Ottawa’s problem-plagued LRT suffered more trouble Sunday when a westbound train on the Confederation Line derailed west of Tremblay station.
DETROIT (AP) — The U.S. government has opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot partially automated driving system after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles.
The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles, almost everything that Tesla has sold in the U.S. since the start of the 2014 model year. Of the crashes identified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration as part of the probe, 17 people were injured and one was killed.
NHTSA says it has identified 11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control have hit vehicles at scenes where first responders have used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of hazards. The agency announced the action Monday in a posting on its website.
The probe is another sign that NHTSA under President Joe Biden is taking a tougher stance on on automated vehicle safety than under previous administrations. Previously the agency was reluctant to regulate the new technology for fear of hampering adoption of the potentially life-saving systems.
The investigation covers Tesla’s entire current model lineup, the Models Y, X, S and 3 from the 2014 through 2021 model years.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which also has investigated some of the Tesla crashes dating to 2016, has recommended that NHTSA and Tesla limit Autopilot’s use to areas where it can safely operate. The NTSB also recommended that NHTSA require Tesla to have a better system to make sure drivers are paying attention. NHTSA has not taken action on any of the recommendations. The NTSB has no enforcement powers and can only make recommendations to other federal agencies.
Last year the NTSB blamed Tesla, drivers and lax regulation by NHTSA for two collisions in which Teslas crashed beneath crossing tractor-trailers. The NTSB took the unusual step of accusing NHTSA of contributing to the crash for failing to make sure automakers put safeguards in place to limit use of electronic driving systems.
The agency made the determinations after investigating a 2019 crash in Delray Beach, Florida, in which the 50-year-old driver of a Tesla Model 3 was killed. The car was driving on Autopilot when neither the driver nor the Autopilot system braked or tried to avoid a tractor-trailer crossing in its path.
“We are glad to see NHTSA finally acknowledge our long standing call to investigate Tesla for putting technology on the road that will be foreseeably misused in a way that is leading to crashes, injuries, and deaths,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, an advocacy group. “If anything, this probe needs to go far beyond crashes involving first responder vehicles because the danger is to all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians when Autopilot is engaged.”
Autopilot has frequently been misused by Tesla drivers, who have been caught driving drunk or even riding in the back seat while a car rolled down a California highway.
A message was left early Monday seeking comment from Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations office.
NHTSA has sent investigative teams to 31 crashes involving partially automated driver assist systems since June of 2016. Such systems can keep a vehicle centered in its lane and a safe distance from vehicles in front of it. Of those crashes, 25 involved Tesla Autopilot in which 10 deaths were reported, according to data released by the agency.
Tesla and other manufacturers warn that drivers using the systems must be ready to intervene at all times. In addition to crossing semis, Teslas using Autopilot have crashed into stopped emergency vehicles and a roadway barrier.
The probe by NHTSA is long overdue, said Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies automated vehicles.
Tesla’s failure to effectively monitor drivers to make sure they’re paying attention should be the top priority in the probe, Rajkumar said. Teslas detect pressure on the steering wheel to make sure drivers are engaged, but drivers often fool the system.
“It’s very easy to bypass the steering pressure thing,” Rajkumar said. “It’s been going on since 2014. We have been discussing this for a long time now.”
The crashes into emergency vehicles cited by NHTSA began on Jan. 22, 2018 in Culver City, California, near Los Angeles when a Tesla using Autopilot struck a parked firetruck that was partially in the travel lanes with its lights flashing. Crews were handling another crash at the time.
Since then, the agency said there were crashes in Laguna Beach, California; Norwalk, Connecticut; Cloverdale, Indiana; West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; Cochise County, Arizona; Charlotte, North Carolina; Montgomery County, Texas; Lansing, Michigan; and Miami, Florida.
“The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation,” NHTSA said in its investigation documents.
In addition, the probe will cover object and event detection by the system, as well as where it is allowed to operate. NHTSA says it will examine “contributing circumstances” to the crashes, as well as similar crashes.
An investigation could lead to a recall or other enforcement action by NHTSA.
“NHTSA reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves,” the agency said in a statement. “Every available vehicle requires a human driver to be in control at all times, and all state laws hold human drivers responsible for operation of their vehicles.”
The agency said it has “robust enforcement tools” to protect the public and investigate potential safety issues, and it will act when it finds evidence “of noncompliance or an unreasonable risk to safety.”
In June NHTSA ordered all automakers to report any crashes involving fully autonomous vehicles or partially automated driver assist systems.
Shares of Tesla Inc., based in Palo Alto, California, fell 3.5% at the opening bell Monday.
Tesla uses a camera-based system, a lot of computing power, and sometimes radar to spot obstacles, determine what they are, and then decide what the vehicles should do. But Carnegie Mellon’s Rajkumar said the company’s radar was plagued by “false positive” signals and would stop cars after determining overpasses were obstacles.
