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At this time of year, many homeowners need to check whether surfaces around their houses - such as decks, fences, patios, shingles and concrete - are properly protected against water damage.

This simple "splash" test, using only a glass of water, is offered by the makers of Thompson's Water Seal products:Splash the water on surfaces to be checked. If the surface absorbs the water, making it noticeably and rapidly darker, you need waterproof protection.

Water absorption is the key to this test, whether or not beading occurs.

Before applying any waterproofing product, start with a clean, dry surface. First remove any mildew, pitch or tannin from wood surface, then wash.

Wait 48 hours before applying waterproofing, and make sure rain is not anticipated for 8 to 10 hours.

Cars safer; accidents rise?

There's evidence that seat belts and other automobile safety devices such as air bags actually increase the number of car accidents, says a University of Rochester economist.

Since stricter safety requirements were put in place in the 1960s, cars have added a host of features, such as padded dashboards and seat belts.

But when drivers feel safer, they take more risks, says Steven Landsburg. The result: more accidents.

"The regulations do tend to reduce the number of driver deaths by making it easier to survive an accident," Landsburg writes in his book, "The Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life."

Yet ironically, the regulations may be partly self-defeating by encouraging reckless behavior.