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Why the Fourth of July is summer’s deadliest holiday on the roads

Independence Day is about fireworks, parades and picnics, sure, but there’s another reality — and it’s a sad counterpoint to what’s supposed to be a celebration of freedom. The Fourth of July is the deadliest summer holiday on the roads.

This is partly because the holiday is pegged to a specific date. Though it can come on a weekend or be weekend adjacent, some years it falls midweek, on Thursday in 2024 for example. You don’t always get a long weekend like Labor Day or Memorial Day, so driving travel can be more concentrated, sometimes even down to the one day. A lot of drinking and other bad decisions can be concentrated on that day too. And more than those other holidays, Fourth of July events coast-to-coast bring out huge crowds. 

The folks at the Jerry insurance app took a hard look at NHTSA crash data along with Census Bureau info and came up with some numbers and charts that you might find sobering (literally) this Fourth, when a record 60.6 million Americans are expected to be traveling: 

  • There has been an average total of 429 fatal crashes nationwide on the Fourth of July each year between 2016-2022. That’s up 17% from the average in 2008-2015.
  • There were nearly 500 deaths by impaired drivers over a Fourth holiday weekend in 2022.
  • Nearly half the crashes, 47%, involved some combination of speeding, drinking and drugs. A third, 31%, involved speeding; a third, 32%, involved at least one driver under the influence of alcohol; and another 12% involved drugs. 
  • Three-quarters (73%) of car-crash fatalities on the Fourth are male. The majority had been drinking.
  • Over half (52%) of those killed in crashes are under 40 years old. Two-thirds (66%) of the deaths in that age group were in drinking-related crashes.
  • There’s a huge time-of-day uptick for deadly crashes, happening between 9 p.m. and midnight as people drive home from parties and fireworks shows. There’s another uptick after 1 a.m. when you add bar closings to that.
  • In some cities and states, the carnage is worse than others. Los Angeles, Chicago and Detroit have the most fatal crashes, likewise California, Texas and Florida, which is not surprising given their size. (California alone registered three times as many fatal crashes as New York).
  • But when measured per capita, Detroit, Memphis and Kansas City are the worst. Also Montana and the Dakotas, perhaps because of greater distances driven. 
  • And the problem is not just cars — Mothers Against Drunk Driving points out that boating fatalities involving alcohol are also a big problem over the Fourth. The U.S. Coast Guard concurs that the effects of alcohol on judgment and reaction times are greatly amplified on the water.

To address the problem of young people drinking on the Fourth, MADD recommends using strategies from the Power of Parents Handbook, saying a five-year study concluded that the book helps teens become more likely to decline rides from impaired drivers and less likely to drive when impaired themselves. 

The Jerry app’s report features a dozen revealing charts. We’ve included two of them here, but for a deeper dive, you should check out the full report.

On the Fourth, fireworks aren’t the only risk. Have a safe and sane one.

It’s not just Big Oil: A look at Big Corn, which is also suing over EPA emissions rules

Last week, Reuters reported that “Oil and corn groups team up against Biden’s tailpipe emissions rules.” Presidential elections always restore corn to the headlines because corn is such enormous business that the tall grass should be called “Gold on the Cob.” That’s not just gold for farmers, either, thanks to corn’s requirements and reach. Industrial farming companies like Cargill, chemical companies like DuPont and Monsanto, and ethanol refiners like Poet Biorefining and Archer Daniels Midland all derive massive benefit from the amazing maize.

The corn lobby has a touchy relationship with Big Oil. When the Associated Press published “The Secret, Dirty Cost of Obama’s Green Power Push” in 2013 (highly recommended read), we’re told, “An industry blog in Minnesota said the AP had succumbed ‘to Big Oil’s deep pockets and powerful influence.'”

As governments have taken more steps to enact regulations aiming to curb greenhouse gasses, though, corn finds common cause with oil. Mandated reductions in traditional fuel usage threaten refiner profits, and less fuel used — or no liquid fuel, at least directly, in the case of electric vehicles — means less ethanol added, reducing ethanol purchases and subsidies distributed along the value chain. Various lawsuits filed against the EPA in the past few weeks represent the combined forces of the American Petroleum Institute, National Corn Growers Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Renewable Fuels Association and National Farmers Union.

