which measures retail investors’ behavior and sentiment, based on a sample of accounts that completed trades in the past month. Their interests have been shifting toward less volatile names and more stable holdings like shorter-term bonds, the firm said.

Ms. Hellmann, who started actively trading in the early days of the pandemic, said she was sticking with it, learning more and refining her approach as she goes along.

She often rises at 3 a.m. and turns on CNBC to begin plotting her strategy for the day, which involves studying stocks’ price movements, a process she compared to learning to catch a softball — watching its arc, then trying to figure out the physics of where it will land. “That is what I’m doing with price and volume,” she said.

Long a buy-and-hold investor, she began with roughly $50,000 — money that came from shares of ConocoPhillips that she inherited in 2014 after the death of her grandfather, who had been a propane salesman. Her approach has grown increasingly complex over the past two years: Last fall, she took a large position in an exchange-traded fund that bets against the price of natural gas — which has gone up as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine roiled energy markets.

“The war causing natural gas to spike up at a time when it seasonally comes down did not help me much,” she said.

Even so, she’s more than quintupled her money since early 2020, riding the strength of a rally that has the S&P 500 up nearly 80 percent since it bottomed out in March 2020, even with its recent fall.

Experiencing losses after a period of gains can be instructive, said Dan Egan, vice president of behavioral finance and investing at Betterment, which builds and manages diversified portfolios of low-cost funds and provides financial planning services.

“If you have a good initial experience with investing, you see this is part of it, it will be OK,” he said. “We get bumps and bruises that you need to learn what pain feels like,” he said.

Eric Lipchus, 40, has felt plenty of pain in his nearly two decades of full-time day trading — he owned options on Lehman Brothers, the investment bank that imploded during the financial crisis of 2008-9. Before that, he had watched his older brother and father dabble in the markets during the dot-com boom and bust.

“I have been on a roller coaster,” he said. “I am making OK money this year but it’s been up and it’s been down. It seems like it could be a tough year — not as much upside as in previous years.”

Challenging conditions like investors are now facing can get stressful in a hurry, Mr. Lipchus said. Right now, he’s keeping half his portfolio in cash — and is taking a fishing trip to the Thousand Islands in a couple of weeks to clear his head.

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Fed Confronts Why It May Have Acted Too Slowly on Inflation

Some Federal Reserve officials have begun to acknowledge that they were too slow to respond to rapid inflation last year, a delay that is forcing them to constrain the economy more abruptly now — and one that could hold lessons for the policy path ahead.

Inflation began to accelerate last spring, but Fed policymakers and most private-sector forecasters initially thought price gains would quickly fade. It became clear in early fall that fast inflation was proving to be more lasting — but the Fed pivoted toward rapidly removing policy support only in late November and did not raise rates until March.

Several current and former Fed officials have suggested in recent days that, in hindsight, the central bank should have reacted more quickly and forcefully last fall, but that both profound uncertainty about the future and the Fed’s approach to setting policy slowed it down.

Officials had spent years dealing with tepid inflation, which made some hesitant to believe that rapidly rising prices would last. Even as they became more concerned, it took the Fed’s large group of policymakers time to come to an agreement on how to respond. Another complicating factor was that the Fed had made clear promises to markets about how it would remove support for the economy, which made adjusting quickly more difficult.

8.5 percent from a year earlier, the fastest rate since 1981. Consumer price increases are expected to remain rapid when fresh data are released Wednesday.

And as high prices have lingered, inflation expectations have been creeping up, threatening to change household and business behavior in ways that perpetuate the problem.

Because inflation is eating away at paychecks and making it more difficult for families to afford groceries and cars, it has emerged as a major political issue for President Biden, whose approval ratings have fallen over concerns about his handling of the economy. During remarks at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Biden called inflation his “top domestic priority” and said his administration was taking steps to contain it. He also sought to push back on Republicans, who have spent months blaming him for stoking inflation, saying their policy ideas were “extreme” and would hurt working families.

biggest increase since 2000, while broadcasting that two more large adjustments could be coming. They are also going to start shrinking their $9 trillion balance sheet of bond holdings next month.

