2 million Floridians to hit the road this Memorial Day

Better wrap up your plans and plan to head out early: More than 2 million Floridians — roughly 10 percent of the state’s population — are expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend.

AAA said Wednesday that projection is the highest in 12 years for Florida. And coupled with a record tourism pace in the Sunshine State, 31 million visitors in just the first quarter, it would represent a massive movement of population in a short period of time.

So, expect crowded highways, airports and beaches. But it’s also good news for Florida’s tourism economy, which is on a torrid pace to exceed 120 million visitors in 2017.

Across the country, lots of other people will also be on the move for what is the traditional start to the summer vacation season.

Low gas prices plus a long-weekend equals an estimated 39.3 million Americans traveling this Memorial Day weekend, AAA also estimated.

The automotive and travel group’s projection would mean equate to to 1 million more Americans traveling than during Memorial Day 2016.

“The expected spike in Memorial Day travel mirrors the positive growth seen throughout the travel industry this year,” said Vicky Evans, Assistant Vice President, Travel Sales Development, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “So far in 2017, travel bookings with AAA in Florida are up 17 percent, compared to the same period last year. Higher confidence, rising wages, and recent gas price declines have bolstered consumer spending, leaving many Americans with more money to spend on travel this Memorial Day.”

Cars in 2015 set a record for fuel economy, feds say

If you purchased a model-year 2015 vehicle, chances are it has better fuel economy than the car you traded in.

Cars, SUVs, minivans and light duty pickups in the 2015 model year all improved their fuel economy by half a mile per gallon, according to a report released this week by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The new average: a record 24.8 mpg.

New Ford F-150 pickups are displayed on the sales lot at Serramonte Ford on April 28, 2015 in Colma, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
New Ford F-150 pickups are displayed on the sales lot at Serramonte Ford on April 28, 2015 in Colma, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Automakers also surpassed the federal greenhouse gas emission standards that took effect in 2012, the EPA said. Vehicles were down an average of seven grams of carbon dioxide output per mile past the goal, which was to be down 13 grams per mile.

“Car buyers can go to the showroom knowing that no matter what kind of vehicle they buy, it will be better for the climate – and their wallets – than ever before,” Christopher Grundler, EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality director, said in a news release. “This report highlights that the industry is providing vehicles that customers want, while reaching new levels of environmental performance.”

The report notes that since 2011, average fuel economy has gone up by 2.4 mpg, while carbon dioxide emissions per miles traveled have dropped 10 percent.

In 2011, the EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released jointly set national goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The goals, which have a deadline of 2025, include achieving an average of 54.5 mpg for passenger vehicles, saving consumers more than $1.7 trillion and reducing the United States’ dependence on foreign oil.

The EPA in its report cites automakers’ swiftness to embrace new, fuel-saving technology: many cars have seen cuts in weight, increases in aerodynamics and improved air-conditioning systems.







Feds ban Samsung Galaxy Note7 from all flights

A Samsung Galaxy Note7 lays on a counter after it was returned to a Best Buy on September 15, 2016 in Orem, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
A Samsung Galaxy Note7 lays on a counter after it was returned to a Best Buy on September 15, 2016 in Orem, Utah. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

The federal government late Friday issued an emergency order banning Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices from all flights, effective at noon Saturday.

The move came the day after the technology giant issued a full recall on the most recent generation of the popular smartphone, saying it is no longer safe for people to continue using the device.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said in a news release that people who have a Note7 cannot “transport the device on their person, in carry-on baggage, or in checked baggage on flights to, from or within the United States.”

The DOT also said the phone now is considered “a forbidden hazardous material” under federal law.

“We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in the news release. “We are taking this additional step because even one fire incident inflight poses a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk.”

The devices have been the focus of intense scrutiny from U.S. officials after repeated reports of smoking and, on occasion, fire while charging or soon after charging the battery.

Samsung, in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, recalled all Note7s and issued new ones, only to renew the recall after reports of replacement phones having similar issues to those that were recalled.

The total cost of the recall for Samsung is expected to reach $5.3 billion, the LA Times reports.

The Federal Aviation Administration had issued a notice last month to Note7 owners not to check their devices when flying. That was expanded Monday, when the FAA told Note7 owners to “power down, and not use, charge, or stow in checked baggage, any Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices, including recalled and replacement devices.”

Last week, a Southwest Airlines flight was evacuated after a passenger’s Note7 that had been verified as a replacement by Samsung began to smoke.

Another replacement Note7 caught fire in Texas, according to The Verge, which has closely covered the device’s issues and resulting fallout.

As part of the ban, passengers who try to bring a Note7 onto a plane could have their devices confiscated; they also may face fines, the DOT said.

