What hasn’t COVID changed? Airline and hotel service


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Some things never change. Even in travel. Yes, even during a pandemic.

You’re probably a little weary of all the headlines proclaiming that COVID-19 has changed our lives forever. So maybe it’s comforting to know that the travel industry is the same as ever – for better or worse.

By “better” I mean that some of the positive aspects of travel have also remained constant. And by “worse,” I mean that some parts of air travel and hotel accommodations have stubbornly stayed the same, despite all the promises. Taking inventory of these permanent aspects could help you plan your next trip.

Airlines lose some fees but keep the bad service

Airlines made a big deal when they dropped some – but not all – of their ticket change fees at the start of the pandemic. They didn’t mention that these fees were unconscionable to begin with, or that the airlines were receiving generous federal aid ($80 billion and counting). 

Rick Versace, a frequent air traveler who is the CEO of an airport limousine service, says that while he appreciates the removal of airline fees, flying remains a “cattle call.”

► You matter to us:  Southwest is (quietly) doling out ‘we’re sorry’ vouchers to travelers caught in cancellation chaos. Here’s how to get one

“Airports are jam-packed, and the flight attendants and ground crew are overworked and exasperated,” he adds. 

Sounds a lot like flying before the pandemic, doesn’t it? 

By the way, don’t take your eye off the airlines. It won’t be long before they quietly reintroduce all those fees. It’s a heck of a way to say “thank you” for all that taxpayer support during the pandemic.

Hotels aren’t ‘COVID clean’

Hotels would like you to believe that their rooms are cleaner than ever, thanks to their new sanitation protocols. But in conversations with hotel insiders and guests, it’s clear that these cleaning initiatives are mostly just promotional campaigns designed to attract more bookings. 

“The whole ‘COVID clean’ thing is B.S.,” says Chloé Cohen, a real-estate investor from New York. “I’ve seen stickers that say ‘self-sanitizing’ on an elevator keypad in a New York hotel, that was not backed by tech to emit the UV pad sanitation. So basically, it was just a sticker. Same goes for door handles and key cards. There was no evidence of virus-related cleaning.”

All that talk of UV robots and extra-clean hotel rooms will probably soon fade. And what will we be left with? Hotels will start charging for daily housekeeping. Thanks for nothing!

► Hotel housekeeping:  Here’s how to know if your room is really clean

► Where are the housekeepers?  COVID-19 guidelines, labor shortage affect hotel housekeeping service

Car rental companies: Older cars, higher prices

Here’s a complaint as old as the car rental industry: Travelers griping about overpriced, high-mileage vehicles. But they got more of the same during the pandemic as the rental-car industry struggled to adjust to the new normal

If anything, the situation turned worse after the outbreak. And the outlook is more of the same, as car rental companies struggle to manage their fleets and meet customer demand. Complaining about the old cars and high prices will remain.

► A $750 car rental for three days?   Don’t wait to book a rental car and other tips to avoid sticker shock

Road trips are still in fashion

Not all of the consistency is bad. Road trips, which were already big before the pandemic, became even more popular after the outbreak. Of course, they did: They offered the promise of safer travel within your family pod, and the opportunity for plenty of social distancing. 

“Millions of Americans went on a road trip,” says Tim Hentschel, CEO of HotelPlanner. “What also hasn’t changed is people’s desire to visit friends and family.”

Road trips never went out of fashion, even when record numbers of Americans were flying. And if you took a road trip last summer, you know why, and also why that’s great. 

They don’t call it the great American road trip for nothing!

► We’ve been nomads for almost a year:  Here’s what I’ve learned about taking an extended road trip

Travelers still use advisors

Travel advisors are still here, too. A recent survey by Internova Travel Group found 4 out of 5 Americans prefer working with a human being over an online travel agency to plan an important trip.

Why? They like the personal attention, the extra perks, and getting access to deals they can’t find online. Also, agents are more relevant than ever in the age of COVID, helping travelers navigate the world of PCR tests and ever-changing travel requirements.

► From vaccines to testing:  What travelers need to know before the new US travel system on Nov. 8

“Travelers can expect consistency from their travel advisors,” says Angie Licea, president of the Global Travel Collection. “Why try to figure this out on your own when this industry was built on support and service for travelers?”

A sharp advisor has always been one of the most effective travel tools. And that’s true now more than ever.

► How to stay COVID-free on your fall vacation:  Plan – and then plan some more

And yes, people still love to travel

Another thing that hasn’t changed: People still love to travel. Even at the height of the pandemic, they booked trips and remained optimistic. A recent survey by Generali Global Assistance found that 41% of travelers expect a return to normal in 2022, with no masks or other COVID-19-related precautions.

“Given the lingering impacts of the pandemic, it’s reassuring that Americans are optimistic for travel normalizing in 2022,” says Chris Carnicelli, CEO of Generali Global Assistance.

Maybe one reason they’re so optimistic is that no matter how much people talk about change in travel, so little actually changes. That familiarity – at least on the positive side of the travel experience – is reassuring and comforting.

How have you changed since the pandemic?

The travel industry hasn’t changed that much, but travelers have. Here’s how – and what it means for you.