If the Fed continues to rapidly adjust policy this year as it tries to catch up, policymakers risk slamming the brakes on a speeding economy. Such hard stops can hurt, pushing up unemployment and possibly tipping off a recession. Officials typically prefer to apply their policy brakes gradually, increasing the chances that the economy can slow down painlessly.

Still, several Fed officials pointed out that it was easier to say what the Fed should have done in 2021 after the fact — that in the moment, it was difficult to know price increases would last. Inflation initially came mainly from a few big products that were in short supply amid supply chain snarls, like semiconductors and cars. Only later in the year did it become obvious that price pressures were broadening to food, rent and other areas.

“I try to give some grace, and say: In a very uncertain time, with an unprecedented setting, with no real models to guide us, people are going to do the best they can,” Raphael Bostic, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said in an interview Monday. Mr. Bostic was an early voice suggesting that the Fed should stop buying bonds and think about raising interest rates.

Officials have said it was the acceleration in inflation data in September, followed by rising employment costs, that convinced them that price gains might last and that the central bank needed to act decisively. The Fed chair, Jerome H. Powell, pivoted on policy in late November as those data points added up.

a complicating factor: Mr. Powell was waiting to see if he would be reappointed by the Biden administration, which did not announce its decision to renominate him until mid-November.

“Banking With Interest” podcast episode last week, said reacting to the data was “hard to do until there was clarity as to what the leadership going forward of the Fed was going to be.”

Plus, the Fed had promised to withdraw policy in a certain way, which prevented a rapid reorientation once officials began to fret that inflation might last. Policymakers had pledged to keep interest rates at rock bottom and continue to buy huge sums of bonds until the job market had healed substantially. They had also clearly laid out how they would remove support when the time came: Bond purchases would slow first, then stop, and only then would rates rise.

The point was to convince investors that the Fed would not stop helping the economy too early and to avoid roiling markets, but that so-called forward guidance meant that pulling back support was a drawn-out process.

“Forward guidance, like everything in economics, has benefits and costs,” Richard H. Clarida, who was vice chair of the Fed in 2021 and recently left the central bank, said at a conference last week. “If there’s guidance that the committee feels bound to honor,” he added, it can be complicated for the Fed to move through a sequence of policy moves.

Christopher Waller, a governor at the Fed, noted the central bank wasn’t just sitting still. Markets began to adjust as the Fed sped up its plans to remove policy support throughout the fall, which is making money more expensive to borrow and starting to slow down economic conditions. Mortgage rates, one window into how Fed policy is playing out into the economy, began to move up notably in January 2021 and are now at the highest level since the 2008 housing crisis.

Mr. Waller also pointed out that it was hard to get the Fed’s large policy-setting committee into agreement rapidly.

“Policy is set by a large committee of up to 12 voting members and a total of 19 participants in our discussions,” he said during a speech last week. “This process may lead to more gradual changes in policy as members have to compromise in order to reach a consensus.”

Loretta Mester, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, said in an interview on Tuesday that different people on the committee “looked at the same data with different lenses, and that’s just the nature of the beast.”

But the Fed seems to be learning lessons from its 2021 experience.

Policymakers are avoiding giving clear guidance about what will come next for policy: Officials have said they want to quickly get rates up to the point that they start to weigh on the economy, then go from there. While Mr. Powell said the Fed was thinking about half-point increases at its next two meetings, he gave no clear guidance about what would follow.

“It’s a very difficult environment to try to give forward guidance, 60, 90 days in advance — there are just so many things that can happen in the economy and around the world,” Mr. Powell said at a news conference last week. “So we’re leaving ourselves room to look at the data and make a decision as we get there.”

The war in Ukraine is the latest surprise that is changing the outlook for the economy and inflation in ways that are hard to predict, Mr. Bostic from Atlanta said.

“I have been humbled, chastened — whatever — to think that I know the range of possible things that can happen in the future,” he said. “I’ve really tried to back off of leaning into one kind of story or path.”

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The Fed Bets on a ‘Soft Landing,’ but Recession Risk Looms

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, emphasized this week that the central bank he leads could succeed in its quest to tame rapid inflation without causing unemployment to rise or setting off a recession. But he also acknowledged that such a benign outcome was not certain.