Those who stow a Note7 in checked luggage could face “criminal prosecution,” the DOT said, because those passengers “are increasing the risk of a catastrophic incident.”

Note7 owners: Click here for details on Samsung’s recall.

Here is the full news release from the Department of Transportation:

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), today announced it is issuing an emergency order to ban all Samsung Galaxy Note7 smartphone devices from air transportation in the United States. Individuals who own or possess a Samsung Galaxy Note7 device may not transport the device on their person, in carry-on baggage, or in checked baggage on flights to, from, or within the United States. This prohibition includes all Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices. The phones also cannot be shipped as air cargo. The ban will be effective on Saturday, October 15, 2016, at noon ET.

“We recognize that banning these phones from airlines will inconvenience some passengers, but the safety of all those aboard an aircraft must take priority,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “We are taking this additional step because even one fire incident inflight poses a high risk of severe personal injury and puts many lives at risk.”

Device owners have experienced documented incidents of dangerous evolution of heat with both recalled and replacement Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices. Samsung and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) acknowledged this imminent safety hazard with the company’s September 15, 2016 and October 13, 2016 recalls. Additionally, on October 11, 2016, Samsung suspended the manufacture and sale of the Samsung Galaxy Note7 device.

“The fire hazard with the original Note7 and with the replacement Note7 is simply too great for anyone to risk it and not respond to this official recall,” said CPSC Chairman Elliot F. Kaye. “I would like to remind consumers once again to take advantage of the remedies offered, including a full refund. It’s the right thing to do and the safest thing to do.”

What air travelers should know

• If passengers attempt to travel by air with their Samsung Galaxy Note7 devices, the phones may be confiscated and passengers may face fines.

• Passengers who attempt to evade the ban by packing their phone in checked luggage are increasing the risk of a catastrophic incident. Anyone violating the ban may be subject to criminal prosecution in addition to fines.

• Passengers currently traveling with Samsung Galaxy Note7 phones should contact Samsung or their wireless carrier immediately to obtain information about how to return their phones and arrange for a refund or a replacement phone. Samsung has provided guidance for customers about refund and replacement options, as well as how to contact wireless carriers, at http://www.samsung.com/us/note7recall/ [external link]. Samsung is also answering customers’ questions at 1-844-365-6197.

• If an airline representative observes that a passenger is in possession of a Samsung Note7 device prior to boarding an aircraft, the air carrier must deny boarding to the passenger unless and until the passenger divests themselves and their carry-on and checked baggage of the Samsung Galaxy Note7 device. Passengers absolutely should not pack the phones in their checked luggage.

• If a flight crew member identifies that a passenger is in possession of a Samsung Galaxy Note7 device while the aircraft is in flight, the crew member must instruct the passenger to power off the device, not use or charge the device while aboard the aircraft, protect the device from accidental activation, including disabling any features that may turn on the device, such as alarm clocks, and keep the device on their person and not in the overhead compartment, seat back pocket, nor in any carry-on baggage, for the duration of the flight.

The Samsung Galaxy Note7 device is considered a forbidden hazardous material under the Federal Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR Parts 171-185), which forbid airline passengers or crew from traveling with lithium cells or batteries or portable electronic devices that are likely to generate a dangerous evolution of heat. PHMSA has issued a special permit to Samsung to facilitate commercial shipment of the recalled devices by ground transportation.

Hurricane Matthew: Port of Palm Beach, other South Florida ports at condition X-ray

The Port of Palm Beach is under port condition X-ray because of Hurricane Matthew. (Provided)
The Port of Palm Beach is under port condition X-ray because of Hurricane Matthew. (Provided)

The Coast Guard has set port condition X-ray for all South Florida ports and terminals as Hurricane Matthew approaches the state.

As of the 11 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory, Matthew is poised to hit Florida along the Atlantic coast. A hurricane watch has been issued from Deerfield Beach to Brevard County.

Port of Palm Beach, Port Miami, Port Everglades and Port of Fort Pierce are included in the Coast Guard’s advisory.

Port condition X-ray is set when sustained gale force winds of 25 mph and gusts up to 40 mph from Matthew are expected in the area within 48 hours.

The ports are still open to commercial traffic while condition X-ray is in effect. However, the Coast Guard says all commercial ships and barges greater than 500 gross tons should start preparing to leave port now.

Since yesterday, South Florida ports have been under port condition Whiskey. The next port condition would be Yankee, meaning sustained gale force winds are expected within 24 hours. At that time, traffic into and out of the port will be restricted.