Travelers are planning their trips at the last minute. More than half of hotel bookings happen 7 to 14 days in advance. That’s a big switch from before the pandemic when lead times were often measured in months. “As hotel occupancy continues to increase, you should plan,” says Michelle Russo of hotelAVE, a hotel consulting firm. “If you’re unsure about what the future could mean when planning, select destinations that will offer more flexible cancellation policies.”

They’re taking shorter vacations.  Another change: Trips are shorter than in the past. John Gobbels, chief operating officer of Medjet, an air medical transport and crisis response program for travelers, blames that shift on continuing uncertainty. “People are taking a series of smaller, more easily canceled trips this year instead of one longer one,” he says. But if you have your vaccines and don’t mind staying out for a few weeks, this could be the time to plan a lengthier vacation. You might save some money, too.

Travelers are buying more insurance.  Amid all the uncertainty, more travelers are buying insurance. And with good reason, says Daniel Durazo, director of marketing and communications at Allianz Partners USA. “Our claims volume has been up 75% over last year, and we’re hearing from customers that they never expected to have to cancel their trip, but they are glad they purchased travel insurance.” You have a limited amount of time to buy insurance and receive the maximum benefit. 

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.



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COVID-19 Task Force Hasn’t Ruled Out US Domestic Vaccine Passports


Dr. Anthony Fauci today stated that the possibility of the federal government requiring vaccine passports for domestic air travel within the U.S. is “still on the table”, among other policies under consideration.

As the White House’s Chief Medical Advisor, Fauci appeared earlier today on NBC News’ ‘Meet the Press’ to answer some of reporter Chuck Todd’s questions about the Biden administration’s continuing response to COVID-19.

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When asked whether a vaccine mandate for domestic flyers was still under consideration by the COVID-19 task force, Fauci said: “The team has a lot of things on the table, nothing has been taken off the table. That decision has not been made.”

His response echoes a remark made on September 10 by Jeff Zients—the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator—who, when questioned about the Biden administration’s stance on requiring vaccinations for domestic air travel, said: “I think we have a very strong track record that shows we’re pulling available levers to acquire vaccinations and we’re not taking any measures off the table.”

But, everyone seems to be on board as far as mandating vaccinations for inbound foreign travelers. Last Wednesday, a senior White House official let slip that the government is developing a “new system for international travel”, which would replace the U.S.’ current blanket restrictions on travelers from many foreign countries.

Based on Zients’ comments, Reuters reported that the scheme will likely include both vaccination requirements and compulsory pre-travel testing, and involve a comprehensive new contact-tracing system in cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Because the new system would mean lifting current catch-all bans on travelers from certain countries, existing international travel restrictions won’t be relaxed while the Delta variant-driven fourth COVID-19 surge continues.

Separately, Fauci stated last week that he would personally support the implementation of a vaccine passport program for domestic flyers. “I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people that you should be vaccinated,” Fauci said during a September 12 interview, according to Newsweek.

The U.S. Travel Association immediately railed against Fauci’s stance, saying that the existing precautionary measures in use by airlines and airports, such as mask-wearing, provide sufficient protection from COVID-19, even amid Delta and any other potential variants of concern.

It’s no surprise that travel sector players would collectively refuse to support any policy that threatens to diminish consumer demand after the devastation the pandemic inflicted on the industry last year.





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Fauci says a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for air travel hasn’t been ‘taken off the table’


TSA agent flying during covid air travel

Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday US officials could issue a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for commercial flights.

  • “The team has a lot of things on the table. Nothing has been taken off the table,” he said on “Meet the Press.”

  • The Biden administration earlier this month announced increased fines for passengers who refuse to wear face masks on flights.

  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

US officials have not ruled out a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for air travelers, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Sunday.

Fauci made the comments during an appearance Sunday on NBC News’ “Meet the Press” after moderator Chuck Todd asked him about his support for mandates for travel.

“The team has a lot of things on the table. Nothing has been taken off the table,” Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden said. “That decision has not been made.”

“We have not yet gotten to the point of requiring vaccinations on domestic flights, but everything is on the table,” he added Sunday. “We consider these things literally on a daily basis. So suffice it to say, it’s still on the table right now.”

Fauci’s comments Sunday echo remarks he made last week. In a podcast interview with The Skimm, Fauci said he supported such proposals.

“I would support that if you want to get on a plane and travel with other people then you should be vaccinated,” he said.

While vaccines have not so far been required to fly in the US, airlines have required the wearing of facial coverings on commercial flights since the coronavirus pandemic began last year. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued an order in February requiring the wearing of face masks on all public transportation, including on commercial flights.

The Biden administration earlier in September announced it planned to double the fine for passengers who refused to wear face coverings while flying. The change came as part of the White House COVID-19 action plan, as Insider previously reported.

Passengers who refuse to comply with the mask-wearing policies previously faced fines starting at $250 and up to $1,500. The guidelines released earlier this month raised the minimum fine to $500 and the maximum fine to $3000.

“You know, the president made the decision when it comes to flying, if, if a person does not want to wear a mask or doesn’t wear a mask, they double the fining on that,” Fauci said Sunday.

Fauci’s comments Sunday come as more travelers return to the skies even as new cases tick up fueled by the highly-transmissible Delta variant, bringing air travel closer to pre-pandemic levels. The Transportation Security Administration screened nearly 1.5 million passengers on Saturday – more than double the passengers it screened on the same day last year, according to TSA data.