“The historical record provides some grounds for optimism,” Mr. Powell said.

That “some” is worth noting: While there may be hope, there is also reason to worry, given the Fed’s track record when it is in inflation-fighting mode.

The Fed has at times managed to raise interest rates to cool down demand and weaken inflation without meaningfully harming the economy — Mr. Powell highlighted examples in 1965, 1984 and 1994. But those instances came amid much lower inflation, and without the ongoing shocks of a global pandemic and a war in Ukraine.

The part Fed officials avoid saying out loud is that the central bank’s tools work by slowing down the economy, and weakening growth always comes with a risk of overdoing it. And while the Fed ushered in its first rate increase this month, some economists — and at least one Fed official — think it was too slow to start taking its foot off the gas. Some warn that the delay increases the chance it might have to overcorrect.

40-year high and continued to accelerate, but longer-term price growth expectations have nudged only slightly higher.

If consumers and businesses anticipated rapid price increases year after year, that would be a troubling sign. Such expectations could become self-fulfilling if companies felt comfortable raising prices and consumers accepted those higher costs but asked for bigger paychecks to cover their rising expenses.

But after a year of rapid inflation, it is no guarantee that longer-term inflation expectations will stay in check. Keeping them under control is a big part of why the Fed is getting moving now even as a war in Ukraine stokes uncertainty. The central bank raised rates a quarter point this month and projected a series of interest rate increases to come.

While officials would usually look past a temporary pop in oil prices, like the one the conflict has spurred, concerns about expectations mean they do not have that luxury this time.

“The risk is rising that an extended period of high inflation could push longer-term expectations uncomfortably higher,” Mr. Powell said this week.

Mr. Powell signaled that the Fed might raise interest rates by half a percentage point in May and imminently begin to shrink its balance sheet of bond holdings, policies that would remove help from the U.S. economy much more rapidly than in the last economic expansion.

Some officials, including Mr. Bullard, have urged moving quickly, arguing that monetary policy is still at an emergency setting and out of line with a very strong economy.

But investors think the Fed will need to reverse course after a series of rapid rate increases. Market pricing suggests — and some researchers think — that the Fed will raise rates notably this year and early next, only to reverse some of those moves as the economy slows markedly.

“Our base case has the Fed reversing quickly enough to avoid a full-blown recession,” Krishna Guha, the head of global policy at Evercore ISI, wrote in a recent analysis. “But the probability of pulling this off is not particularly high.”

So why would the Fed put the economy at risk? Neil Shearing, the group chief economist at Capital Economics, wrote that the central bank was following the “stitch in time saves nine” approach to monetary policy.

Raising interest rates now to reduce inflation gives the central bank a shot at stabilizing the economy without having to enact an even more painful policy down the road. If the Fed dallies, and higher inflation becomes a more lasting feature of the economy, it will be even harder to stamp out.

“Delaying rate hikes due to fears about the economic spillovers from the war in Ukraine would risk inflation becoming more entrenched,” Mr. Shearing wrote in a note to clients. “Meaning more policy tightening is ultimately needed to squeeze it out of the system, and making a recession at some point in the future even more likely.”

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Why Critics Fear the Fed’s Policy Shift May Prove Late and Abrupt

That caused the Fed to change course late last year — and to do so fairly abruptly.

“Inflation really popped up in the late spring last year, and we had a view — it was very, very widely held in the forecasting community — that this would be temporary,” Mr. Powell said in December. But officials grew more concerned as employment cost data moved higher and inflation indicators showed hot readings, he said, so they pivoted on policy.

“It was essentially higher inflation and faster, turns out much faster, progress in the labor market,” Mr. Powell said.

Asset prices have been jerking around in recent weeks as investors try to make sense of the Fed’s new stance and what it will mean for the economy. Stocks have generally slumped, Bitcoin prices have fallen, and bond prices have been increasing as part of the cacophony.

Had the Fed changed course earlier, “there wouldn’t be this sense that the Fed is behind the curve, and this fear in the market that they are going to go aggressively,” Ms. Markowska at Jefferies said.