The Coast Guard offers these safety tips for boaters ahead of the storm:

  • Stay off the water.  The Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities degrade as storm conditions strengthen.  This means help could be delayed.  Boaters should heed weather watches, warnings and small craft advisories.
  • Evacuate as necessary.  If mandatory evacuations are set for an area, the public should evacuate without delay.  Coast Guard personnel and other emergency responders may not be able to evacuate or rescue those in danger during the storm.
  • Secure belongings.  Owners of large boats are urged to move their vessels to inland marinas where they will be less vulnerable to breaking free of their moorings or to sustaining damage.  Trailerable boats should be pulled from the water and stored in a place that is not prone to flooding.  Those who are leaving their boats in the water are reminded to remove EPIRBs and to secure life rings, lifejackets and small boats. These items, if not properly secured, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources be diverted to ensure people are not in distress.
  • Stay clear of beaches. Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by hurricanes.  Swimmers should stay clear of beaches until local lifeguards and law enforcement officials say the water is safe.
  • Be prepared. Area residents should be prepared by developing a family plan, creating a disaster supply kit, having a place to go, securing their home and having a plan for pets. Information can be found at the National Hurricane Center’s webpage.
  • Stay informed. The public should monitor the progress and strength of the storm through local television, radio and Internet. Boaters can monitor its progress on VHF radio channel 16. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16.

More coverage of Hurricane Matthew:

When do I put up my hurricane shutters?

The latest from The Post’s weather reporter, Kim Miller

Make sure you have your hurricane supplies

Which Palm Beach County gas stations can pump without power?

Florida sets new record for seat belt use

(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
(Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

If you buckle up when you get in the car, you’re part of an upward trend in the Sunshine State.

The Florida Department of Transportation said the state’s seat belt usage has hit an all-time high, with a recent survey showing that 89.6 percent of drivers are strapping in.

» RELATED: Death in Boca crash may have been prevented by seat belt use

Florida first began measuring seat belt usage in 1999, and the state has conducted a survey each year since. In 2009, lawmakers voted to make it a primary offense to not wear a seat belt in Florida, and FDOT said in a news release that the state has ranked above the national average every year since.

“Buckling up is the single most effective thing you can do to protect yourself in a crash,” FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold said in the news release. “Safety belts save thousands of lives each year.”

To conduct the survey, FDOT hired a research group to post observers at certain areas throughout the state to count and categorize the number of seat belts they saw.

In Palm Beach County, observers were posted at several spots, including Lyons Road, Florida’s Turnpike, Congress Avenue, the Beeline Highway and Wellington Trace.

Is your car seat installed correctly? There are people to help with that

It’s like a litmus test to see if you’ll be a good parent: the installation of the car seat.

It’s OK to be confused by the process, said Candice Guis, marketing and safety training coordinator for the Safety Council of Palm Beach County — many parents are. In fact, about 95 percent of car seats are not installed correctly, according to safety advocacy group Safe Kids Worldwide.

That’s why the Safety Council, and many other organizations throughout Palm Beach County, offer car seat installation experts to help parents make sure they get it right.

(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
(Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

With this being Child Passenger Safety Week — it runs through Saturday — federal transportation organizations including the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration are urging parents and guardians to double check car seats.

What makes car seat installation such a stressful process for some?

“I think more than anything it is a fear (for parents) that they are not capable of doing it,” Guis said. “There are so many different car seats out there, that I think it’s very intimidating.”

She said that all car seats meet the same safety standards — the difference comes in the “bells and whistles” between a car seat you might find at Walmart and one you can buy for $500.

The most common issue she sees: car seat placement. Is the middle best? Or one of the sides?

Guis said that although the middle statistically is the safest — it’s less likely to get hit by a car from the sides, she said — some cars aren’t built for that positioning. They may have a hump between the back seats, or a fold-down armrest.

She suggested checking your car’s owner’s manual to see where the best fit will be.

Another question to ask: Does the car seat you have fit the guidelines for your child’s age and height?

Guis said children under 2 years old need to be in rear-facing car seats, and it’s better to keep them rear-facing for longer.

“It’s about protecting the head, neck and spinal cord of that child,” she said.

The Safety Council has car seats available for purchase for $35. Installation help is free, but you do need to make an appointment with Guis by calling 561-845-8233.

“It’s important to remember, it’s OK to ask questions,” she said. “I’ll talk to a new mom all day, if I can help her.”

Feds release rules for self-driving vehicles

The federal government has released a set of long-awaited rules for self-driving vehicles.

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Tuesday said its four-part Federal Vehicle Automated Policy “sets a proactive approach” to ensure safety and innovation as automated cars become more prevalent on city streets.

In a news release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that self-driving cars could “save thousands of lives,” and that the new rules represent “an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.”

A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The country saw an increase in fatal crashes in 2015, according to recently released data from the DOT. Florida in particular saw a spike of nearly 18 percent.

Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, said 94 percent of U.S. crashes are caused by human error or choice. Taking that out of the equation could lead to fewer deaths.