Now Tesla has eliminated radar in favor of cameras and thousands of images that the computer neural network uses to determine if there are objects in the way. The system, he said, does a very good job on most objects that would be seen in the real world. But it has had trouble with parked emergency vehicles and perpendicular trucks in its path.
“It can only find patterns that it has been ‘quote unquote’ trained on,” Rajkumar said. “Clearly the inputs that the neural network was trained on just do not contain enough images. They’re only as good as the inputs and training. Almost by definition, the training will never be good enough.”
Tesla also is allowing selected owners to test what it calls a “full self-driving” system. Rajkumar said that should be investigated as well.
Tom Krisher, The Associated Press
Ottawa’s problem-plagued LRT suffered more trouble Sunday when a westbound train on the Confederation Line derailed west of Tremblay station.
No one was injured in the 12:27 p.m. accident, near Riverside Drive, but one train car was significantly damaged after apparently colliding with a signal box next to the tracks. Several panels on one train car were ripped from the vehicle, a window was shattered and the signal box was bent and broken.
“A couple of bumps, and it came to a stop,” one passenger told Coun. Jeff Leiper after the accident. Leiper posted the passenger’s comments and the passenger’s photo of the derailed train on Twitter.
It is the second time in six weeks that one of the city’s LRT trains has left the tracks.
At a late afternoon media briefing, the city’s director of transit operations, Troy Charters, said one set of five wheels derailed from a westbound train soon after leaving Tremblay station. The wheels were in the centre of the second car that made up the train.
It was not travelling at high rate of speed, he said, and preliminary investigation suggests the incident is not connected to the Aug. 8 derailment, which was caused by a faulty axle.
“It does not appear to be connected to the Aug. 8 incident in that the wheels are still attached to the axle,” he said.
In an email to media Sunday evening, OC Transpo general manager John Manconi said “the vehicle involved in the incident had recently returned to service after undergoing repairs to an axle. At this time, we do not know if the same axle was involved in this incident.
“It appears that two axles on the second car of the train had derailed. There were approximately 12 customers on board. There were no injuries to customers or staff. The Transportation Safety Board (TSB), Transport Canada and the City’s Regulatory Monitor have been notified.”
Charter said the train suffered mechanical and cosmetic damage and the derailed wheels caused damage to the track and its infrastructure, including a switching unit.
As a precautionary measure, Charter said, service on the 12.5-kilometre Confederation Line has been suspended and buses deployed to serve passengers between Rideau and Blair stations.
Rideau Transit Maintenance CEO Mario Guerra said it could take up to a week to repair the damage and fully restore service. “There is quite a bit of damage to the infrastructure,” he said.
Replacement bus service will operate until the service is restored, Charters said, and it’s possible that partial LRT service will become available in the next few days.
Citizen transit commissioner Sarah Wright-Gilbert said the latest incident “definitely doesn’t inspire confidence in the reliability or safety of our LRT system.”
Mayor Jim Watson said Sunday that city staff are gathering information on the derailment and will provide “a full briefing” on what is known about the accident to the city’s transit commission Monday morning. That briefing, he said, will be available to the public on the city’s YouTube channel.
OC Transpo officials immediately de-energized the train after the noon-hour accident, and Ottawa Fire Services helped evacuate passengers. Fire crews remained on scene to ensure the train would not require stabilization.
Toby Allard, 14, was one of the first to arrive on the scene on his bicycle. He said about 20 passengers were taken off the train. “People were obviously panicked,” he said, “but no one was hurt.”
Allard and another frequent LRT passenger said they both noticed the train often “shudders” or vibrates as it rounds the turn west of Riverside Drive.
Ottawa police maintained control of the scene to ensure nothing was moved before accident investigators arrived.
Manconi said the next step after the derailment will be an assessment of the situation by the technical teams. “We are waiting for TSB investigators to provide clearance to undertake the inspection of the derailment.
“The train will be returned to Belfast Yard once it has been cleared to do so by investigators and safety certifiers.”
Manconi said in a later release that replacement buses will operate frequently between Tunney’s Pasture and Blair stations, but that travel times will be longer than regular train service. He said customers could plan their trips by using the online travel planner, which would be updated Sunday night, at octranspo.com .
TSB investigators have already probed cracked wheels and loose axle bearings on the city’s LRT vehicles during the past year.
Earlier this summer, councillors Catherine McKenney and Diane Deans asked that an emergency meeting of the city’s transit commission be called to discuss the Aug. 8 LRT derailment, attributed to a loose axle bearing, and other issues. Their request was rejected.
