. This is the only way to ensure that you and your family members know what to do when a disaster strikes. Consider different scenarios. For example, your family may not be together at the time. How will you get in touch with one another? Where will you meet? Knowing the emergency plans for your city or town, your workplace and your child's school can help you prepare.

  • Identify your first call for help. After a major disaster, calling people outside of your immediate vicinity can sometimes be easier than trying to reach those with local numbers. Designate one trusted family member or friend living in a different part of the country that you and your family members can call.

This person can help coordinate communication among your family in the event that you are separated, and can provide you with vital information you may not be able to access during an emergency.

  • Sign up for direct deposit. If you receive Social Security or other federal benefits by check, consider switching to direct deposit. In addition to providing important protection against identity theft and fraud, direct deposit is the most reliable option for those living in communities where severe weather and other disasters can displace people from their homes.

Following Hurricane Katrina, for example, seniors and others who were already using direct deposit for their Social Security payments had immediate access to their funds from virtually anywhere, thanks to automated teller machines and financial institution networks.

For information about signing up for direct deposit of your Social Security or other federal benefit payment, call 800-333-1795 or log on to www.GoDirect.org.

  • Prepare an emergency kit. Whether you need to evacuate your home quickly or remain indoors until a threat passes, an emergency kit can mean more time to focus your attention on the other important decisions you will need to make. Make sure the kit includes several days' worth of basic supplies: food, water and proper clothing.