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News in April 2018

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    Gas prices are surging, and it could get worse

    The average price is at its highest level since 2014

    Motorists have probably noticed that it costs more to fill their tanks this spring.

    Gasoline prices have risen nearly 13 percent since the beginning of the year, mainly because the price of crude oil has risen sharply. The AAA Fuel Gauge Survey shows the national average price of regular gas is $2.81 a gallon, up five cents from a week ago and 16 cents a gallon higher than a month ago.

    While refinery issues are usually responsible for the rise in spring gasoline prices, this year oil prices are the main driver. In the recent past, whenever oil prices began to creep up, a surge in U.S. shale oil production brought them down again.

    OPEC cutting production

    "This time, the rise in US oil production, while notable, is not enough to offset OPEC and their 14 members production cuts they enacted to start 2017," Patrick DeHaan, GasBuddy's petroleum analyst, told ConsumerAffairs. "Going forward, unless OPEC raises their own production, global supply will continue to be challenged."

    But OPEC is unlikely to do that. In 2015, it significantly increased oil production to lower prices and drive U.S. producers out of business. It didn't work. Consumers enjoyed lower prices at the pump and U.S. producers used technology to make their operations profitable, even at lower prices. Oil prices, along with gasoline prices, have been stuck in a lower range ever since.

    DeHaan thinks gas prices will get even higher this summer, but maybe not as high as they were a decade ago.

    "I’m anticipating a peak just under $3 a gallon, perhaps $2.85-$2.97, but this could shift even in a month if global demand remains strong," he said.

    U.S. increases oil exports

    U.S. oil producers, meanwhile, are sending more of their product outside the country. The Energy Information Administration reports crude oil exports surged to more than 2.3 million barrels a day in mid-April, the highest weekly exports on record.

    The U.S. exports are adding to the world oil output, which has contracted through OPEC cuts and political and economic turmoil in Venezuela, which has significantly reduced that country's production.

    The price in oil prices has hit California particularly hard. It's tied with Hawaii for the highest average gasoline prices in the U.S. at $3.61 a gallon. Seven other states have statewide averages higher than $3 a gallon.

    Oklahoma and Arkansas have the cheapest gasoline in the nation, with statewide average of $2.51 a gallon.

    Motorists have probably noticed that it costs more to fill their tanks this spring.Gasoline prices have risen nearly 13 percent since the beginning of...

    Hit-and-run fatalities have hit a record high

    Cyclists and pedestrians are most vulnerable to these types of accidents, a new report says

    The number of fatal hit-and-run motor vehicle fatalities has risen significantly as more Americans choose to bike or walk to work.

    Hit-and-run fatalities saw a 62 percent increase from 2009 to 2016, according to a report from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. Pedestrians and bicyclists accounted for almost 70 percent of the victims.  

    “Hit-and-run crashes in the United States are trending in the wrong direction,” said Dr. David Yang, executive director of the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

    Highest number on record

    The number of cyclists commuting to work rose 40 percent from 2006 to 2016, according to Census records. As the number of cyclists and pedestrians on the streets grows, so has the number of fatal motor vehicle collisions.

    Almost 2,000 fatal hit-and-run crashes occured in 2016, making it the “deadliest” year since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began collecting data on fatal motor vehicle crashes in 1975.

    The analysis revealed that a majority of fatal hit-and-run collisions were pedestrians or cyclists. Almost 20 percent of all pedestrian deaths over the last decade were caused by hit-and-run crashes, compared to 1 percent of driver fatalities.

    Avoiding crashes

    The study’s authors said they hope these new statistics serve as a wake-up call for drivers and that they underscore the importance of being alert on the road.

    To avoid being involved in a crash with a pedestrian or cyclist, AAA recommends that drivers be aware of their surroundings, yield to pedestrians even if they’re not crossing at a designated crosswalk, and give cyclists plenty of space when passing them on the road.

    Drivers should also look out for small children and be especially alert in areas such as school zones, playgrounds, bus stops, and intersections.

    If a collision with a pedestrian or cyclist does occur, drivers are advised to stay on the scene because the penalties for fleeing are “significantly” more severe, regardless of who caused the crash.

    The number of fatal hit-and-run motor vehicle fatalities has risen significantly as more Americans choose to bike or walk to work. Hit-and-run fataliti...

    Child advocates call for FTC probe of YouTube

    The group says the site is illegally collecting children’s data

    In a complaint filed Monday, a group of child, consumer, and privacy advocates claim YouTube illegally collects data about underage viewers and uses that data to advertise to its youngest users.

    The group of advocates, led by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, said it wants the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google -- which owns YouTube -- for violating the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), which sets strict rules for how companies can collect data about children under the age of 13.

    Per COPPA regulations, companies that run websites targeted at children must notify parents and obtain their consent before collecting any personal data.

    “Acted duplicitously”

    The group says YouTube avoided COPPA requirements by saying in its terms of service that YouTube is only intended to be used by those over 13, even though Google knows YouTube is widely used among kids in the 6-12 age range.

    The site even caters to young viewers, the group said, citing content that is specifically aimed at children under 13.

    “Google has acted duplicitously by falsely claiming in its terms of service that YouTube is only for those who are age 13 or older, while it deliberately lured young people into an ad-filled digital playground,” said Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Just like Facebook, Google has focused its huge resources on generating profits instead of protecting privacy.”

    Calls for a fine

    The group wants YouTube to change how it deals with content for children, pay a fine for allegedly profiting off young viewers, and “assess civil penalties that demonstrate that the FTC will not permit violations of COPPA.”

    "Google has made substantial profits from the collection and use of personal data from children on YouTube. Its illegal collection has been going on for many years and involves tens of millions of US children," the complaint reads.

    YouTube issued a statement saying that it “will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”

    This isn’t the first time a complaint has been filed against YouTube for the way it handles children’s privacy. In 2015, advocacy groups said the site was violating FCC laws about advertising to children.

    In a complaint filed Monday, a group of child, consumer, and privacy advocates claim YouTube illegally collects data about underage viewers and uses that d...