Ford Can Be Sued in States Where Accidents Occurred, Supreme Court Rules

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Thursday made it easier for consumers injured by products to sue their manufacturers, unanimously ruling that courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits filed in the consumers’ home states notwithstanding that the products were made and sold elsewhere so long as the manufacturers did substantial business in the states.

The case arose from two car accidents involving vehicles made by Ford Motor Company. In one, Markkaya Gullett was driving her 1996 Explorer near her Montana home when the tread separated from a tire. The vehicle spun into a ditch and flipped over, and Ms. Gullett died at the scene. Her estate sued Ford in state court in Montana.

In the other, Adam Bandemer was a passenger in a 1994 Crown Victoria, on his way to do some ice-fishing in Minnesota, when the driver rear-ended a snowplow. The passenger-side airbag failed, and Mr. Bandemer sustained serious brain damage. He sued in state court in Minnesota.

Ford argued that the courts lacked jurisdiction because the company did not have a relevant connection to those states. It had designed the vehicles in Michigan; it had manufactured the Explorer in Kentucky and sold it in Washington State; and it had manufactured the Crown Victoria in Canada and sold it in North Dakota. (The cars ended up in Montana and Minnesota after they were resold.)

quoting an earlier decision. “Their residents, while riding in vehicles purchased within their borders, were killed or injured in accidents on their roads. Can anyone seriously argue that requiring Ford to litigate these cases in Minnesota and Montana would be fundamentally unfair?”

Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, also filed a concurring opinion in the case, Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, No. 19-368, saying the court’s jurisprudence in this area was muddled and out of step with the modern reality of “corporations with global reach.”

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Tesla’s Autopilot Technology Faces Fresh Scrutiny

Tesla faced numerous questions about its Autopilot technology after a Florida driver was killed in 2016 when the system of sensors and cameras failed to see and brake for a tractor-trailer crossing a road.

Now the company is facing more scrutiny than it has in the last five years for Autopilot, which Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk, have long maintained makes its cars safer than other vehicles. Federal officials are looking into a series of recent accidents involving Teslas that either were using Autopilot or might have been using it.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed last week that it was investigating 23 such crashes. In one accident this month, a Tesla Model Y rear-ended a police car that had stopped on a highway near Lansing, Mich. The driver, who was not seriously injured, had been using Autopilot, the police said.

In February in Detroit, under circumstances similar to the 2016 Florida accident, a Tesla drove beneath a tractor-trailer that was crossing the road, tearing the roof off the car. The driver and a passenger were seriously injured. Officials have not said whether the driver had turned on Autopilot.

crash near Houston in which a Tesla ran into a stopped police vehicle on a highway. It is not clear if the driver was using Autopilot. The car did not appear to slow before the impact, the police said.

Autopilot is a computerized system that uses radar and cameras to detect lane markings, other vehicles and objects in the road. It can steer, brake and accelerate automatically with little input from the driver. Tesla has said it should be used only on divided highways, but videos on social media show drivers using Autopilot on various kinds of roads.

“We need to see the results of the investigations first, but these incidents are the latest examples that show these advanced cruise-control features Tesla has are not very good at detecting and then stopping for a vehicle that is stopped in a highway circumstance,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, a group created in the 1970s by Consumers Union and Ralph Nader.

This renewed scrutiny arrives at a critical time for Tesla. After reaching a record high this year, its share price has fallen about 20 percent amid signs that the company’s electric cars are losing market share to traditional automakers. Ford Motor’s Mustang Mach E and the Volkswagen ID.4 recently arrived in showrooms and are considered serious challengers to the Model Y.

The outcome of the current investigations is important not only for Tesla but for other technology and auto companies that are working on autonomous cars. While Mr. Musk has frequently suggested the widespread use of these vehicles is near, Ford, General Motors and Waymo, a division of Google’s parent, Alphabet, have said that moment could be years or even decades away.

played a major role” in the 2016 Florida accident. It also said the technology lacked safeguards to prevent drivers from taking their hands off the steering wheel or looking away from the road. The safety board reached similar conclusions when it investigated a 2018 accident in California.

By comparison, a similar G.M. system, Super Cruise, monitors a driver’s eyes and switches off if the person looks away from the road for more than a few seconds. That system can be used only on major highways.

In a Feb. 1 letter, the chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, Robert Sumwalt, criticized NHTSA for not doing more to evaluate Autopilot and require Tesla to add safeguards that prevent drivers from misusing the system.

The new administration in Washington could take a firmer line on safety. The Trump administration did not seek to impose many regulations on autonomous vehicles and sought to ease other rules the auto industry did not like, including fuel-economy standards. By contrast, President Biden has appointed an acting NHTSA administrator, Steven Cliff, who worked at the California Air Resources Board, which frequently clashed with the Trump administration on regulations.

