Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ontario environment ministry raids Volkswagen Canada as part of emissions scandal probe

Ontario environment ministry raids Volkswagen Canada as part of emissions scandal probe

This comes two years after a global emissions scandal involving several Volkswagen models erupted. The fallout prompted criminal charges and a major class action suit

Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change Investigators, foreground, at Volkswagen headquarters in Ajax on Tuesday. Information to obtain the search warrant, which includes details of what the investigators were seeking, is sealed to the public until it has been fully executed. Peter J. Thompson/National Post

Joseph Brean and Adrian Humphreys

September 19, 2017

AJAX, Ont. — Investigators for Ontario’s Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change raided the headquarters of Volkswagen Canada on Tuesday morning, executing a search warrant as part of the massive international investigation into “cheat devices” meant to evade emissions regulations.

A team of 24 officers, including computer experts from the Ministry of Finance, arrived at the Volkswagen Canada campus in Toronto’s eastern suburbs at 9:30 a.m., seeking evidence to support a newly laid charge against Volkswagen AG, the automaker’s German parent company, for violating Ontario’s Environmental Protection Act.

When asked if the company was co-operating with the warrant, ministry investigator Warren Korol said: “I’m not certain yet, we’re still searching.”

As of noon, they had not removed anything, but an agent could be seen carrying a large cooler into the building, and a ministry van was parked by the reception door.

“In any search warrant, there’s always a list of things we’re searching for, and if we find those things, yes, we’ll be seizing them,” Korol said.

The information to obtain the search warrant, which includes details of what the investigators were seeking, is sealed to the public until it has been fully executed. The raid was not co-ordinated with other jurisdictions, nor were there simultaneous raids, Korol said.

Thomas Tetzlaff, Volkswagen Canada’s manager of public relations, said the investigators came unannounced, and that the company is co-operating. “We’ll continue to co-operate with them until they have the information they require,” he said. He said he did not know if they had taken anything yet.

“This kind of came out of the blue for us,” he said. “As such, it’s not something we find worrisome or troubling.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