It’s a topic so big it could come up in tonight’s presidential debate (CNN and other channels, 9 p.m. Eastern). The higher fuel economy standards are an initiative of President Biden’s administration (he made a case for ethanol in 2022 in a speech inside a Poet Biofuels building); former President Donald Trump, meanwhile, complains about EVs every chance he gets. The big business of corn is one reason why. 

RFA President and CEO Geoff Cooper summed up the problem for the ethanol lobby with, “[The] EPA grossly exceeded its statutory authority by finalizing regulations that effectively mandate the production of EVs, while blatantly excluding the ability of flex fuel vehicles and low-carbon, high-octane renewable fuels like ethanol to achieve significant vehicle emissions reductions.”

Using ethanol to power cars and reformulate gasoline isn’t new. Henry Ford’s 1908 Model T could run on ethanol because gasoline wasn’t the commodity it is today. Refiners began mixing ethanol into gasoline in the 1920s to get higher octane ratings, which reduced knock (lead was a much more famous octane enhancer). And ethanol use spiked during World War II when gas supplies were diverted to the U.S. military.

The Calgren Renewable Fuels ethanol plant in Pixley, Calif. (AP)

The upsides

Ethanol subsidies aren’t new. They began in the U.S. with the Energy Policy Act of 1978, and remained in effect as either a subsidy and/or tax credit until the end of the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit in 2011, by which time the system was said to cost the government more than $5 billion per year. Well, the payouts didn’t end, really, the government simply created new methods of providing incentives, grants, loan guarantees, production payments and tax credits.  

Leaning on ethanol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions isn’t new, either. The 1990 Clean Air Act required more oxygenated gasoline in areas of the country with elevated ground-level ozone measurements. Increased oxygenate helps gasoline burn more completely during combustion, reducing the amount of carbon monoxide, soot, and environmentally harmful compounds that escape from a vehicle’s tailpipe.

Ethanol and MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) became popular oxygenates. As researchers began to question MTBE’s ability to break down in water, though, ethanol — an organic resource — found more favor. As some states began declaring MTBE unwelcome beginning in 2000, the U.S. government’s 2003 Energy Bill declared ethanol the only legal fuel oxygenate for the U.S. market.

That established a federally guaranteed market for ethanol for the first time (as opposed to refiners having a choice in oxygenate). Ethanol doesn’t need to be made with corn — sorghum is another option — but renewable fuel in the U.S. today is effectively corn-based.

Two years after that energy bill, the Renewable Fuels Standard (RFS) in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exploded ethanol’s guaranteed market. The RFS instructs the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to decide on a minimum volume of renewable fuels to be included in the nation’s fossil fuel supply every year. The volumes, called Renewable Volume Obligations (RVO), change based on government agency predictions of fuel usage. The renewables take four forms: Conventional biofuel (also called renewable fuel in EPA parlance); biomass-based diesel; “other advanced biofuel;” and cellulosic biofuel.

Big crop, big business

U.S. Department of Agriculture tables on U.S. Bioenergy Statistics show the effects all this legislation has had on corn production. In the first quarter of 1986, 3.5% of corn production by bushel went to fuel alcohol use. That percentage crossed into double digits for the first time in Q3 of 2002, when 11.9% of corn production went to fuel alcohol use.

From December 2022 to February 2023, 35.7% of U.S. corn production went to make ethanol. Another table in the Bioenergy Statics spreadsheet shows that for the full year of 2023, 5.3 billion bushels of corn went to ethanol production.

Sorghum maxed out at 131 million bushels used for ethanol back in 2016; for the past two years, there’s no data for sorghum.

All that corn got plugged into satisfying the EPA’s “renewable volume obligation” for the nation’s fuel supply; in 2023, that was 20.82 billion gallons of renewable fuel poured into the 143 billion gallons of gas American drivers chugged through last year. The RVO for 2024 is 21.81 billion gallons or 13.55% of the nation’s predicted fuel usage. In 2025, the RVO will be 22.68 billion gallons or 13.05%.