“We are moving forward on the safe deployment of automated technologies because of the enormous promise they hold to address the overwhelming majority of crashes and save lives,” Rosekind said.

In the past six months, self-driving vehicles have seen a jump in use. Tesla’s Model S features Autopilot — a system that came under fire this year after a man using the feature was killed in Florida when his Tesla could not distinguish between the bright white side of a turning tractor-trailer and the sunny sky behind it.

At the same time, Uber has launched a pilot program where several self-driving vehicles offer rides around Pittsburgh. A select pool of frequent Uber riders in the area were given the first chance to test the system, and many already have done so.

President Barack Obama weighed in on his administration’s new policy in an op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday, saying that while he understands some may not think the U.S. government should regulate the self-driving car industry, he believes “most Americans would agree we still need rules to keep our air and water clean, and our food and medicine safe. That’s the general principle here.”

But, he added, if people lose faith in a new technology because of issues with safety, it can “slam the brakes on innovation.”

The four parts of the policy are:

A 15-point safety assessment, with the goal of fostering safe design, testing, development and release of self-driving cars.

A model state policy, setting responsibilities on the state level as opposed to the federal government. It also suggests how states can set automated vehicle policy to help maintain “a consistent national framework” for self-driving car testing and release.

Current regulatory tools available from NHTSA, including which exemptions allow for testing of “nontraditional vehicle designs” more quickly.

Modern regulatory tools, which officials may be able to use to aid in developing new technologies to respond to safety issues that arise as more self-driving vehicles hit the road.

Public comment is open on the policy for the next 60 days. To weigh in or learn more, go to www.transportation.gov/AV.

More flood-damaged cars back on the road, with Florida among top states

Residents help push a stranded car into a driveway along Alden Ridge Drive after heavy rain from Tropical Storm Isaac caused the nearby lake to overflow flooding the neighborhood streets of the Alden Ridge housing community in Boynton Beach in 2012. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)
Residents help push a stranded car into a driveway along Alden Ridge Drive after heavy rain from Tropical Storm Isaac caused the nearby lake to overflow flooding the neighborhood streets of the Alden Ridge housing community in Boynton Beach in 2012. (Palm Beach Post staff file photo)

Florida ranks in the top three states where previously flooded vehicles are back on the roads, according to a new report.

More than 271,000 cars that have been reported as flooded are back in use, according to the study, done by Carfax.

Florida has about 17,000 of these vehicles on the road — and about 1,200 are in West Palm Beach.

Only Texas and Pennsylvania rank higher than the Sunshine State in the study.

The company looked at data from the parties that keep track of flooded-vehicle reports, including state departments of motor vehicles and insurance companies.

The number could be greater: The Palm Beach Post reported in January that Florida ranks first in the nation for water-related car insurance claims.

The flood-damaged vehicles on the road in Florida may not necessarily be from Florida: Flooded vehicles can be shipped anywhere, warns consumer advocacy group AAA.

As communities across the Southeast continue to recover from recent flooding, it heightens the need for car buyers to be vigilant.

The study is the latest effort from Carfax to help buyers and sellers avoid flood-damaged used cars, said Carfax spokesman Chris Basso.

Carfax offers free reports on vehicles to check for flood damage. Go to www.carfax.com/flood and search using the vehicle identification number.

Gas prices up slightly — but still better than this time last year

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

As summer begins to wane, the U.S. is seeing a slight increase in the average cost of a gallon of gas.

While the national average is up 4 cents in the past week — from $2.12 to $2.16 — the rise still puts gas prices lower than they were heading into Labor Day weekend last year, according to data from GasBuddy.com.

Last year, the average gas price in Florida clocked in at $3.31. Prices have steadily gone down since then. This week’s rise is the first average increase of the summer.

In Florida, the rise over the past week is just a little steeper: up 5 cents, from an average of $2.07 to $2.12. In Palm Beach County, that increase isn’t quite as dramatic: The average price is up just 2 cents to $2.24.

Balance billing law goes into effect July 1 in Florida

Among the many laws that going into effect Friday will be one championed by Palm Beach Post readers – House Bill 221 – that bans so-called surprise medical bills.

This is when people, in emergency health care situations, get medical treatment from providers outside their insurance networks. Soon after, they get nailed with huge medical bills.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Post readers, and Post reporter Charles Elmore, played a big role in putting this issue on the legislative radar screen in the past year. State Insurance Consumer Advocate Sha’ron James held a hearing in Palm Beach County to get public feedback, and that’s where Post reporting on the issue and reader input made a difference.

In the spring lawmakers approved HB 221, which holds consumers harmless in emergency situations. Instead, providers such as hospitals need to work out the difference in payments and costs with insurers.