CO and Cars: Unfinished Business

CO and Cars: Unfinished Business

In 1975, the auto industry began to equip vehicles with catalytic converters to meet the emission limits of the Clean Air Act of 1970. Sitting unobtrusively between the engine and the muffler, the “cat” changes the noxious gases in automobile exhaust into harmless nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water. The result, according to the National Institutes of Occupational Health, was an 80 percent decline in the number of unintentional vehicle-related deaths caused by the most dangerous byproduct of combustion engines: carbon monoxide. 
But catalytic converters don’t entirely eliminate the CO, so their advent did not eliminate motor vehicle CO poisonings. This lingering safety issue resurfaced in 2009, when keyless ignition systems severed drivers from their relationship with traditional metal keys, making it easy to inadvertently leave their vehicle engines quietly running while CO levels built inside the garage – and then the house. Motor vehicle carbon monoxide poisonings became newsworthy again in 2017, when numerous police departments with fleets of newish Ford Explorer Interceptors (a police version of the Explorer) began to complain that their officers were being sickened in their squad cars. Just last week, WRC, NBC’s Washington D.C. affiliate, broadcast a story showing that the problem affects civilian Explorers, too. The story featured two owners who suffered from the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.  
The truth is: carbon monoxide continues to kill hundreds and sicken thousands of people in the U.S. each year. 
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless toxic gas produced as a by-product of incomplete combustion of carbon-based substances.  It is the most common lethal poison worldwide. When inhaled, CO is absorbed from the lungs into the bloodstream. CO binds with hemoglobin with an affinity of more than 200 times that of oxygen, forming a tight complex with hemoglobin, which impairs the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood. 
How many CO injuries and deaths are caused by motor vehicle exhaust is up for debate, because the data are hard to come by. In 2000, NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis updated a 1996 study estimating the number of deaths caused by carbon monoxide poisoning by motor vehicle exhaust. It found that from 1995 to 1997, the total number of fatalities due to CO poisoning was 3,715, with the majority of those fatalities involving stationary motor vehicles; 665 of those fatalities were accidental. A 2002 analysis of U.S. motor vehicle CO deaths from 1968 to 1998 estimated that annual accidental CO deaths from all sources decreased from 1,417 in 1968 to 491 in 1998, with 48 percent of the 1998 deaths attributed to motor vehicles. 
Establishing a link between CO deaths and motor vehicle exhaust using the Centers for Disease Control’s WONDER database, an open access online search system using mortality data drawn from all filed and coded U.S. death certificates, has been stymied by a change in coding practices. In 1999, the International Classification of Diseases coding system dropped the identification of CO sources. 
Nonetheless, a 2004 NHTSA study on non-traffic, non-crash motor vehicle fatalities found “somewhere between 200 and 250 deaths a year that are not known to be suicides result from vehicle-generated carbon monoxide. These types of deaths occur more frequently than deaths from any of the other issues researched.” 
A more recent 2011 study of data gathered from news stories about residential CO poisoning in the United States published between March 2007 and September 2009 found 837 reported CO poisoning incidents, 59 of which were the result of a vehicle left running in the garage. The author, Dr. Neil Hampson, who has published extensively on the epidemiology of CO poisoning,  concluded that household CO poisoning from a motor vehicle left running in the garage “is relatively common.” 
The annual number of CO injuries in a much harder figure to ascertain. In 2011 the CDC, using data from the National Poison Data System (NPDS) to characterize reported unintentional, non- fire-related CO exposures, found 68,316 CO exposures reported to poison centers during 2000-2009. 
Translating exposures to injuries is tricky. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are nonspecific and vary widely – anything from headaches to fatigue to dizziness and vomiting. Severe exposure can lead to confusion, loss of consciousness, seizure and cognitive difficulties.  Almost half of the people exposed to CO develop delayed neuropsychological responses that can be disabling and sometimes permanent. These effects can develop days or weeks after exposure. 
Petitioning for a Solution
Squishy data hasn’t stopped citizen advocates from asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require countermeasures to either warn occupants of the presence of CO in the occupant compartment, shut off the engine when it reaches pre-determined levels, or both. Since 1997, there have been three petitions for rulemaking.
In March 1997, Herb Denenberg, an attorney, former professor, journalist and consumer advocate, petitioned the agency to require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in all motor vehicles, to mandate manufacturers to offer them as optional equipment and to alert consumers in owner’s manuals to the availability and value of installing a carbon monoxide detector.  Denenberg also requested that NHTSA issue press releases and consumer advisories regarding the availability of carbon monoxide detectors. Denenberg cited a December 1993 NHTSA Consumer Advisory showing 353 fatalities that year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. His petition asserted that these were preventable deaths, and that manufacturers could install CO detectors in vehicles for about $16 per unit.
Eight years later, toxicologist Albert Donnay, representing a non-profit that  focuses on Multiple Chemical Sensitivity disorders, filed a petition for rulemaking making similar requests: press releases on the dangers of vehicle carbon monoxide poisoning, more research on all CO vehicle-related fatalities, a requirement that manufacturers warn occupants about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning in owner’s manuals and install CO detectors in new vehicles, with the capability to cut-off the engine when carbon monoxide levels inside a stationary vehicle exceed a concentration of 200 parts per million.
In his petition, Donnay argued that there was ample evidence that the agency considered motor-vehicle CO poisoning a serious problem, but had abandoned the issue, failing to continue its research, or do more consumer education on the issue, or initiate rulemaking – even though the agency had influenced recalls related to CO exposure and had promulgated rules to address serious, but occasional problems, such as trunk entrapment.