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So it is that corn is America’s largest agricultural commodity crop and the U.S. is the world’s largest corn grower, and it’s not even close.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that in 2023, farmers grew a record 15.3 billion bushels of corn on 86.5 million acres of land, compared to just 4.16 billion bushels of soybeans, the second-biggest crop, on 82.4 million acres. Add the yields for soybeans, grain, rice and cotton, and they don’t come close to half of last year’s corn crop.

Only 1% of corn grown is the sweet corn we eat at meals. The rest, often called field corn or dent corn, is used for products like corn meal, high fructose corn syrup and plastics. But on average, roughly 40% of field corn ends up at the pumps.

It’s tough to find subsidy amounts the government pays to farmers for corn production not strictly related to ethanol. USA Facts data claims that in 2016, corn farmers received $2.2 billion in government subsidies, beating the individual amounts disbursed for soybeans, sugar, cotton, wheat, oranges, livestock, hay and forage, and “all others.”

On top of this, a giant export market that the government continues to fight to expand gives corn growers a ton of power that can turn into additional government payments.

So when you hear about farmers going on a date to Washington, D.C., with The Seven Sisters to challenge some EPA action, these are the numbers compelling the union.

The downsides

And none of this gets into the underside of the issue, the, let’s say, debatable aspects about corn-based ethanol: The tradeoff for lower vehicle emissions being what some believe are horrific environmental consequences. The same way high gas prices made shale oil and fracking good business propositions, the RFS encouraged farmers to plant corn in places historically considered unwelcome, tilling huge amounts of virgin prairie and conserved land in the process.

Tilling that land is said to have unlocked enough carbon dioxide that it would take two decades for the planted field to absorb it. The enormous water needs to grow corn are blamed for lowering water tables. Excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers to maximize yields sucks oxygen from the soil and water, leading to dead zones in waterways, including an enormous zone in the Gulf of Mexico. In 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration measured the Gulf’s dead zone at roughly 6,334 square miles, larger than the average dead zone for the previous five years of 5,380 square miles. That’s an area larger than the state of Connecticut, hovering mostly off the coast of America’s second-largest seafood producing state, Louisiana.

And even before all of that, the founding presumptions of the RFS have been questioned since the beginning. Many suspect corn-based ethanol can’t be made to work with the Renewable Fuels Standard without some creative numbers.

The RFS stipulates that “Renewable fuel (or conventional biofuel) typically refers to ethanol derived from corn starch and must meet a 20% lifecycle GHG [greenhouse gas] reduction,” meaning corn ethanol would be 20% less polluting than gasoline. But when the Obama administration tried to work out the math for implementing the RFS way back in 2009, it found that corn ethanol would only be 16% less polluting than gasoline by 2022, based on a maximum yield of 180 bushels of corn per acre.

All the stakeholders complained, saying the government’s figures were too conservative. So the EPA came up with a “high yield case scenario” that achieved a 21% reduction by assuming a yield of 230 bushels per acre. (Getting more bushels off an acre means it took fewer resources to grow each bushel, so it’s environmentally cleaner.)

The problem is that corn growers have never hit that yield number. The yield in 2014 was about 173 bushels per acre. Last year’s yield was 177 bushels per acre, right around the original, and insufficient, government estimate.

Corn might not come up in tonight’s presidential debate. But for all the reasons we’ve touched on here, and so many more (food prices, high-fructose corn syrup, the list goes on), corn will continue to be a big topic from now until November and beyond.

More drivers are shopping for new car insurance due to rate increases

Insurance rates are increasing, but vehicle owners aren’t sitting still waiting for the situation to change. A new study from LexisNexis showed that more people are shopping around for car insurance, switching companies to save money and get better coverage options.

The study showed that more than 40 percent of insured drivers had shopped for a new policy in 2023, up almost 5 percent from the year before. Insurers spent less on advertising, which could have played a role, but the main driving force is that people want to save money, and they are not hesitant to make a move when they find something better.