Concerns about Autopilot could dissuade some car buyers from paying Tesla for a more advanced version, Full Self-Driving, which the company sells for $10,000. Many customers have paid for it in the expectation of being able to use it in the future; Tesla made the option operational on about 2,000 cars in a “beta” or test version starting late last year, and Mr. Musk recently said the company would soon make it available to more cars. Full Self Driving is supposed to be able to operate Tesla cars in cities and on local roads where driving conditions are made more complex by oncoming traffic, intersections, traffic lights, pedestrians and cyclists.

Despite their names, Autopilot and Full Self-Driving have big limitations. Their software and sensors cannot control cars in many situations, which is why drivers have to keep their eyes on the road and hands on or close to the wheel.

a November letter to California’s Department of Motor Vehicles that recently became public, a Tesla lawyer acknowledged that Full Self-Driving struggled to react to a wide range of driving situations and should not be considered a fully autonomous driving system.

The system is not “not capable of recognizing or responding” to certain “circumstances and events,” Eric C. Williams, Tesla’s associate general counsel, wrote. “These include static objects and road debris, emergency vehicles, construction zones, large uncontrolled intersections with multiple incoming ways, occlusions, adverse weather, complicated or adversarial vehicles in the driving paths, unmapped roads.”

Mr. Levine of the Center for Auto Safety has complained to federal regulators that the names Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are misleading at best and could be encouraging some drivers to be reckless.

“Autopilot suggests the car can drive itself and, more importantly, stop itself,” he said. “And they doubled down with Full Self-Driving, and again that leads consumers to believe the vehicle is capable of doing things it is not capable of doing.”

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Carmakers Strive to Stay Ahead of Hackers

“Human life is involved, so cybersecurity is our top priority,” said Kevin Tierney, General Motors’ vice president for global cybersecurity. The company, which has 90 engineers working full time on cybersecurity, practices what it calls “defense in depth,” removing unneeded software and creating rules that allow vehicle systems to communicate with one another only when necessary.

It’s a practice also followed by Volkswagen, said Maj-Britt Peters, a spokeswoman for the company’s software and technology group. She noted that Volkswagen’s sensitive vehicle control systems are kept in separate domains.

Continental, a major supplier of electronic parts to automakers, employs an intrusion detection and prevention system to thwart attacks. “If the throttle position sensor is talking to the airbag, that is not planned,” Mr. Smoly said. “We can stop this, but we wouldn’t do so while the vehicle was moving.”

Still, determined hackers will eventually find a way in. To date, vehicle cybersecurity has been a patchwork effort, with no international standards or regulations. But that is about to change.

This year, a United Nations regulation on vehicle cybersecurity came into force, obligating manufacturers to perform various risk assessments and report on intrusion attempts to certify cybersecurity readiness. The regulation will take effect for all vehicles sold in Europe from July 2024 and in Japan and South Korea in 2022.

While the United States is not among the 54 signatories, vehicles sold in America aren’t likely to be built to meet different cybersecurity standards from those in cars sold elsewhere, and vice versa.

“The U.N. regulation is a global standard, and we have to meet global standards,” Mr. Tierney of G.M. said.

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Indonesia Bus Falls Into Ravine, Leaving Dozens Dead

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The students from an Islamic middle school were on their way home from a trip to a pilgrimage site in an Indonesian province on the island of Java.

The rain was pouring on Wednesday evening. The surrounding area had no street lamps. As their bus was making a turn on a narrow, downhill stretch of the Wado-Malangbong Highway in Sumedang, West Java Province, it appears that the brakes failed, the police said.

The vehicle, carrying a total of 66 people — including the students from a school in Subang, their teachers and family members — plunged into the ravine, killing 27, including the bus driver. Thirteen others were injured.

The police were still investigating the cause of the accident, said a police spokesman, Dedi Juhana, but a lack of skid marks on the road suggested that the brakes had malfunctioned.

He said that the bus had dropped some 65 feet in a valley surrounded by farmland in Sumedang. The site of the accident was a government-owned road frequently used by commuters traveling between provinces.

Rescue teams worked overnight to evacuate the victims. On Thursday morning, they recovered the body of a boy who had been trapped beneath the overturned bus. He died during the rescue attempt. Some survivors were sent to a nearby clinic and a hospital for treatment.

Television footage showed relatives lining the halls of a hospital and a morgue in Sumedang.

Budi Setiyadi, the director general of land transportation for Indonesia’s transport ministry, said in a statement on Wednesday, “We express deep concern and condolences for this incident.”

Mr. Budi said that officials were considering adding guard rails to the road or paving it as they continued to investigate the accident.

Steep valleys and ravines are common along Indonesian highways because it has so much mountainous terrain. A lack of adequate street lighting and poor infrastructure lead to regular traffic accidents.

On average, three people in Indonesia died every hour from road accidents in the first quarter of 2020, according to the transport ministry.

The authorities said the student group had traveled some six hours from their homes to pay their respects at the tomb of Syekh Abdul Muhyi, a missionary who brought Islam to the Tasikmalaya region after the mid-17th century, when Hinduism was still the primary religion in the surrounding territory.

The students, teachers and parents were visiting the site on the eve of a national holiday marking the ascension of the Prophet Muhammad.