The most recent petition was filed in March 2016 by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Like its predecessors, PEER requested that the agency issue annual consumer advisories and recommend the use of onboard digital CO monitors; to track and report all CO-related fatalities; require manufactures to include information in new vehicle owner’s manuals about the health dangers of CO, and require all manufacturers to install CO detectors in the passenger compartment of all new motor vehicles; and require manufacturers to install engine shut-off technology. 
PEER echoed Donnay’s point about NHTSA’s failure to prevent continuing CO deaths:
Since NHTSA was first informed of the life-saving potential of CO detectors linked to engine cut-off switches, in excess of 20,000 North Americans have died needlessly from vehicular CO poisoning. At the same time, these CO detectors are reliable and very inexpensive. They are far less expensive than other measures that NHTSA has approved. In short, requiring these devices may one of the most significant and cost-effective vehicle safety measures since the seat belt.
NHTSA Wants Nothing to Do With It
The agency’s response to motor-vehicle CO poisoning issue has been, to put it charitably, contradictory. 
(Remember – the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was the prime mover behind the widespread implementation of catalytic converters – not NHTSA. Prior to the addition of catalytic converters, “CO in motor-vehicle exhaust accounted for the most poisoning deaths in the United States caused by a single agent,” according to a 1996 CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). Out of 11,547 unintentional CO deaths during 1979-1988, 57 percent were caused by motor-vehicle exhaust; of these, 83 percent were associated with stationary vehicles.” Most of the deaths in garages occurred with the garage doors or windows open.) 
NHTSA has long regarded an unattended vehicle with the keys left in the ignition to be a safety hazard. In 1967, the impetus was auto theft, leading to police chases that often ended in fatal crashes. The agency’s first proposal for Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114 would have required cars to be equipped with devices to remind drivers to remove keys when leaving their vehicle. And the agency made it pretty clear that the solution should be based in vehicle engineering: 
It is, of course, the operator's responsibility to remove the key when the car is left unattended, and drivers should continue to be exhorted to take this elementary precaution. Nevertheless, many do not, and the interest of safety would be promoted by the existence of a visible or audible warning device on the car, reminding the driver when he has neglected his responsibility. This is an instance in which engineering of vehicles is more likely to have an immediate beneficial impact than a long-range process of mass education.
But, NHTSA has resisted regulating in any way an unattended vehicle with the keys left in the ignition and the engine running.
In the early 1990s, the agency appeared to have some interest, contracting the Carnegie Mellon Research Institute to evaluate its metal oxide semiconductor gas sensor technology for application as a low-cost carbon monoxide monitor in the automobile compartment. The study cited 500 accidental deaths each year, and, like the petitions that would follow it, observed that many “might have been prevented if the automobile passenger compartment were equipped with an appropriate CO monitor and alarm system.” The report concluded that the technology had was at the point “where a stable selective CO monitor is within reach,” and recommended that NHTSA undertake further research. 
But, The Safety Record couldn’t find evidence that NHTSA took this research any further. Instead, it knocked down most of the 1997 Denenberg petition, but grudgingly allowed that it might add some information about carbon monoxide poisonings to future advisories. NHTSA dismissed CO poisoning incidents as a cold weather phenomenon, most likely caused by people running their engines in an enclosed space to keep warm or failing to clear snow from the tail pipe area. “For this reason,” the agency wrote, “we do not think it is justifiable to require that all vehicles be equipped with these detectors. A large portion of the vehicles sold in this country will rarely, if ever, be driven in cold weather.” Besides, the agency said, mandatory installation of carbon monoxide detectors industry wide would cost at least $240 million, eventually consumers would be forced to replace them after six years. And, since the problem really affected the older models in the fleet, a regulation would not benefit the vehicles that needed it most.
In 2005, it denied the Donnay petition, claiming the data showed that the number of CO incidents was falling absent any regulation and because a mandate for in-vehicle carbon monoxide detectors would fail to address more than 70 percent of vehicle-related carbon monoxide deaths, because the victims are outside the vehicle. NHTSA argued that “a home CO detector would be substantially more effective than a vehicle CO detector at preventing these deaths because 92% of the fatalities occurred at the home.” The agency rejected the idea of an engine shut-off that would prevent CO accumulating to dangerous levels because it “could prove to be a hazard. For example, in a tunnel with congested traffic, the concentration of CO may cause the device to shut off the engine, resulting in further traffic congestion or even possible crashes.”
The agency hasn’t yet articulated a position on the PEER petition.
In 2011, for the first time the agency considered the unattended key-in-vehicle scenarios with the engine running, and the problem of CO poisoning. A FMVSS 114 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – as yet unfinalized – attempted to deal with the proliferation of keyless ignition systems. The NPRM recognized that current keyless ignition systems had led to driver confusion, and that these designs allowed drivers to exit the vehicle without the transmission locked in Park, and sometimes without actually turning off the engine. The NPRM noted that the lack of standardization in combination with the lack of visual and tactile cues about the status of the vehicle engine has set the stage for the real world incidents in which drivers, mistaking the fob for the key, inadvertently leave a vehicle running and/or exit the vehicle without putting the transmission into “Park.” The proposal specifically deleted the door opening alert exclusion currently in FMVSS No. 114 for a running vehicle, but only for vehicles equipped with keyless ignition. The agency’s strategy for addressing the rollaway and carbon monoxide safety issues are for internal and external audible alerts, based on the Platform Lift standard, which is part of FMVSS 403.  
As part of the rulemaking, NHTSA said that it had considered “a requirement for an automatic shut-off feature applied to vehicles fitted with electronic key code systems.” But, it declined to propose such a feature because: “We have been unable to conclude that there is a specified period of time after which the propulsion system should be shut down to effectively address various scenarios mentioned in VOQs submitted to the agency.”