McKenney reacted to the latest accident Sunday on Twitter: “Another LRT derailment,” McKenney said. “Looks like we are getting that emergency meeting after all. Tomorrow’s Transit Commission must respond to this P3 (public-private partnership) failure. This is an embarrassment for Ottawa.”
Serving 13 stations, the $2.1 billion Confederation Line recently celebrated its second anniversary, but it has been lightly used for much of that time because of the pandemic.
Still, problems persist. It was shut down last month for five days following the derailment on Aug. 8 caused by a loose axle bearing on an out-of-service train.
After a fleet inspection by Rideau Transit Maintenance (RTM), 10 train cars were sent for repairs to their axle assemblies.
There was another issue on Aug. 24 when early morning LRT service in part of the western stretch switched to replacement buses because a westbound train unexpectedly stopped between Pimisi and Bayview stations. Customers on the disabled train had to be transferred to another train. The backup buses ran for about an hour before regular train service resumed around 6:45 a.m. Defective trains also delayed LRT service at times on Aug. 20 and Aug. 26.
— With files from Jon Willing
A debt crunch involving China’s second largest properly developer has caught investors’ attention in the past week.
Evergrande, the Shenzhen-based company, is facing a default on its debt burden of roughly $300 billion. The crisis has echoes to the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, which marked its 13-year anniversary last week, a development that at the time sent shockwaves through global markets.
Ed Yardeni, president of Yardeni Research, says it’s unlikely Evergrande will have a fallout quite as severe as the Lehman bankruptcy when the global economy and credit markets collapsed. Instead, he sees it as analogous to a different event a decade even earlier.
“If it’s similar to anything, it’s similar to Long-Term Capital Management, which is the calamity that occurred in 1998 but that was dealt with very quickly by the Federal Reserve and the major banks and it didn’t have any global implications,” Yardeni told CNBC’s “Trading Nation” on Friday.
Like with hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management, Yardeni sees government intervention in Evergrande preventing any collapse and contagion.
“The reality is it is too big to fail, and I think the Chinese government is going to intervene big time. I don’t think they’re going to save management… but it will be restructured and in a way that won’t harm the economy too much over there and won’t affect the global economy or financial markets the way Lehman did,” said Yardeni.
Even if a crisis tied to Evergrande is avoided, Yardeni does not see Chinese markets rebounding anytime soon. He says Evergrande is just one reason for investors to avoid the region.
“If you’re invested in Chinese stocks, there have been lots of reasons to get out, quite honestly,” said Yardeni. “The Chinese Communist Party which runs the government over there has been meddling, intervening in the markets, interrupting corporate governance, telling companies how they should manage their businesses. And so I think it’s a good opportunity here just to lie low. I would not be buying on the dips in China.”
Beijing has tightened regulations on industries such as technology and private education in recent months. That increased scrutiny has taken their markets and U.S.-listed Chinese stocks lower.
Continued uncertainty in China could be a benefit for U.S. markets, he adds.
“There are lots of global investors that want to be invested in areas where they feel comfortable, where there’s corporate governance rules, where there’s contract laws that are obeyed. I think a lot of money that has gone global and might have been tempted to go to China may very well come to the U.S.,” he said.
Yardeni has a 5,000 price target on the S&P 500 for the end of 2022, though he says the benchmark index could reach that level sooner. The S&P 500 closed Friday at 4,433.
Amid persistent concerns that the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines may be waning, a report released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that America’s workhorse shot is significantly less effective at preventing severe cases of disease over the long term than many experts had realized.
Data collected from 18 states between March and August suggest the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine reduces the risk of being hospitalized with COVID-19 by 91% in the first four months after receiving the second dose. Beyond 120 days, however, that vaccine efficacy drops to 77%.
Meanwhile, Moderna’s vaccine was 93% effective at reducing the short-term risk of COVID-19 hospitalization and remained 92% effective after 120 days.
Overall, 54% of fully vaccinated Americans have been immunized with the Pfizer shot.
The surprising findings came as a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended against offering booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine to all Americans ages 16 and older. In a striking rebuke, 16 of 18 experts told the agency it had not mustered enough data to make a third shot the norm.
In lengthy briefings to the panel, representatives from Pfizer pointed to clinical trial results involving 306 mostly healthy participants to argue that a booster “restores” the 95% vaccine effectiveness rate seen earlier in the pandemic.
Company officials also touted evidence from Israel, which rolled out boosters after seeing a rise in hospitalizations among people who were fully vaccinated. Those hospitalizations dropped dramatically after third doses were given, Israeli scientists have said.
But panel members made clear that despite Pfizer’s aggressive stance, it had not gathered enough evidence that a third shot was safe for young people and for those at lesser risk of becoming severely ill with COVID-19.