Part of the challenge is that while the central bank had clearly detailed a plan for when it would slow bond-buying and lift rates — emphasizing what conditions it would want to see — it has not been as clear about its follow-up moves.

Mr. El-Erian thinks that the Fed should promptly stop buying bonds while clearly signaling the path ahead for rate increases. Otherwise, he said, officials risk having to pull back support all at once later this year.

But there are also arguments for gradualism.

Foreign economic officials are nervously eyeing the Fed’s path, especially when other central banks are also pulling back support amid a widespread burst in prices — the Bank of England, for instance, has already raised interest rates. When big economies raise domestic borrowing costs, it can cause capital to flow away from emerging markets, roiling exchange rates and damaging or destabilizing their economic growth.

“If major economies slam on the brakes or take a U-turn in their monetary policies, there would be serious negative spillovers,” President Xi Jinping of China said during a speech this month, warning of “challenges to global economic and financial stability.”

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Persistent Inflation Threatens Biden’s Agenda

WASHINGTON — At least once a week, a team of President Biden’s top advisers meet on Zoom to address the nation’s supply chain crisis. They discuss ways to relieve backlogs at America’s ports, ramp up semiconductor production for struggling automakers and swell the ranks of truck drivers.

The conversations are aimed at one goal: taming accelerating price increases that are hurting the economic recovery, unsettling American consumers and denting Mr. Biden’s popularity.

An inflation surge is presenting a fresh challenge for Mr. Biden, who for months insisted that rising prices were a temporary hangover from the pandemic recession and would quickly recede. Instead, the president and his aides are now bracing for high inflation to persist into next year, with Americans continuing to see faster — and sustained — increases in prices for food, gasoline and other consumer goods than at any point this century.

That reality has complicated Mr. Biden’s push for sweeping legislation to boost workers, expand access to education and fight poverty and climate change. And it is dragging on the president’s approval ratings, which could threaten Democrats’ already tenuous hold on Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.

CNBC and Fox News show a sharp decline in voter ratings of Mr. Biden’s overall performance and his handling of the economy, even though unemployment has fallen quickly on his watch and economic output has strengthened to its fastest rate since Ronald Reagan was president. Voter worry over price increases has jumped in the last month.

via executive actions.

“There are distinct challenges from turning the economy back on after the pandemic that we are bringing together state and local officials, the private sector and labor to address — so that prices decrease,” Kate Berner, the White House deputy communications director, said in an interview.

Mr. Biden’s top officials stress that the administration’s policies have helped accelerate America’s economic rebound. Workers are commanding their largest wage gains in two decades. Growth roared back in the first half of the year, fueled by the $1.9 trillion economic aid bill the president signed in March. America’s expansion continues to outpace other wealthy nations around the world.

Inflation has risen in wealthy nations across the globe, as the pandemic has hobbled the movement of goods and component parts between countries. Virus-wary consumers have shifted their spending toward goods rather than services, travel and tourism remain depressed, and energy prices have risen as demand for fuel and electricity has surged amid the resumption of business activity and some weather shocks linked to climate change.

But some economists, including veterans of previous Democratic administrations, say much of Mr. Biden’s inflation struggle is self-inflicted. Lawrence H. Summers is one of those who say the stimulus bill the president signed in March gave too much of a boost to consumer spending, at a time when the supply-chain disruptions have made it hard for Americans to get their hands on the things they want to buy. Mr. Summers, who served in the Obama and Clinton administrations, says inflation now risks spiraling out of control and other Democratic economists agree there are risks.

“The original sin was an oversized American Rescue Plan. It contributed to both higher output but also higher prices,” said Jason Furman, a Harvard economist who chaired the White House Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama.

That has some important Democrats worried about price-related drawbacks from the president’s ambitious spending package, complicating Mr. Biden’s approach.

ease the pain of high-profile price spikes, like gasoline. Some in his administration have pushed for mobilizing the National Guard to help unclog ports that are stacked with imports waiting to be delivered to consumers around the country. Mr. Biden has raised the possibility of tapping the strategic petroleum reserve to modestly boost oil supplies, or of negotiating with oil producers in the Middle East to ramp up.