Read the original article on Business Insider



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This tour hasn’t enhanced the Lions brand


Many will think it strange me saying this, but I thought in many ways it was a brilliant performance by the Lions. They put themselves in a clear position to win the Series. Think about it, they went toe-to-toe with South Africa in a lot of the key areas, particularly the lineout drive which had been such a weapon in the Second Test. Okay, taking high balls could have been better and the scrum started to lose parity late on but if you look at the stats from the game, you’d be convinced that the Lions had won it.

They dominated the key metrics with 63 per cent territory and possession. They were up on metres gained, defenders beaten, clean breaks, gainline carries, offloads, turnovers won, their tackle percentage was better, their goal kicking percentage was better, their ruck success was better, their lineout success was better. I could go on. In fact, the only place the Boks trumped them was at scrum time and the number of penalties conceded, but even in that area the Lions conceded seven in their own half compared to the Boks’ nine.

It all boiled down to the Boks being more efficient. When they got their opportunities, they took them. Most winning teams can balance keeping the scoreboard ticking over with metaphorically having their foot on the throat of the opposition. When you feel you’ve got them, you squeeze them until they crack and build a cushion so that it creeps up on the opposition, to the extent that they realise they have to change how they’re playing and chase the game which leads to mistakes. The Lions failed to do that. They were perfectly entitled to go for the corner, but they didn’t get the return they needed to tick the scoreboard over. It was similar in the Second Test when they went in with a six-point lead at half-time. This time out they went in at 10-6 up and it wasn’t enough of a cushion to protect.

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Even though the Lions were on the wrong end of the scoreboard, in some ways, I’m glad we did get a winner – I mean you couldn’t make it up that Morne Steyn would nail the points, ridiculous – because I remember being in Auckland in 2017 with TalkSport. The game was so tense and then at the final whistle there was this massive emotional comedown as if to say, ‘is that it?’. If there’s one amend required for Australia, it’s to put an extra-time clause in!

Missed opportunities
The Lions, of course, had themselves to blame. The return they had in the red zone simply wasn’t good enough. They scored with their first lineout drive but had another two lineout drives which they failed convert or get points from, and it cost them. Then they had the Liam Williams botched try which ended up being the difference between the two sides on the day. People will blame Liam there, but Josh could have timed his run better. When Liam goes to throw that pass, he realises that defender is a little further than him than he needs so he’s trying to hold that ball until he can release, and Josh has overrun him. Maybe it was the desperation of knowing you had to score.

Contrast that with Cheslin Kolbe’s try. If you watch it back, the way the Boks turn it in to an opportunity for all the attackers, not just Kolbe, is sublime. Willie Le Roux and Cobus Reinach also swept around to attack one defender as a unit and the finish from Kolbe is world class. While he’s beating Liam Williams with his feet, he’s looking up to see what he’s going to do with Cowan-Dickie, and in one movement he pushes off the Exeter Chief with a fend and uses his momentum to pull away. I’m not surprised it’s being compared to his try against England in the 2019 World Cup Final, it’s very similar.

If you look back at where the Series was lost, in terms of red zone, the Springboks only got in the Lions 22 six times last week, three in each half but in the second half they scored on every entry into the Lion 22. Contrast that with the Lions who got into Boks 22 on 11 occasions but only scored two penalties from them.

The Springboks deliver when it matters
I would still say the All Blacks are the best team in the world, but the Springboks are the masters at high-pressure Test match rugby – that’s why they’re World Champions. They play a style of rugby that Eddie Jones tried to employ in the Six Nations, but it didn’t work. It’s not about entertainment value, it’s simply the best way statistically of winning a game of rugby in a high-pressure environment.

Cobus Reinach

Cobus Reinach (PA)

As punters, when we look at stats, we look at all results, which include games against weaker nations like Italy. What you should look at is how games are won when the top sides play against each other in high-pressure competitions. When Rassie Erasmus took over in 2018, South Africa were sixth in the world, so he said, ‘that’s not good enough, we are going to play a brand of rugby that’s going to get us back to No 1 in the world’. Of course, with that backline, they have the talent to tear any team apart, but they choose not to, because it’s not the most successful way to play Test rugby. Next season the 50-22 ruling comes in and the goal line dropout, so it will be interesting to see how they adapt their tactics.

Finn Russell steals the show
When Finn sauntered on with a cheeky smile, it was like his performance was written in the stars. He was fantastic. The tactics did change a bit when he came on because his confidence was infectious. He tried passes on a delay that maybe Dan Biggar wouldn’t have tried and it affected the South African’s line speed. Defenders were a little wary of him and dropped off, so forward runners are getting a bit more traction. He was playing a matador role by inviting defenders to hit him and then throwing pop passes. The end result was those tip-on passes were starting to happen, rather than simply one-off runners.

We all know he had a little Achilles injury but I’d have understood if Finn wasn’t selected earlier. You pick different combinations for different scenarios. For instance, I can see why Gatland picked Farrell on the bench in the Second Test; to keep it tight and kick a pressure penalty if needed. Gatland will say in the media, ‘it’s my fault we lost’ but did he get in wrong? He was out in South Africa and lost by three points. He had more opportunities that the opposition in the deciding game and in many ways got everything right, apart from the execution.