This situation presents some challenges for insurance companies, even the ones that are taking on more customers than they lose. There are more multi-generational households as families move in together to save money. That has driven up the number of drivers on each policy while reducing the number of new policies. Beyond the potential lost revenue, insurers could miss risk factors for people in multi-driver households.

Because of that shopping around, insurers have seen a drop in their customer renewal rates, with the average renewals dropping from 83 percent to 80 percent. Many of the customers making moves between coverage options are those with clean driving records and low-risk drivers, leaving insurers with “the rest” of the driving population that costs more to insure. LexisNexis pointed out that insurers need to focus on pricing and satisfaction for the lower-risk vehicle owners to avoid ending up with a pool of expensive-to-insure drivers.

If you’re considering changing insurance companies, doing plenty of research up front would be wise. Consider your current deductible, coverage limits, and benefits before making a move. If you save a few dollars on insurance premiums but end up with a larger deductible or fewer coverage options, you won’t have saved anything if you get in a wreck.

Study: Insurance claims have become significantly more severe since 2020

We’ve been hearing about rising car insurance rates for a while now, but while it’s easy to blame corporate greed for the increases, some of the blame lies in the fact that insurance claims have become significantly more severe over the past four years. LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ recent study found that the costs for bodily injury and property damage claims have climbed steadily in recent times, contributing to the rise in premiums.

Since 2020, claims for bodily injury have risen in severity by 20 percent, while material damages coverage increased 47 percent. Parts and labor shortages contributed, as did increases in the costs of medical care. As LexisNexis pointed out, the more severe accidents have raised questions about minimum coverage limits and whether they are adequate to cover the increased costs.

There are 43 states plus Washington, D.C., that require $25,000 or less in coverage, while four states have $30,000 minimum coverage limits. Three others have minimums of $50,000, barely covering the average new vehicle price in the United States.

Total loss claims have increased 29 percent since 2020, and over a quarter of collisions in 2023 resulted in totaled vehicles. These claims are more expensive for the insurer and can be customer service headaches for drivers. Almost half of the people surveyed said they were dissatisfied with their experience following a total-loss accident, and 40 percent said it took a month or longer to receive payment for their claim.

Another factor contributing to the severity of claims is the fact that a greater number of people are getting legal help from an attorney. A majority of study respondents – 85 percent – said an attorney had approached them after an accident. Around 60 percent had been contacted by two or more lawyers, and more than half of the people who obtained legal help received more money from their settlements.

Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato and GMC Acadia driven | Autoblog Podcast #837

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Plus some sad discontinuation news and rumors

Continue reading Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato and GMC Acadia driven | Autoblog Podcast #837

Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato and GMC Acadia driven | Autoblog Podcast #837 originally appeared on Autoblog on Fri, 21 Jun 2024 13:24:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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2025 Buick Enclave changes trim names and pricing

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2025 Buick Enclave changes trim names and pricing originally appeared on Autoblog on Sun, 2 Jun 2024 10:00:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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Next-gen GMC Terrain teased looking chiseled in AT4 trim

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Next-gen GMC Terrain teased looking chiseled in AT4 trim originally appeared on Autoblog on Thu, 18 Apr 2024 10:00:00 EDT. Please see our terms for use of feeds.

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A Bolder, More Assertive Next-Generation GMC Terrain is Coming

A Bolder, More Assertive Next-Generation GMC Terrain is Coming

2024-04-18

DETROIT – Today GMC shared a preview of the upcoming, next-generation Terrain. The teaser shows off the Terrain AT4’s redesigned front fascia, illustrating the compact crossover’s bolder, more assertive design.

The redesigned Terrain will represent the third generation of the nameplate. Once launched, the Terrain will complete GMC’s enhanced crossover and SUV lineup — joining the all-new 2024 GMC Acadia, expected to hit dealer lots this spring, and the refreshed Yukon, which GMC teased last week.

GMC plans to reveal the next-generation Terrain later this year.

