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If You Don't See the Northern Lights on This Cruise, Your Next Trip is Free

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Even if you wait for the best time of year and scope out the perfect spot, seeing the Northern Lights in person is never a guarantee. The visibility of the aurora borealis on any given night depends on multiple factors that are tough to predict. But one cruise line is confident they can take you to the light show—so confident that they’re promising a second trip on them if you miss the Lights the first time, Travel + Leisure reports.

The Astronomy Voyage from Hurtigruten Cruises leaves Norway between October and March, traveling from Bergen to the Arctic town of Kirkenes and back. During the 12-day tour, passengers are treated to views of Norwegian landscapes and wildlife and, if all goes according to plan, the Northern Lights in all their glory. In its first 10 years, the voyage has never gone all 12 days without at least one clear look at the aurora borealis, but if year 11 marks a break in that pattern, customers have no reason to worry. Hurtigruten promises to send them on a free six- or seven-day cruise next year to give them another shot at the experience.

“We know that no trip to the Arctic Circle is quite complete without experiencing this highlight (pun intended!) at least once on your journey,” the website reads, “so your Hurtigruten experience will be one with zero regrets.”

When passengers aren’t sky-gazing on the deck, they can sit in on presentations from the ship's own onboard astronomer or visit the Tromsø Planetarium (the northernmost planetarium in the world) during one of the ship’s many stops. Admission to the planetarium is included in the roughly $1,970 ticket price, along with meals and access to an English-speaking tour guide. The aurora borealis guarantee is also included in the fare, but considering that the current season is projected to be one of the best for viewing the Northern Lights until 2025, it’s likely that no one will need to redeem it.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

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Big Questions
How Are Speed Limits Set?
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When driving down a road where speed limits are oppressively low, or high enough to let drivers get away with reckless behavior, it's easy to blame the government for getting it wrong. But you and your fellow drivers play a bigger a role in determining speed limits than you might think.

Before cities can come up with speed limit figures, they first need to look at how fast motorists drive down certain roads when there are no limitations. According to The Sacramento Bee, officials conduct speed surveys on two types of roads: arterial roads (typically four-lane highways) and collector streets (two-lane roads connecting residential areas to arterials). Once the data has been collected, they toss out the fastest 15 percent of drivers. The thinking is that this group is probably going faster than what's safe and isn't representative of the average driver. The sweet spot, according to the state, is the 85th percentile: Drivers in this group are thought to occupy the Goldilocks zone of safety and efficiency.

Officials use whatever speed falls in the 85th percentile to set limits for that street, but they do have some wiggle room. If the average speed is 33 mph, for example, they’d normally round up to 35 or down to 30 to reach the nearest 5-mph increment. Whether they decide to make the number higher or lower depends on other information they know about that area. If there’s a risky turn, they might decide to round down and keep drivers on the slow side.

A road’s crash rate also comes into play: If the number of collisions per million miles traveled for that stretch of road is higher than average, officials might lower the speed limit regardless of the 85th percentile rule. Roads that have a history of accidents might also warrant a special signal or sign to reinforce the new speed limit.

For other types of roads, setting speed limits is more of a cut-and-dry process. Streets that run through school zones, business districts, and residential areas are all assigned standard speed limits that are much lower than what drivers might hit if given free rein.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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School Buses May Soon Come with Seat Belts
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The days of school bus passengers riding unencumbered by seat belts may soon be over. This week, the federal National Transportation Safety Board made a recommendation to state agencies that new, larger buses should come equipped with lap and shoulder belts, as well as automatic emergency braking and anti-collision systems.

Traditionally, most large school buses have allowed students to ride without being secured in their seats. That’s because the buses are designed to surround passengers with shock-absorbing, high-backed seats spaced closely together, an approach referred to as "compartmentalization." In an accident, kids would be insulated in an egg-carton type of environment and prevented from hitting a dashboard or window. For smaller buses—usually defined as weighing 10,000 pounds or less—belts are standard.

The Safety Board’s conclusion comes at a time when recent bus crashes—including one with two fatalities that took place in New Jersey just last week—have reopened discussion as to whether larger buses need belts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration maintains that the compartmentalization of larger buses provides adequate safety, while the American Academy of Pediatrics argues that belts should be mandatory on all buses in the event of high-speed collisions or rollovers, where the high-back seats would offer less protection.

For now, the National Transportation Safety Board’s suggestion is just that—a suggestion. No states are required to follow the advice, and there’s considerable expense involved in retrofitting older buses with belts. Currently, eight states require seat belts on large buses.

[h/t ABC News]

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