Russell Lions Gatland

Finn Russell (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

The post-tour comedown
Now the tour is over every player will react differently depending on their own situations. After the 2005 tour, or indeed any England Six Nations, there was no time for me to mope, I had to park it because at Tigers there was always someone vying for my position. I had Louis Deacon, Jim Hamilton and Leo Cullen all happy to take my place. There was no, ‘I’ll pick you because you’re a Lion or an England player.’ That was tough to deal with.

There will undoubtedly be a psychological toll similar to a World Cup because there has been no opportunity to switch off or get away. The pressure consumes you, especially on this tour. Usually, Lions tours are fun with lots going on, visiting places of interest and fans but not this one. At the moment, they’ll be saying, ‘I’ll be fine’ but they won’t know until they get back to their clubs when the emotional toll will catch up with them. They will need to be kept an eye on.

Lions player ratings

Robbie Henshaw and Tom Curry (Getty)

Looking ahead to Australia 2025
Despite protestations to the contrary, I don’t see the Lions preparation time changing ahead of the 2025 tour. With the numerous existing stakeholders that’s all they’ll get. Ironically, had the Lions been played off the park then they may have had more of a case for asking for more but in a way, the precedent was set in New Zealand. That tour was the worst thing that could have happened because they had a drawn Series against the mighty All Blacks, so calls for more preparation time may fall on deaf ears. I know for a lot of people, the Lions is the be all and end all, but it doesn’t play the player’s wages. It’s not the bedrock of the game, it’s the cherry on top. The Lions can’t centrally contract players four years out, because selection only takes place six weeks before the tour. In many ways it’s remarkable it’s kept going in the professional age.

Warren Gatland

Warren Gatland has called for more preparation time for the Lions (PA)

Saying that, I don’t believe the Lions is in any danger because of the love people have for it. It is still a huge marketing tool for rugby. The issue they’ve had with this tour is the rugby wasn’t up to much and we had no crowds to cover that up. The tour that saved the concept was the 1997 tour but why did we love it? It was because of the drama and the fans. If you’d put 55,000 in that Cape Town Stadium on three consecutive weekends with the cameras picking up the atmosphere, the nerves, the elation and the heartbreak, you would have been prepared to forget some of the rugby. This tour hasn’t enhanced the Lions brand, but it hasn’t diminished it. In the current circumstances, credit must go to them for getting it over the line.

The great thing about Lions tours is that they are all so different. Australia should present a different challenge style-wise. Will whoever takes the Lions out there look to play a more expansive style? What we do know if we can expect some serious talent to travel. Of course, we all know about Louis Rees-Zammit and Marcus Smith, but look at No 9 position? We have youngsters like Raffi Quirke and Jack van Poortvliet, who will be fighting it out for the England shirt soon and people are so excited by them. That will be the same for plenty of other positions. The Wallabies also have some quality players coming through and the tour will give everyone a good refresh about how attractive rugby can be. We now have four years to whet the appetite. I’m already counting down the clock.

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Pandemic set off deadly rise in speeding that hasn’t stopped


PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Motorists put the pedal to the metal during the pandemic and police are worried as roads get busy with the final stretch of summer travel.

The latest data shows the number of highway deaths in 2020 was the greatest in more than a decade even though cars and trucks drove fewer miles during the pandemic.

“Summer is an incredibly dangerous time. And it culminates with Labor Day, that last hurrah,” said Pam Shadel Fischer of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Traffic data indicates the higher death toll was related to higher average speeds in conjunction with more of those on the roads driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and a slight decline in seatbelt use.

Motorists do not seem to be slowing down.

“People are flying down the roads,” Maine State Police Cpl. Doug Cropper said of summer traffic on Interstate 95. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol for speeding in excess of 100 mph from January to June were nearly double pre-pandemic levels, and the number of tickets for reckless driving citations grew, as well, officials said.

In New York state, the percentage of fatalities for which speeding was the primary cause and the total number of speeding tickets grew from January through June, compared to the year before the pandemic, officials said.

“There is continued concern about the rise in speeding and aggressive driving as we enter the heart of the vacation travel season and increased traffic volumes on the highways,” said Beau Duffy, spokesperson for New York State Police.

The extreme speeding dates to the early days of the pandemic.

With police distracted by civil disobedience and scaling back routine stops for safety, the lightly traveled roads quickly turned into the wild west in many places. In New York City, super cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis blazed down empty streets, with roaring engines disturbing residents trying to sleep. Motorists from coast to coast were ticketed at eye-watering speeds.

Several lead-footed motorists took advantage to set new records on an illegal, nonstop race from coast to coast called the Cannonball Run.

A Mainer used a rented Ford Mustang GT with 130 gallons worth of fuel tanks to set a solo record for racing from New York to Los Angeles in 25 hours, 55 minutes. A team set a new record soon after his record-setting jaunt.

Fred Ashmore said New York was a “ghost town” as he sped away in May 2020, topping out at 159 mph and averaging about 108 mph over the 2,806-mile trip.

“There’s no person who’s never sped,” he said. “I just sped faster and longer.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sounded the warning early in the pandemic about speeding and reckless driving.

The agency expected fatalities to decline with fewer miles driven, similar to previous declines during economic downturns. But the fatalities grew throughout the pandemic, and even picked up steam in the latter part of the year.