During a CNN town hall last week, Mr. Biden conceded the limits of his power, saying, “I don’t have a near-term answer” for bringing down gas prices, which he does not expect to begin dropping until next year.

“I don’t see anything that’s going to happen in the meantime that’s going to significantly reduce gas prices,” he said.

Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary, told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday that she expects improvement in the overall inflation rate “by the middle to end of next year, second half of next year.”

With an American public that had gone nearly 40 years without seeing — or worrying — about inflation, the issue provides an opening for the opposition. Republicans have turned price spikes into a weapon against Mr. Biden’s economic policies, warning that more spending would exacerbate the pain for everyday Americans.

“It’s everywhere,” said Representative Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the Ways and Means Committee, in an interview. “You can’t live your life without seeing your paycheck buy less.”

White House officials have monitored inflationary pressure for months. They remain convinced, as they were in April, that price increases will not spiral out of control and force abrupt interest-rate increases from the Federal Reserve that could slam the brakes on growth.

The president and his top advisers remain confident that price growth will start to fall well before the midterms. They defend the size of the rescue plan and say Americans are focused on inflation right now because the success of the stimulus bill accelerated economic and employment growth and took a larger issue — the availability of jobs for people who want them — off the table.

“It is a highly incomplete view to try to assess the economy, and even people’s views about the economy, by looking at inflation alone,” Jared Bernstein, a member of Mr. Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, said in an interview. “You also have to appreciate the robustness of the expansion, and how it’s lifting job and earnings opportunities.”

Mr. Bernstein and other advisers say many of the causes of inflation are already improving. They point to calculations by Mark Zandi, a Moody’s Analytics economist, that suggest Americans who have left the labor force will begin flocking back into the job market by December or January, because they will likely have exhausted their savings by then.

The advisers are also continuing to explore more actions they could take, including efforts to increase the number of truck drivers near ports and to force lower prices and more competition in the food industry.

“We are always all in on everything,” Ms. Berner said.

To which many officials add a caveat: Almost anything the White House could do now will take time to push prices down.

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Ozy Media Will Shut Down

In an article in The Times on Thursday, Brad Bessey, an Emmy-winning executive producer, and Heidi Clements, a longtime TV writer, said Ozy executives had misled them while they were working on “The Carlos Watson Show,” Mr. Watson’s talk show, for the company. Specifically, they said, executives told them that the show would appear on the cable network A&E. Mr. Bessey resigned when he learned there was no such deal in place, and the show ended up appearing on YouTube and the Ozy website.

Also this week: Advertisers including Chevrolet, Walmart, Facebook, Target and Goldman Sachs itself — many of which had been paying for placement on “The Carlos Watson Show” — hit the brakes on their spending with Ozy.

By Friday afternoon, Mr. Watson and the other remaining board member, Michael Moe (another high-profile investment figure, who had published a book called “Finding the Next Starbucks”), concluded that the company could not recover and issued the farewell statement through a spokeswoman.

Mr. Watson did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

CNN, Insider and other publications reported this week that working conditions at Ozy were difficult, and The Times, along with other publications, raised questions about the company’s claims of audience size for its online videos and website.

The Ozy staff received the news that the company was no more on Friday afternoon. “It’s heartbreaking for all the people who poured their hearts and souls into this company and produced journalism often under grueling, sometimes hostile, conditions that deserved a much wider audience,” Pooja Bhatia, a writer who worked at Ozy from 2013 until 2017, said in an interview shortly after she got word.

Nick Fouriezos, an Ozy reporter who left in June, said, “We were all devastated by the amount of deception that was going on by leadership, but I would stand 100 percent by the journalism that was done there, and the people that were working there were some of the most passionate hardworking journalists anywhere.”

Mr. Fouriezos said reporters on Friday frantically archived their articles, anticipating the possibility that the website would be taken offline and their work lost.

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North Korea Missile Tests Are Part of a Familiar Strategy

SEOUL — The signals are confusing. One day, North Korea is ​​raising hopes for dialogue with South Korea, and the next, it is firing missiles or showing off the latest weaponry in its nuclear arsenal.