About GMC
GMC offers a range of premium trucks and SUVs designed and engineered to the highest standard. With vehicles like the compact Terrain and full-size Yukon, all-new Canyon and Sierra light-duty, as well as the world’s first all-electric supertruck the GMC HUMMER EV, our trucks and SUVs deliver GMC’s signature combination of intuitive technologies, precise engineering and premium execution. Built on a strong foundation of manufacturing trucks since 1902, GMC now sells in a dozen countries across the world. Details on all models are available at gmc.com.

 

NHTSA upgrades investigation into braking issues in 3 million Hondas

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Wednesday it had upgraded its probe into reports of unexpected activation of automatic emergency braking systems in around 3 million Honda Motor vehicles to an engineering analysis.

An engineering analysis is a mandatory requirement before the auto safety regulator can potentially demand a recall. The probe includes the Japanese automaker’s popular Accord sedans and CR-V crossover SUVs.

The NHTSA said it had received 2,876 consumer complaints, and reports of 93 injury incidents and 47 crashes involving Honda cars with unique vehicle identification numbers that may be related to the issue.

The regulator had opened a preliminary evaluation into about 1.7 million Honda vehicles in February 2022 to assess claims that the automatic emergency braking system activated with no apparent obstruction in the vehicle’s path.

While the preliminary evaluation covered 2017-2019 Honda CR-V and 2018-2019 Honda Accord vehicles, the NHTSA has expanded the probe to include 2020-2022 models of the Honda CR-V and Accord vehicles as well.

Honda did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Honda’s Autonomous Emergency Braking works by using a radar and camera, and applies strong braking pressure if the accident becomes unavoidable, but gives drivers visual and audible alerts before kicking in.

The 10 best features in new cars

We go through many vehicles at Autoblog, so we’re exposed to a vast array of automotive features. Some of them are great, some of them are terrible. Sometimes we tend to fixate on those problematic features, but this time, we’re celebrating the best stuff you can get in a car. They’re not necessarily make-or-break, nor are they necessarily that unusual. But when we find them in a car, we’re happy to see them, and would definitely check the option boxes if they’re not included from the start. So, in no particular order, let’s get to it.

1. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

It may seem a little silly to bring up a feature that’s seemingly standard in everything now, but firstly, it’s not, especially with wireless functionality. Secondly, it really is that good. Now, a lot of OEM Bluetooth systems without the phone mirroring apps are actually better than many give them credit for, but the seamlessness of accessing your phone’s maps, hands-free calling and texting, and other apps like music streaming make CarPlay and Android Auto wonderful additions to any car. And we want to especially highlight the wireless versions, which allow you to have all that convenience with the added convenience of either leaving your phone in your pocket, or charge it wirelessly if your vehicle is so equipped. We would potentially add wireless device charging to this list, but a lot of those chargers have rather poor design that let the phone slide off the charging pad, making them a bit useless.

2. Seat base extensions

We’re going from a feature that’s nearly universal to one that we’re stunned isn’t yet. On some cars, including darn near every BMW product, the seat base can be extended in length. This can provide additional support for one’s legs, specifically the thighs, and for the long-legged amongst the Autobloggers, this can be a huge benefit for comfort. And in many modern cars that have rather short seat bases, the lack of the feature is particularly noteworthy. We’re also not even requiring the feature to be powered. In a lot of base BMWs and Minis, the extension is completely manual, but still very effective, and actually much quicker to position.

3. Heated steering wheel

I long thought this was a silly, indulgent feature for total softies. Then I lived with it. Being able to hop in the car and quickly warm your hands in winter is such a joy, and provides such a great warming sensation all the way through. Plus, you’re not just warming up your hands, but the whole wheel, so no cold spots. There are even practical reasons to have features like the heated wheel as well as seats. Directly heating touch points is more energy efficient that heating air to warm yourself. That’s especially significant in EVs, where you can get away with less aggressive climate control settings by relying on your heated seats and wheels. They’re not superfluous, they’re sensible!