In the end, traffic deaths nationwide in 2020 grew about 7.2% to 38,680 even though there was a 13.2% reduction in the number of miles traveled, according to the NHTSA estimates. It was the deadliest year on highways since 2007.

Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University, said there are a combination of factors at play. Some drivers are emboldened by the lack of enforcement, and others tend to join them in going with the flow.

At the same time, motorists feel safer speeding because they are putting too much faith in air bags, anti-lock brakes and other safety features, he said.

Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet to reversing the trend.

Police and highway safety officials must ensure speed limits take into account all users, and then they must vigorously enforce them with a visible presence, said Joseph Young, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Some police departments are launching public awareness campaigns.

“Summer holidays should be a time of fun and family, not sorrow and tragedy,” Washington State Police Chief John R. Batiste said as California, Oregon and Washington kicked off a summer travel safety enforcement effort.

In places like California’s Los Angeles County, heavy congestion can slow motorists down naturally.

But those flashing blue lights remain the best antidote for speeding and bad behavior, said Fischer, from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

“High visibility enforcement works,” she said. “When people see police officers, they will think twice about what they’re doing.”

___

Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.





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Pandemic set off deadly rise in speeding that hasn’t stopped | WJHL


PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Motorists put the pedal to the metal during the pandemic and police are worried as roads get busy with the final stretch of summer travel.

The latest data shows the number of highway deaths in 2020 was the greatest in more than a decade even though cars and trucks drove fewer miles during the pandemic.

“Summer is an incredibly dangerous time. And it culminates with Labor Day, that last hurrah,” said Pam Shadel Fischer of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Traffic data indicates the higher death toll was related to higher average speeds in conjunction with more of those on the roads driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and a slight decline in seatbelt use.

Motorists do not seem to be slowing down.

“People are flying down the roads,” Maine State Police Cpl. Doug Cropper said of summer traffic on Interstate 95. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol for speeding in excess of 100 mph from January to June were nearly double pre-pandemic levels, and the number of tickets for reckless driving citations grew, as well, officials said.

In New York state, the percentage of fatalities for which speeding was the primary cause and the total number of speeding tickets grew from January through June, compared to the year before the pandemic, officials said.

“There is continued concern about the rise in speeding and aggressive driving as we enter the heart of the vacation travel season and increased traffic volumes on the highways,” said Beau Duffy, spokesperson for New York State Police.

The extreme speeding dates to the early days of the pandemic.

With police distracted by civil disobedience and scaling back routine stops for safety, the lightly traveled roads quickly turned into the wild west in many places. In New York City, super cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis blazed down empty streets, with roaring engines disturbing residents trying to sleep. Motorists from coast to coast were ticketed at eye-watering speeds.

Several lead-footed motorists took advantage to set new records on an illegal, nonstop race from coast to coast called the Cannonball Run.

A Mainer used a rented Ford Mustang GT with 130 gallons worth of fuel tanks to set a solo record for racing from New York to Los Angeles in 25 hours, 55 minutes. A team set a new record soon after his record-setting jaunt.

Fred Ashmore said New York was a “ghost town” as he sped away early in the pandemic, topping out at 159 mph and averaging about 108 mph over the 2,806-mile trip.

“There’s no person who’s never sped,” he said. “I just sped faster and longer.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sounded the warning early in the pandemic about speeding and reckless driving.

The agency expected fatalities to decline with fewer miles driven, similar to previous declines during economic downturns. But the fatalities grew throughout the pandemic, and even picked up steam in the latter part of the year.

In the end, traffic deaths nationwide in 2020 grew about 7.2% to 38,680 even though there was a 13.2% reduction in the number of miles traveled, according to the NHTSA estimates. It was the deadliest year on highways since 2007.

Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University, said there are a combination of factors at play. Some drivers are emboldened by the lack of enforcement, and others tend to join them in going with the flow.

At the same time, motorists feel safer speeding because they are putting too much faith in air bags, anti-lock brakes and other safety features, he said.

Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet to reversing the trend.

Police and highway safety officials must ensure speed limits take into account all users, and then they must vigorously enforce them with a visible presence, said Joseph Young, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Some police departments are launching public awareness campaigns.

“Summer holidays should be a time of fun and family, not sorrow and tragedy,” Washington State Police Chief John R. Batiste said as California, Oregon and Washington kicked off a summer travel safety enforcement effort.

In places like California’s Los Angeles County, heavy congestion can slow motorists down naturally.

But those flashing blue lights remain the best antidote for speeding and bad behavior, said Fischer, from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

“High visibility enforcement works,” she said. “When people see police officers, they will think twice about what they’re doing.”

___

Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP.

___

Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.





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Pandemic Set off Deadly Rise in Speeding That Hasn’t Stopped | New York News


By DAVID SHARP, Associated Press

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Motorists put the pedal to the metal during the pandemic and police are worried as roads get busy with the final stretch of summer travel.

The latest data shows the number of highway deaths in 2020 was the greatest in more than a decade even though cars and trucks drove fewer miles during the pandemic.

“Summer is an incredibly dangerous time. And it culminates with Labor Day, that last hurrah,” said Pam Shadel Fischer of the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Traffic data indicates the higher death toll was related to higher average speeds in conjunction with more of those on the roads driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol and a slight decline in seatbelt use.

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Motorists do not seem to be slowing down.