What, no mention of the simultaneous-shut-offs-in-a-tunnel scenario?
Motor Vehicle CO as a Function of Vehicle Design and Wear
In 1972, research sponsored by the Insurance Institute on Highway Safety noted that the available data suggested “that over 500 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning because their vehicles are defective due to deterioration, damage, or poor automotive design.”
That last bit is still the case, and the Ford Explorers currently sickening lots of people are good examples. In July 2016, NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation opened a probe into reports of occupants smelling exhaust odors in the occupant compartments of 2011-2015 Explorers. By the time it bumped the probe up to an Engineering Analysis, a year later, Ford had tallied 2,051 complaints, while NHTSA’s Vehicle Owner’s Questionnaire hotline received 791. The high-profile victims were police departments across the country, which were reporting that at least five officers lost consciousness, were hospitalized for CO exposure or crashed their SUVs, poisoned by the cabin air of their Interceptors.  You can read more about it here
Ford, which does a booming business with the law enforcement market, rushed to investigate the CO problem in those vehicles, and promised to cover the costs of any modifications. The automaker blamed the problem on unsealed spaces and wiring holes drilled in the course of implementing after-market features specific to police work, such as emergency lights and radios, and said that none of those problems affect civilian Explorers.
So why are so many Explorer owners complaining? In its August 2016 response to NHTSA’s Information Request, Ford argued that really not that many people complained. An analysis showed that “approximately 0.29 percent of all 2011 through 2015 model year Explorer owners have complained of some sort of exhaust odor in their vehicle,” and even if Ford included all of the ambiguous reports the percentage is still a piddling 0.38 percent of all vehicle owners. 
As for the cause, Ford isolated it to the unique combination of driving at “wide open throttle (WOT) events with the vehicles climate control system in the recirculation mode.” Ford said that “the fuel enrichment used for the exhaust catalyst protection strategy commonly used during wide open throttle events caused a more detectable odor being emitted from the tailpipe. Second, a negative cabin pressure was created from the vehicle climate control system being in recirculation mode. Ford notes that the vehicle drive cycle necessary to reproduce this condition is beyond what Ford would consider normal or typical customer usage.” In any event, the CO readings never topped 8 parts per million (ppm), and dissipated within 10 seconds. 
This does not seem to comport with real-world incidents. In preparing the WRC story, reporter Susan Hogan teamed up with toxicologist Albert Donnay, who measured the presence of CO in the occupant compartment of an Explorer whose owner had been complaining to Ford for months. Donnay gathered readings of CO with sophisticated detectors in the front and back seat. At low speeds, with the vehicle in re-circulation mode, there was no change in air quality, the report said. When the vehicle speed climbed to over 40 miles per hour, the CO level was 9 parts per million (ppm) in the front and 30 ppm in the back. You can read it here
Further, Hogan says that Donnay’s testing showed that the CO levels evened out at 15 ppm-17 ppm and stayed there for a good 10-15 minutes. The levels didn’t drop until they brought fresh air into the cabin.  
Another good example is General Motors’ 2015 “emission recall involving certain 2008 Chevrolet Avalanche, Silverado, Suburban, and Tahoe; and GMC Sierra, Yukon, and Yukon XL vehicles equipped with California Bin 4 emissions RPO NU5.” GM said that “the design of the fuel control system did not adequately control carbon monoxide emissions under certain operating conditions.” The remedy was a reflashing of the engine control module with a modified fuel control calibration.
Combatting Motor Vehicle Carbon Monoxide at the Source
There are several design solutions to the motor vehicle carbon monoxide problem, and for nearly forty years, individual inventors, suppliers such as Lear Corporation, and automakers have put forward ideas or implemented them. There are patents, dating back to at least as early as 1974, related to carbon monoxide detectors in motor vehicles that either warn the driver when the in-board air reaches a certain threshold and/or shut off the engine. 
Automakers have been using engine cut-off designs as a safeguard to remote start features for at least a decade. Two automakers have also added extended engine idle shut-offs to their keyless vehicles to prevent CO poisonings when drivers mistakenly leave their vehicles running. In 2013 Ford became the first automaker to add an engine idle cut-off to its keyless vehicles. This feature shuts off the engine after 30 minutes if there have been no inputs from the driver.
In March 2015, General Motors remedied 50,249 2011-2013 Chevrolet Volt vehicles with a software fix that would shut off the engine after an hour and a half, to prevent drivers from inadvertently leaving the vehicle running. GM was reportedly prompted to implement the recall after two injuries and push from NHTSA. The 2014 and beyond model years already have this feature. 
Another design includes the use of air classification or control module (ACM). This technology combines CO and nitrogen dioxide sensors to protect the cabin air.  Some automakers offer ACMs on vehicles with electronic climate control. While ACMs alone do not solve the problem of accumulating CO emanating from a running vehicle, they can be paired with auto shutoff mechanisms or alarms.  In 2007, AppliedSensor, chemical sensor components and modules manufacturer, and Sensata Technologies, a developer of industrial sensors and control solutions, announced that their Air Classification Module was being integrated into the 2007 BMW X5 Sport Activity Vehicle: “This ACM prevents the intake of harmful combustion fumes – such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds: “The module includes a built-in sensor with two separate sensing elements to enable continuous detection of the presence of diesel and gasoline exhaust fumes faster and more reliably. Through integration of a corresponding module in the air intake duct of the vehicle’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system (HVAC), the sensor can signal accurately timed, automatic activation of air circulation to the vehicle's controls.” 
More than 40 years after the advent of the catalytic converter, we still have a CO problem that endangers public health – and we have a menu of technologies that might all but eliminate the threat. The will to fix it seems to be the last obstacle.