Some Muslim families visit the graves of relatives on Islamic holidays, using the occasion for outdoor picnics. While some Islamic leaders oppose the practice of pilgrimage at the burial sites of missionaries, others allow it.

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Indonesia Bus Plummets Into Ravine, Killing 26

JAKARTA, Indonesia — A tourist bus plummeted into a ravine on Indonesia’s main island of Java after its brakes apparently malfunctioned, killing at least 26 people and injuring 35 others, police and rescuers said Thursday.

The bus was carrying a group of Islamic junior high school students and their parents from the West Java province town of Subang to a pilgrimage site in the province’s Tasikmalaya district when the accident happened late Wednesday on a winding road, the local police chief Eko Prasetyo Robbyanto said.

He said the bus plunged into the 65-fooot-deep ravine after the driver lost control of the vehicle in an area with a number of sharp declines.

The police were still investigating the cause of the accident, but survivors told authorities that the vehicle’s brakes apparently malfunctioned, Robbyanto said.

The Bandung search and rescue agency chief, Deden Ridwansah, said the 26 bodies and 35 injured people were taken to a hospital and a nearby health clinic. He said rescuers are still searching for another person trapped in the bus.

Thirteen of the injured were treated for serious injuries, Ridwansah said. The driver was among those killed.

Television video showed police and rescuers from the National Search and Rescue Agency evacuating injured victims and carrying the dead to ambulances. Grieving relatives waited for information about their loved ones at Sumedang’s general hospital.

Road accidents are common in Indonesia because of poor safety standards and infrastructure.

In December 2019, 35 people were killed when a passenger bus fell into a 262-foot ravine and crashed into a fast-flowing river on Sumatra. In early 2018, 27 people were killed after a packed tourist bus plunged from a hill in West Java’s hilly area.

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Flashing Your Headlights? You’re Probably Sending the Wrong Signals

You’re driving on a winding, rural road at night and a car in the opposite lane has its high beams on.

Do you:

A. Flash your headlights to alert the driver?

B. Momentarily look down and to the right at the white line on the road to avoid being blinded?

C. Turn on your high beams?

(For purposes of this quiz, we’ll rule out swearing as an option.)

If you answered B, go to the head of driver’s ed class. If you answered A or C, think again.

Drivers once commonly flashed their headlights at oncoming cars that had their high beams on. But according to William E. Van Tassel, the manager of driver training programs at AAA’s headquarters in Heathrow, Fla., “We really have gotten away from that.”

The driver with the blinding high beams might be impaired by alcohol. Flashing your own high beams, particularly at night, could make that person’s vision, possibly already diminished by drinking and darkness, even worse, Mr. Van Tassel said.

the so-called moth effect, which occurs when drivers are mesmerized by bright or flashing lights and head in the direction they are looking. Flashing your lights could also be interpreted as an act of aggression.

His advice?

“Let them go on by,” he said.

Laws about using headlights to communicate — if they exist at all — can vary from state to state, said Brett Robinson, the executive director of the American Driver and Traffic Safety Education Association in Indiana, Pa.

As for how some of these practices became part of driving folklore, it’s a case of “your father did it, and his father did it,” he said.

Mr. Robinson recommended against using headlights to communicate, emphasizing that no universally accepted, consistent standards exist. “It means something different to everybody,” he said.

To add to the confusion, “lots of different regional norms” exist, said Staff Sgt. Terence J. McDonnell of the Traffic Services Section of the New York State Police. A commonly accepted signal in one part of the country might mean something entirely different somewhere else.

Driving School Association of the Americas in North Wales, Pa., near Philadelphia, said that if the other person is slow to respond to the signal, the one yielding might then decide to go.

“If that person doesn’t react fast enough, they could change their mind,” Mr. Gillmer said. “To play it 1,000 percent safe,” he recommended against using headlights to signal other drivers. “By you doing no action, it’s better that you don’t have somebody misinterpret what you are saying,” he said.

In other cases, drivers might use their lights to indicate that it’s safe to pull into traffic or make a turn.

“Flashing your head beams to say ‘It’s O.K. to come out’” when the other driver cannot see oncoming traffic is fairly common, Sergeant McDonnell said. But he cautioned drivers to do so at their own peril, “because you are putting your safety in the hands of that other driver’s courtesy.”

Experts advised against using headlights to warn drivers about a speed trap.

Mr. Van Tassel said that AAA does not encourage that kind of behavior and that motorists should drive within the speed limit. He noted that the effects of a crash at 65 miles per hour are much worse than one at 55 m.p.h.

Some suggested that using headlights in this way could be interpreted by the authorities as obstructing governmental administration, though Sergeant McDonnell said he didn’t know if he would go that far.

you flash your lights at a car without its lights on, you are targeted for violence. The other version suggests that drivers flash their headlights to get you to pull over and that when you do, you are killed as part of a gang’s initiation.

Snopes.com, the myth-debunking website, has repeatedly found those stories to be false.

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