“People are flying down the roads,” Maine State Police Cpl. Doug Cropper said of summer traffic on Interstate 95. “It’s just ridiculous.”

Tickets issued by the California Highway Patrol for speeding in excess of 100 mph from January to June were nearly double pre-pandemic levels, and the number of tickets for reckless driving citations grew, as well, officials said.

In New York state, the percentage of fatalities for which speeding was the primary cause and the total number of speeding tickets grew from January through June, compared to the year before the pandemic, officials said.

“There is continued concern about the rise in speeding and aggressive driving as we enter the heart of the vacation travel season and increased traffic volumes on the highways,” said Beau Duffy, spokesperson for New York State Police.

The extreme speeding dates to the early days of the pandemic.

With police distracted by civil disobedience and scaling back routine stops for safety, the lightly traveled roads quickly turned into the wild west in many places. In New York City, super cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis blazed down empty streets, with roaring engines disturbing residents trying to sleep. Motorists from coast to coast were ticketed at eye-watering speeds.

Several lead-footed motorists took advantage to set new records on an illegal, nonstop race from coast to coast called the Cannonball Run.

A Mainer used a rented Ford Mustang GT with 130 gallons worth of fuel tanks to set a solo record for racing from New York to Los Angeles in 25 hours, 55 minutes. A team set a new record soon after his record-setting jaunt.

Fred Ashmore said New York was a “ghost town” as he sped away, topping out at 159 mph and averaging about 108 mph over the 2,806-mile trip.

“There’s no person who’s never sped,” he said. “I just sped faster and longer.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sounded the warning early in the pandemic about speeding and reckless driving.

The agency expected fatalities to decline with fewer miles driven, similar to previous declines during economic downturns. But the fatalities grew throughout the pandemic, and even picked up steam in the latter part of the year.

In the end, traffic deaths nationwide in 2020 grew about 7.2% to 38,680 even though there was a 13.2% reduction in the number of miles traveled, according to the NHTSA estimates. It was the deadliest year on highways since 2007.

Joseph Schwieterman, a transportation expert at DePaul University, said there are a combination of factors at play. Some drivers are emboldened by the lack of enforcement, and others tend to join them in going with the flow.

At the same time, motorists feel safer speeding because they are putting too much faith in air bags, anti-lock brakes and other safety features, he said.

Unfortunately there’s no silver bullet to reversing the trend.

Police and highway safety officials must ensure speed limits take into account all users, and then they must vigorously enforce them with a visible presence, said Joseph Young, spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Some police departments are launching public awareness campaigns.

“Summer holidays should be a time of fun and family, not sorrow and tragedy,” Washington State Police Chief John R. Batiste said as California, Oregon and Washington kicked off a summer travel safety enforcement effort.

In places like California’s Los Angeles County, heavy congestion can slow motorists down naturally.

But those flashing blue lights remain the best antidote for speeding and bad behavior, said Fischer, from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

“High visibility enforcement works,” she said. “When people see police officers, they will think twice about what they’re doing.”

Follow David Sharp on Twitter at https://twitter.com/David_Sharp_AP.

Follow AP’s coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.





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Interior Secretary hasn’t made decision on Izembek refuge road issue



A landscape shot of a coastal community.
King Cove residents argue they need the road to access the all-weather airport in Cold Bay, but environmentalists believe it will do irreparable harm to critical wildlife habitat. (Photo by Berett Wilber/KUCB)

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland has not decided the position she will take on a proposed land exchange aimed at building a road through a national wildlife refuge in Alaska, a U.S. government attorney said Wednesday in arguing the position taken by Haaland’s predecessor.

Michael T. Gray, a Justice Department attorney, told a federal appeals court panel Haaland planned to review the record and visit King Cove, the community at the heart of the dispute, before making a decision. He said the position he was arguing had not been “taken back in any way.”

Gray last month sent a letter to the clerk of court for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals stating that Haaland was expected to visit King Cove in September. The letter outlined the position that a decision on whether to enter into a land exchange agreement was a policy call on which different Interior secretaries could reach different conclusions, “even on the same record.”

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Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw on Wednesday called the letter “perplexing.”

She pressed Gray for a timeline and said going forward with the case seemed a “tremendous ask” of the judiciary while Haaland was deciding what position to take.

Gray later said he would not oppose a stay of proceedings. But an attorney for the state, Sean Lynch, expressed concerns with a stay. The state has supported the position defending the land exchange, and Lynch said he believed King Cove Corp., another intervenor in the case, would oppose a stay.

King Cove residents have long sought a land connection through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge to Cold Bay, which has an all-weather airport. Supporters of the effort see it as a life and safety issue.

RELATED: Interior stalls aerial survey in Izembek Refuge, says Murkowski

The refuge, near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, contains an internationally recognized habitat for migrating waterfowl.

In 2013, Interior Department officials declined a land exchange, with then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell calling the refuge an “extraordinary place” and saying she supported the conclusion that building a road through the refuge would cause “irreversible damage.”

Under the Trump administration, efforts to move forward with a land exchange faced legal challenges, including the current case, brought by a coalition of conservation groups.

A federal judge last year set aside a proposed 2019 agreement between the Interior Department and King Cove Corp., an Alaska Native village corporation. The judge found in part that then-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt had failed to provide adequate reasoning to support a change in policy in favor of a land exchange and road.