“We need age-specific data” on the safety and protective benefits of a further booster, said Dr. Ofer Levy, a panel member who directs the Precision Vaccines program at Boston Children’s Hospital.
FDA clearance for booster shots for everyone 16 and older would be seen as something “close to a mandate,” said Dr. Eric Rubin, a panel member and infectious-disease expert at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Rubin worried that such a move could redefine what it takes to be considered fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“None of us are there yet,” he said.
But others apparently are. Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top advisor on vaccines, has come out strongly in favor of booster shots, saying before Friday’s vote that a failure to endorse the shots “would be a mistake.”
And in mid-August, Biden himself said his administration would begin making booster shots available the week of Sept. 20 to those vaccinated for at least eight months.
Biden cautioned at the time that his plan was contingent on FDA approval. But his announcement stoked concerns of political meddling in a matter that required the unhindered evaluation of scientists.
“This should demonstrate to the public that the members of this committee are independent of the FDA,” Dr. Archana Chatterjee, dean of the Chicago Medical School, said after the vote. “In fact, we do bring our voices to the table when we are asked to serve on this committee.”
The panel unanimously agreed that a third shot of the vaccine now sold under the brand name Comirnaty should be offered to select groups: individuals 65 and older, people at risk of developing severe disease, and those, including healthcare workers, whose occupations put them at high risk of infection.
Dr. Peter Marks, who leads the FDA’s evaluation of drugs and vaccines, told panel members that the agency could give its blessing to booster shots with an emergency use authorization — a regulatory step that falls short of the full approval Pfizer had sought.
The company issued no statement Friday in response to the panel’s vote.
Researchers in the United States have been warning for months that the immunity afforded by COVID-19 vaccines might be waning. The CDC reported that in late July, close to three-quarters of the 469 people swept up in a Massachusetts outbreak were fully vaccinated. And the agency has launched several studies aimed at detecting changes in vaccine effectiveness in healthcare workers and others who were vaccinated early.
But virtually all of those infections appeared to be mild. And health officials eager to induce vaccine skeptics to step up for their shot — including Fauci and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — have repeatedly praised the vaccines for keeping most fully vaccinated people out of hospitals.
The new report on waning vaccine efficacy challenges that expectation.
Researchers from around the country found striking differences between two mRNA vaccines long thought to be interchangeable.
When the Moderna vaccine received emergency use authorization in December, the company reported that 30 people in its clinical trial developed severe cases of COVID-19, including nine who required hospitalization. All 30 patients were in the placebo group, resulting in a vaccine efficacy against severe disease of 100%.
Ten people in Pfizer’s initial clinical trial developed severe cases of COVID-19. Nine of them were in the placebo group, including seven who were hospitalized, resulting in a vaccine efficacy against severe disease of 88.9%.
Once the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines were rolled out to the public, their records of preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the first four months were neck and neck — 93% and 91% effective, respectively. But the degree of protection diverged after that.
When they focused specifically on the period 120 days beyond the second dose, the study authors found that the Moderna vaccine remained 92% effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations. But the equivalent figure for the Pfizer vaccine was 77%.
The results were published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are based on mRNA technology, which delivers temporary instructions to the body’s muscle cells that help it learn to recognize the spike protein, a key part of the coronavirus’ structure. But “they’re actually not necessarily interchangeable,” said Dr. Timothy Brewer, a professor of medicine and epidemiology at UCLA.
Each vaccine is formulated and administered differently, Brewer said, and those differences could affect the strength and duration of the two vaccines’ protection.
Moderna’s shot contains 100 micrograms of vaccine, more than three times the 30 micrograms in the Pfizer shot. And Pfizer’s two doses are given three weeks apart, while Moderna’s two-shot regimen is administered with a four-week gap.
Brewer also pointed to evidence that the Moderna vaccine seemed to elicit higher levels of a key antibody than the Pfizer vaccine.
“We know from other studies the neutralizing antibody levels will decay over time, so starting at a higher level will mean that you have farther to go before you decay to a point where efficacy drops off,” he said.
Dr. Robert Murphy, who directs Northwestern University’s Institute for Global Health, said the Pfizer vaccine’s reduced protection against severe disease may bolster the case for boosters for all who got the vaccine, not just the specific groups identified by the FDA advisory panel.
“Based on the data I have seen, persons who received the Pfizer vaccine would benefit from a booster dose at this time,” he said. “I don’t see why we have to wait until the younger people get sick and become hospitalized.”
But Dr. Arnold Monto, who chairs the FDA advisory panel, applauded the agency’s willingness to withhold a full-throated call for boosters until a stronger case can be made. And he suggested that as more evidence accumulates, boosters for all might still get the nod.
“That’s the beauty of the emergency use authorization,” said Monto, an epidemiologist at University of Michigan. “It can be changed based on changing data.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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