In the past week alone, North suggested the possibility of inter-Korean summit talks and said it would reopen communication hotlines with its neighbor. It also fired long-range cruise missiles, trotted out what it called ​its first hypersonic missile and, on Thursday, tested a new antiaircraft missile. Earlier in September, it launched ballistic missile​s​ from ​a ​train​ rolled out of a mountain tunnel, on the same day that it called the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, “stupid.”

Once again, North Korea is turning to a well-honed, two-pronged strategy, designed to let it flex its military muscles without risking retaliation or nixing the chances for dialogue.

In the absence of talks with Washington, the missile tests reminded the world that North Korea is developing increasingly sophisticated weaponry capable of delivering nuclear warheads. But individually, these short-range or still-under-development missiles don’t amount to a direct threat to the United States.

met with then-President Donald J. Trump three times between 2018 and 2019, becoming the first North Korean leader to hold a summit with a​ sitting American ​president. But ​his diplomatic efforts failed to lift crippling sanctions the United Nations imposed on his impoverished country after its nuclear and I.C.B.M. tests​. Soon the pandemic hit, further hamstringing the North’s economy.

​American and South Korean officials had hoped that the North’s deepening economic troubles, caused by the double whammy of sanctions and the pandemic, would make North Korea more amenable to dialogue.

So far, Mr. Kim has proved them wrong.

Since his talks with Mr. Trump collapsed in early 2019, he has vowed to slog through the economic difficulties while expanding his nuclear arsenal​, his country’s single best diplomatic leverage and deterrent against what it considers American threats to topple its government. By demonstrating his country’s growing military capabilities, Mr. Kim has also sought to legitimize his rule at a time when he has been able to deliver little on the economic front to his long-suffering people.​

The antiaircraft missile test on Thursday indicated that ​the North is building a weapon similar to Russia’s S-400, one of the most potent air-defense systems in the world, according to Kim Dong-yub, an expert on North Korean weapons at the University of North Korean Studies.

The Biden administration has repeatedly urged North Korea to​ return to talks without preconditions. But Mr. Kim said he would not restart negotiations until he was convinced that ​Washington was ready to ease sanctions and its “hostile policy,” including the joint annual military exercises it conducts with South Korea.

an arms race in the region.

Mr. Kim can’t really attempt shocking provocations like the ones he conducted in 2017 — three I.C.B.M. tests and a nuclear test — that brought the Trump administration to the table. Such tests would sharply raise tensions, invite more U.N. sanctions and potentially invoke the ire of China by ruining the mood for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.​

desperate to put his Korean Peninsula peace process, his signature foreign policy, back on track before his single, five-year term ​ends ​in May.

“It’s our government’s destiny” to pursue dialogue with the North, Mr. Moon told reporters last week, referring to his efforts to build peace through his three meetings with Mr. Kim in 2018 and his efforts to help arrange the summit meetings between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.

This week, Mr. Kim also offered conciliatory words toward South Korea.

“We have neither aim nor reason to provoke South Korea and no idea to harm it,” he said.

North Korea was wooing South Korea while shunning talks with Washington, said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. Other analysts said North Korea was leaning on South Korea to help bring Washington to dialogue.

On Thursday, Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, met with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea ​and indicated that ​Washington would support humanitarian aid to North Korea as an incentive for dialogue.

Analysis doubted that it would be enough.

“I am not sure that the old way of providing humanitarian shipments​ as an incentive​ will work this time, given the North’s reluctance to accept outside help ​during the pandemic,” said Professor Yang of the University of North Korean Studies. “North Korea wants the United States to address more fundamental issues ​concerning its well-being​. It wants clearer commitment​s ​from the United States to easing sanctions and guaranteeing its security.”

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Inside a Fatal Tesla Autopilot Accident: ‘It Happened So Fast’

George Brian McGee, a finance executive in Florida, was driving home in a Tesla Model S operating on Autopilot, a system that can steer, brake and accelerate a car on its own, when he dropped his phone during a call and bent down to look for it.

