AAA: Gas prices could rise another 50 cents per gallon this year

Palm Beach County’s average gas price leads Florida at $2.93 per gallon, and a rise of another 50 cents this year is a real possibility, says motorist group AAA, citing partners at the Oil Price Information Service.

“OPIS believes oil prices could reach as high as $90 per barrel before the end of the year,” AAA said in a statement early Monday. “While that high is not guaranteed, gas prices would be 50 cents higher, if it happened.”

Florida gas prices remain at their highest levels in three years, and a full tank costs an average of $42, an increase of $8 from this time last year, AAA said. The per-gallon price is still below a high of $4.08 in 2008, but prices above $3 are already appearing at some local stations and could become the norm as the year progresses.

Heading into the unofficial start of the summer driving season Memorial Day weekend, the average family is expected to pay a total of $200 more for gasoline this summer than last year, and $250 more than in the summer of 2016, the group said. At the same time, U.S. producers are increasing their output, and that’s taking the edge off for now. State and local average gas prices stayed within a penny of where they were a week ago.

Still, gas inventories are dropping as international tensions increase, fueled in part by President Donald Trump’s exit from the Iran nuclear deal, which is expected to result in sanctions that effectively limit the supply of Iranian oil on world markets.

In West Palm Beach, prices on Sunday ranged from $2.70 per gallon at five stations to $3.24 at Texaco on Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard, according to price-tracker GasBuddy.

In Jupiter, the cheapest gas was $2.75 at Mobil on Indiantown Road and Alt. A1A and Circle K on W. Indiantown Road and Orange Road. Four stations tied for the highest at $3.09.

In Wellington, the lowest price was $2.79 at Shell on US 441 near Southern Boulevard and the highest was $3.09 at Shell on Southshore Boulevard, according to GasBuddy.

 

 

 

 

Gas price hikes easing? Not if Trump exits Iran deal, analysts say

Update: President Trump tweeted Monday, “I will be announcing my decision on the Iran Deal tomorrow from the White House at 2:00 p.m.”

Original post: Retail gas prices sit in a restless and jittery lull as analysts say higher costs at the pump likely await if President Donald Trump pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal by May 12.

Already oil prices have reached a 2018 high, and Friday contracts marked the priciest since November 2014. Generally that means higher costs at the gas station are in the pipeline.

Retail  prices have held steady for a week but “all bets are off right now, pending the President’s decision” on the Iranian nuclear deal, said Mark  Jenkins,  spokesman for motorist organization AAA/The Auto Club Group.

Palm Beach County’s average price fell a penny to $2.85 per gallon as it remained the state’s costliest market, according to AAA. Florida’s average fell one cent to $2.73 on Sunday, but that’s up 35 cents compared to this time last year.

Pulling the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal by a May 12 renewal deadline could mean reimposed sanctions against Iran and effectively take 1 million barrels of Iranian oil per day off the world market, resulting in reduced global oil supply and higher fuel prices, AAA said.

In Jupiter, often the priciest town in the priciest market in Florida for gasoline, costs at the pump ranged from $2.67 at a Mobil on Indiantown Rd. and Alt. A1A to $2.99 at Mobil and Shell stations elsewhere on Indiantown Road, according to price-tracker GasBuddy on Sunday.

In West Palm Beach, the low-priced leader was Cumberland Farms, $2.62 on Cresthaven Blvd. near Military Trail, according to GasBuddy.

Gas prices: Today ends most expensive April in four years

Pump prices held steady in Florida and Palm Beach County to close out the priciest April since 2014.

(Getty Images)

The  county’s average remained unchanged since last week at $2.86, but is still the highest in the state according to motorist group AAA.

Statewide the average stayed at $2.74,  but that’s 10 cents more than a month ago, and 32 cents more than last year.

“Crude prices are about 33 percent more expensive than they were this time last year,” said AAA spokesman Mark Jenkins. “Expensive oil means expensive gasoline.”

Sometimes prices vary widely within the same city, so keep an eye peeled.

In Palm Beach Gardens, for example, prices ranged from $2.72 at a Sunoco on PGA Boulevard and Prosperity Farms Road to $3.09 at another Sunoco and two Shell stations elsewhere in the same city, according to GasBuddy.

 

 

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.

How to avoid gas pump credit card skimmers as you travel this weekend

There are a lot of dangers on the road this Fourth of July weekend — this is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, and officials are warning drivers to be cautious.

But Florida’s agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam, is warning travelers to watch for a danger at the gas pump: devices called skimmers that could potentially steal your credit or debit card information.

John Garrity of Loxahatchee Electronics Corporation says consumers should look for a sticker indicating a security system installation on gas pumps.  (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)
John Garrity of Loxahatchee Electronics Corporation says consumers should look for a sticker indicating a security system installation on gas pumps. (Thomas Cordy / The Palm Beach Post)

In a news release, Putnam said the skimmers “are the last thing (travelers) want to deal with” this weekend.

» MAP: Where were skimmers found in Florida last year?

Putnam said in the news release that in a little over a year, his Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has found and removed more than 250 skimmers from Florida gas station pumps.

Each skimmer is estimated to grab the information of about 100 customers, with about $1,000 stolen on average from each person — meaning each skimmer could rake in $100,000.

» RELATED: How scammers use skimmers to steal your credit card at the pump

Here are Putnam’s tips to avoid skimmers:

• Pay inside the gas station in cash.

• Check the gas pump cabinet to make sure it’s closed and that it hasn’t been tampered with. Look for security tape or a sticker, and see if it looks peeled or broken.

• Use a pump closer to the front of the store. Putnam said skimmers often are placed at pumps farther away from where clerks can easily see someone tamper with them.

• Use a credit card instead of a debit card. Most credit cards have better protection against most types of fraud, Putnam said. Plus, debit cards immediately withdraw money from your account. If you do use a debit card, choose to run it as a credit card so you don’t have to enter your PIN.

If you think your credit card number may have been stolen or otherwise compromised, report it to your credit card company.

If you believe you may have found a skimmer, contact the gas station manager, local law enforcement or the department’s consumer protection and information hotline at 800-435-7352.