RELATED: Interior Department Secretary to visit King Cove amid road dispute

Conservation groups also said the agreement did not include a provision limiting use of a road to health and safety purposes.

Interior Department spokesperson Melissa Schwartz could not provide details Wednesday of any travel plans by Haaland. But Schwartz, by email, confirmed that Haaland had not made a final decision regarding a position on the land exchange issue. She said Haaland had told Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski she would travel to Alaska to inform that decision.

Murkowski has supported road access, which she has said would provide “a lifeline for emergency medical care.”





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There are hundreds of posts about plans to attack the Capitol. Why hasn’t this evidence been used in court?


WASHINGTON — FBI officials have repeatedly said they gathered no credible intelligence in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection suggesting that pro-Trump extremists intended to storm the U.S. Capitol.

And even after months of intensive investigation, Justice Department prosecutors have presented no evidence so far that any of the 420 individuals charged to date for their actions on Jan. 6 planned in advance to attack the building in which Congress was certifying Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.

But a new report by a nonprofit research group, and a separate review by NBC News, uncovered hundreds of social media posts discussing plans to move on the Capitol, including a map of the building and talk of how to create a stampede that would overwhelm Capitol Police.

“You know there will be riot police preventing us from getting in the capitol building,” one anonymous poster wrote in December. “What if we created a stampede/crush situation? Start pushing from the back. Surely they will have to get out of the way or get crushed. They’re not going to start shooting people.”

One post on a very active forum for angry Trump fans called the TheDonald.win was titled “If we occupy the Capitol building, there will be no vote.” The top response to that post reads: “GOTTA OVERWHELM THE BARRICADES AND COPS.”

The posts raise new questions about whether the FBI missed or failed to act on these threats, and why federal prosecutors have so far said in court they have not determined whether anyone planned the attack in advance. A Justice Department spokesman and the FBI declined to comment.

“This information, sitting in plain sight on the internet before Jan. 6, paints a clear picture of a planned and coordinated violent attack,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat who serves on the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement to NBC News. “It’s important to understand how much of this the FBI and DOJ knew, when they knew it, and how they decided which pieces of information warranted action.”

In the past, FBI officials have said that unattributed comments on social media don’t always add up to credible intelligence, in part because many people fail to act on the things they say online. They also have pointed to what they call an unvetted “situational information” report from their Norfolk field office describing unspecified plans to make “war” on the Capitol that was sent to law enforcement agencies around the country the night before the riots. That shows they did offer some warning, they say, while acknowledging the report did not circulate at the highest levels of the FBI.

Critics say the FBI missed a torrent of threats online in the days leading up to Jan. 6.

“There are thousands of posts — with tens of thousands of comments — detailing plans to travel to Washington and engage in violence against the U.S. Capitol,” said Daniel Jones, a former FBI analyst and longtime Senate investigator who is now president of Advance Democracy. “The ultimate end goal of this violence was, on behalf of Trump, to disrupt the Congress and overturn the presidential election.”

The Advance Democracy report gathered the material from a now-defunct website, TheDonald.win, where Trump supporters vented their anger in the wake of an election they believed was stolen from the former president. The report was first detailed last week by the Washington Post. NBC News obtained the full cache of postings from the defunct website and reviewed material that was not included in the Advance Democracy report.

While some of those who posted on TheDonald.win participated in the Capitol riot — some posted photos of themselves on the scene that were reviewed by NBC News — what’s not clear is whether any of those who posted specific plans or threats of violence against the Capitol are among the defendants who have been charged. The posts reviewed by NBC News are anonymous, and the court documents in the cases against alleged Capitol rioters don’t always detail their social media handles.

Sen. Gary Peters, the Michigan Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security Committee, called what happened Jan. 6 “a massive and historic intelligence failure.”

Trump supporters gather outside the Capitol building following a “Stop the Steal” rally on Jan. 6, 2021.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

Still unclear is whether it was a failure to collect intelligence or a failure to act on intelligence that had been collected.

A report by the Capitol Police Inspector General released Thursday says that force’s intelligence unit was aware that “Congress itself was the target on the 6th,” but didn’t act on it, leaving the Capitol poorly defended.

Yet the FBI, not the Capitol Police, is ultimately responsible for detecting and thwarting terrorism attacks, and FBI officials have continued to insist there was no intelligence failure. An investigation by the Department of Justice Inspector General is ongoing.

“None of us had any intelligence that suggested individuals were going to storm and breach the Capitol,” Jill Sanborn, then the FBI’s top counterterrorism official, told a Senate committee on March 3.

“We do not have at this point someone explicitly saying our plan is to force entry into the Capitol in order to stop the certification,” an assistant U.S. attorney told a federal judge on March 12.

FBI officials have not said say whether anyone at the FBI was aware of the hundreds of posts calling for violence on TheDonald.win. The intelligence report from the FBI’s Norfolk, Virginia, field office described threats to attack the Capitol, and was passed to the Capitol Police on Jan. 5. Sanborn called it “raw, unvetted information, and said neither she nor FBI Director Christopher Wray had been briefed on it.

Social media was teeming with angry rhetoric in the weeks before Jan. 6, and experts say it wasn’t the usual venting.

On Jan. 5, NBC News published a story based in part on postings from TheDonald.win, headlined “Violent threats ripple through far-right internet forums ahead of protest.”