Neither he nor Autopilot noticed that the road was ending and the Model S drove past a stop sign and a flashing red light. The car smashed into a parked Chevrolet Tahoe, killing a 22-year-old college student, Naibel Benavides.

One of a growing number of fatal accidents involving Tesla cars operating on Autopilot, Mr. McGee’s case is unusual because he survived and told investigators what had happened: He got distracted and put his trust in a system that did not see and brake for a parked car in front of it. Tesla drivers using Autopilot in other fatal accidents have often been killed, leaving investigators to piece together the details from data stored and videos recorded by the cars.

“I was driving and dropped my phone,” Mr. McGee told an officer who responded to the accident, according to a recording from a police body camera. “I looked down, and I ran the stop sign and hit the guy’s car.”

Distracted driving can be deadly in any car. But safety experts say Autopilot may encourage distraction by lulling people into thinking that their cars are more capable than they are. And the system does not include safeguards to make sure drivers are paying attention to the road and can retake control if something goes wrong.

Mr. McGee, who declined to comment through his lawyer, told investigators that he was on the phone with American Airlines making reservations to fly out for a funeral. He called the airline at 9:05 p.m. on April 25, 2019. The call lasted a little more than five minutes and ended two seconds after his Model S crashed into the Tahoe, according to a Florida Highway Patrol investigation. Florida law makes it illegal to text while driving, but the state does not prohibit drivers from talking on a hand-held cellphone except in school or work zones.

no vehicle on sale today is close to achieving.

Tesla’s critics contend that Autopilot has several weaknesses, including the ability for drivers like Mr. McGee to use it on local roads. With the help of GPS and software, G.M., Ford Motor and other automakers restrict their systems to divided highways where there are no stop signs, traffic lights or pedestrians.

Tesla owners’ manuals warn customers not to use Autopilot on city streets. “Failure to follow these instructions could cause damage, serious injury or death,” the manual for 2019 models says.

a California couple sued Tesla in connection with a 2019 crash that killed their 15-year-old son.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating more than two dozen crashes that occurred when Autopilot was in use. The agency said it was aware of at least 10 deaths in those accidents.

posted videos on YouTube showing that the camera sometimes fails to notice when drivers look away from the road and that it can be fooled if they cover the lens. When the camera notices a Tesla driver looking away from the road, it sounds a warning chime but does not turn Autopilot off.

G.M. and Ford systems use infrared cameras to monitor drivers’ eyes. If drivers look away for more than two or three seconds, warnings remind them to look straight ahead. If drivers fail to comply, the G.M. and Ford systems will shut off and tell drivers to take control of the car.

Ms. Benavides emigrated from Cuba in 2016 and lived with her mother in Miami. She worked at a Walgreens pharmacy and a clothing store while attending community college. An older sister, Neima, 34, who is executor of the estate, said Naibel had been working to improve her English in hopes of getting a college degree.

“She was always laughing and making people laugh,” Neima Benavides said. “Her favorite thing was to go to the beach. She would go almost every day and hang out with friends or just sit by herself and read.”

Neima Benavides said she hoped the lawsuit would prod Tesla into making Autopilot safer. “Maybe something can change so other people don’t have to go through this.”

Ms. Benavides had just started dating Mr. Angulo when they went fishing on Key Largo. That afternoon, she sent her sister a text message indicating she was having a good time. At 9 p.m., Ms. Benavides called her mother from Mr. Angulo’s phone to say she was on the way home. She had lost her phone that day.

On the 911 call, Mr. McGee reported that a man was on the ground, unconscious and bleeding from the mouth. Several times Mr. McGee said, “Oh, my God,” and shouted “Help!” When an emergency operator asked if the man was the only injured person, Mr. McGee replied, “Yes, he’s the only passenger.”

Mr. Angulo was airlifted to a hospital. He later told investigators that he had no recollection of the accident or why they had stopped at the intersection.

An emergency medical technician spotted a woman’s sandal under the Tahoe and called on others to start searching the area for another victim. “Please tell me no,” Mr. McGee can be heard saying in the police video. “Please tell me no.”

Ms. Benavides’s body was found about 25 yards away.

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