4. Heated and ventilated seats

As great as a heated steering wheel is, heated seats are more significant to comfort overall, and still aren’t as broadly available as we would expect at this point. Even less common is ventilation in seats, which circulates air from behind to provide some cooling power. We in the office were split as to which was the better feature, and your locale will probably help determine your preference. So we’ve combined them on this list, as automakers typically do on higher trim levels. And there are a handful of automakers, usually German, that allow running both the heat and the ventilation simultaneously for drier heat.

4. Remote start / climate functions

Continuing on climate comfort, we’re putting remote start and climate control on this list. Go through a few Michigan winters (or Northeast, or Midwest in general), and you’ll develop an appreciation for being able to get some heat through the car before having to actually venture outside. It can also be great for getting a head start on defogging and defrosting. It can be handy in the summer, as well, to get the car a little cooler. And with EVs, the function is smarter and more environmentally friendly, since you can program times and temperatures ahead of time, it can operate inside your garage safely, and can activate while plugged in so you don’t use any of your battery charge while sitting or while cooling down/heating up on the road. Managing Editor Greg Rasa notes that some cars let you remotely open all the windows on a hot day by holding down the unlock button on your key fob, and that’s excellent for summer, too, although we haven’t seen/tried it recently (automakers who don’t have this feature, there’s a free idea for you). 

5. Adaptive cruise control

Arguably even more than highway driving assist that includes automatic lane-keeping and light turning, simple adaptive cruise control can make a long highway journey more relaxed and easy. Cruise control is great as it is, but having to adjust it periodically when the car ahead keeps fluctuating in speed or is set to a speed just ever so slightly different than yours, it can be a bit annoying. Adaptive cruise eliminates that, and it can make cruise control far more useful on highway runs that feature significant speed changes due to heavy traffic. Some even have stop-and-go, allowing for use in gridlock. It’s increasingly more available, too, which is great.

6. Head-up display (HUD)

We talk a lot about keeping information and controls close to the driver’s line of sight out the window. Doing so helps keep the time your eyes are off the road to a minimum. And it doesn’t get much better than with a head-up display. It’s wonderful having your critical information just the easiest glance down the windshield. And it’s usually set up to keep your eye’s focus farther ahead than your standard instrument cluster. It’s comfortable, and adds safety. They’re getting more elaborate and larger, incorporating more information, but even just a basic small one is useful. It’s not the worst thing to keep the info to the most important, either, just to keep the clutter down.

7. Surround-view camera and parking sensors

With cars getting bigger and with worse rearward visibility, assistance with parking and generally tight spaces are more useful than ever. Parking sensors have been around awhile, but are still far from ubiquitous. They’re also still very effective for front and rear positioning. More recent are surround-view cameras, offering simulated overhead views of your car to make it extra easy to position your vehicle in a tight spot. Both of these are great to have, and they often accompany other useful cameras such as forward cameras for off-roading and rear cameras for trailer assistance.

8. Power seat memory settings

If you’re sharing your car with at least one extra driver on a regular basis, you’ve probably run into the issue of having to fiddle with the seat controls to get everything back to where you want. But with memory settings, you can bypass all of that with a single touch of the button. We certainly can appreciate it when swapping vehicles amongst ourselves, so you’re sure to appreciate it, too.

9. Blind-spot monitoring

Related to cameras and parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring is useful for similar reasons: Rear visibility is getting worse. But even on vehicles with good visibility, blind spots are still an issue. We also consider ourselves pretty attentive drivers, but we all like having this extra layer of safety, especially as it isn’t usually intrusive. Hyundai and Kia go an extra step with their blind-spot systems by offering pop-up camera views for the relevant blind-spot, provided the vehicle has an instrument screen for said camera views.

10. Auto-dimming mirrors

We round out the list with another long-time feature that just isn’t as common as it should be. With taller and taller trucks and SUVs, and ever-brighter headlights, glare is getting worse. And at least from the rear, auto-dimming mirrors can reduce that significantly. Some side-view mirrors can auto-dim as well. It’s great not to be blinded from the rear. Plus it’s dead simple to use. It’s a shame it’s not standard on everything.

Those are what we think are the 10 best car features you can get today. Tell us what you think of our choices below, and let us know what ones you think should’ve made the cut.