Last year I wrote about the liability issues for those who vacation in private homes by asking, “With short-term home rentals, who’s liable?” But when it comes to ground transportation, there are many more questions about both safety and liability.

Whether it’s driving your own car; renting a car; riding in a bus, shuttle or taxi; or ridesharing via Uber or Lyft, your risks and responsibilities can vary considerably, especially because state and local laws can differ in protecting consumers.

Anticipating unseen risks

Most of us focus on booking our long-haul travel — flights, cruises, scenic train tours — and often overlook the patchwork quilt that comprises ground transportation. We’re serviced by a combination of paid and unpaid providers: rental cars, courtesy buses, vans, taxis and rideshares, and we can be vulnerable from both the safety and financial perspectives.

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), domestic highway fatalities continue to far outnumber deaths by other modes such as travel by air, rail and water. The DOT further breaks it down by noting there were 6.1 million automobile accidents and 69,000 bus accidents in 2014.

There’s no question about the known dangers. But it’s tougher to prepare for unexpected dangers. AAA lists a variety of scenarios that can affect travelers on the road, including liability lawsuits, traveling abroad, rental car coverage, pets in an accident and uninsured motorist coverage.

For example, summer travel often involves towing a boat or other type of trailer. offers detailed information on what may or may not be covered when an accident involves not just a towing vehicle, but a trailer or boat. In many cases standard auto liability policies will not be adequate and state coverage minimums may not be satisfactory, so understanding policy declarations is critical.

Here are some other common scenarios:

Rental cars

Most consumers are forced to consider liability when picking up a rental car, since agents often employ hard sell techniques for coverage options. As I noted here with “Rental car companies emulate airlines, embrace added fees,” collision damager waiver (CDW) and similar forms of coverage are “the greatest rental revenue generators of them all.” Another surprise fee to many renters is a cost for certain roadside services, well worth clarifying.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers detailed advice about rental waivers and states many drivers already may have adequate coverage through one or more other channels:

* auto insurance policies

* homeowners policies

* employer’s policies

* motor clubs

* charge cards

However, that word “adequate” most definitely is in the eye of the beholder. Since CDW is not traditional…