FBI officials acknowledge that there were calls for violence at the Jan. 6 “Stop the Steal” rally by Trump supporters, held just prior to the Capitol attack, but they say they did not add up to specific, credible intelligence.

Yet on TheDonald.win, the talk of attacking the Capitol was granular in its detail.

For example, many posters discussed surrounding the entire Capitol complex, including blocking tunnels that lead from surrounding House and Senate office buildings to the Capitol itself.

“Don’t forget, there are three subways leading to and from the Capital that Congress uses to escape. Hypothetically speaking, if those were occupied or sabotaged, they’d have to come out and face us in order to leave,” a user named “Free Speech Master” responded.

An anonymous post on TheDonald.win ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.obtained by NBC News

A map was posted showing entrances and exits to the Capitol and the tunnels that connect it to nearby House and Senate office buildings.

“Black X’s are for those ready for action if Congress tries to certify the steal. There’s 535 politicians and ~3500 guards,” a poster under the username “The Mutualist” wrote on Dec. 28.

The map was reposted over the next several days. Some users expressed the belief that taking the Capitol would lead to a successful coup, because “all the other agencies… are directly under the control of Trump.”

An anonymous post on TheDonald.win ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.obtained by NBC News

“Bring handcuffs and zipties to DC,” reads another post from a user named CommunismSucks. “No more tolerating ‘elected’ officials who hate our country. January 6th is the chance to restore this country. Barging into the Capitol through multiple entryways is the surest way to have our bases covered and apprehend these traitors.”

Some posts discussed what type of guns to bring, and how to build gallows and tie nooses to hang members of Congress.

A noose and makeshift gallows was in fact erected by rioters on the West side of the Capitol on Jan. 6.

One poster who said he “works on types of doors,” discussed how rioters could break through the Capitol’s historic doors.

“Remember, these are things that can be replaced…” the poster said. “So if you need to batter them down, go for it.”

Some users on TheDonald.win asked for help in joining extremist groups, including The Proud Boys, some of whose members have been charged with conspiracy in the Capitol riots.

After a Dec. 19 post on TheDonald.win titled “How do I join the Proud Boys?” the most popular response was by the user eplettner: “Come to DC on January 6th.”

“That’s the plan,” the original poster responded.

An anonymous post on TheDonald.win ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.obtained by NBC News

Users posted pictures of flights and buses full of Trump supporters en route to D.C. for the event on the 6. One user, who called themself “2021is1776,” posted a picture of his hotel room full of weapons and tactical gear.

“Hoping not to need them they are a contingency, plenty of other items on hand for anything other than all out…well you know. the escalation is up to the BLM/ Police,” that user wrote.

An anonymous post on TheDonald.win ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.obtained by NBC News

Hours before the riots, users began posting lists of government officials they hoped to “track down.” “When all of the s–t starts, I want to be in the group that tracks down this guy,” the user BlooperBoy wrote above a picture of Anthony Fauci on Jan. 5.

An anonymous post on TheDonald.win ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.obtained by NBC News

“Congress has a choice to make tomorrow,” reads a post by the user Doejohnblowjoe, followed by a meme that reads “Certify Trump” or “Get Lynched by Patriots.”

An anonymous post on TheDonald.win ahead of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.obtained by NBC News

It wasn’t just on TheDonald.Win. Other posters on 4chan’s /pol/ board, which is unaffiliated with TheDonald but shares extremist far-right users and viewpoints, made even more explicit threats before Jan. 6.

“You can go to Washington on Jan 6 and help storm the Capitol,” one anonymous user wrote on Jan. 5. “As many patriots as can be. We will storm the government buildings, kill cops, kill security guards, kill federal employees and agents, and demand a recount.”

As NBC News has previously reported, confusion and caution pervades the FBI’s approach to reviewing social media. Even though the Justice Department guidelines that govern FBI tactics say the bureau should be proactive in hunting for threats, the FBI says it must wait for a tip before it can look even at public social media.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, asked FBI Director Christopher Wray about the issue at last week’s hearing on top national security threats.

“It appears that probably some of the best intelligence prior to Jan. 6 was open source,” Schiff said. “It was discussion on social media (about) plans to attack the Capitol. This raises a important but very difficult question for the bureau….what is the bureau’s policy in terms of your ability to review social media when it’s appropriate to do it when it’s not appropriate to do it? Do you have a clear policy on that, and are there legal constraints as well that preclude you from getting the intelligence that you need?”

In his response, Wray said that absent a tip or some other impetus, the bureau was not free to hunt for threats of violence or domestic terror plots social media, even if the posts are public.

“We do not as the FBI, simply patrol social media, looking for problems,” he said.

He added, “We have properly predicated investigations where we look at social media as a key part of those investigations. We get tips from social media companies, which we follow up on. We get tips from members of the public about things they see on social media. And if we have the appropriate predication, we follow up on those.”

He did not address the Justice Department guidelines that govern the FBI, which state:

“To carry out its central mission of preventing the commission of terrorist acts against the United States and its people, the FBI must proactively draw on available sources of information to identify terrorist threats and activities…It cannot be content to wait for leads to come in through the actions of others, but rather must be vigilant in detecting terrorist activities to the full extent permitted by law, with an eye towards early intervention and prevention of acts of terrorism before they occur.”



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