2 Md. Women Suspect CO Leaks in Their Ford Explorers Responsible for Symptoms

2 Md. Women Suspect CO Leaks in Their Ford Explorers Responsible for Symptoms


Following reports last month about a Maryland police department inspecting its fleet of Ford Explorers for carbon monoxide leaks, two Maryland women suspect they have a similar problem.

A few months ago, Valentina Shedrick of Laurel and Susan Stazetski of White Plains thought they were going crazy. Every time they got behind the wheel, they felt sleepy and nauseous, they said.

“I would get these massive migraines,” Stazetski said.

“After I had been driving it for a length of time, I just started feeling like I'm getting a lot of headaches,” Shedrick said.

Both drove Ford Explorers.

Stazetski bought her 2015 Explorer brand new and almost immediately started smelling something gross, she said.

“I was starting to smell an odor,” she said. “There was some exhaust smell. An egg, sulphur type of smell.”

Almost every time she would get behind the wheel she would start feeling sleepy, she said.

“Like going out of the lane, my head is bobbingn [SIC] up and down,” she said.

A few months later, she fell asleep behind the wheel, waking up with a tree in her path, she said.

“I could have hit the oncoming traffic, and it was by the grace of God that my son and I did not die,” she said.

After that, she went to the doctor thinking she was seriously sick. All sorts of tests, including scans of her brain and tests of her blood, came back negative.

Shedrick said she and her husband, Mark, started smelling something nasty in their 2016 Explorer not long after they bought it.

“Like sulphur, or some type of fumes, gas fumes, or something really nasty,” she said.

Then came migraines and nausea.

“I'm overall a healthy young lady,” she said. “I have no health issues at all, and then to get in this vehicle and driving and just feeling really dizzy and lightheaded. Because I'm always complaining to my husband about this all the time.”

Stazetski and Shedrick said the fumes in their cars would come and go but their headaches stayed constant.

Neither thought their deteriorating health had anything to do with their SUVs until news reports surfaced about numerous police officers nationwide getting sick from fumes they said were seeping into their Explorers. When they saw News4’s report on the Montgomery County Police Department taking Explorers off the road for repairs, they realized their cars might be failing them, not their health.

Each immediately took her Explorer for service.

“They did say that it was an exhaust fume leak in the vehicle,” Shedrick said.

“I took my vehicle in to Ford and had it tested, and sure enough, it was my truck,” Stazetski said.

In Stazetski's case, she had her car repaired twice for exhaust leaks by a Ford dealership, and to this day she says she's still suffering from severe migraines.

The Shedricks have been waiting for months for a part to fix their exhaust leak.

“They said we can still drive the vehicle as long as we don't turn on the recirculate system and just use fresh air,” Mark Shedrick said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into all 2011 through 2017 Ford Explorers for possible carbon monoxide leaks.

"Engineers have been working with police departments and customers nationwide to address concerns," Ford told News4 in a statement. Ford also is inspecting Stazetski's and the Shedricks’ vehicles.

But on Ford's website, the company stresses that while it's taking action to address concerns of first-responder vehicles, it underscores there's "no issue with carbon monoxide in regular Explorers."

Valentina Shedrick isn't convinced and agreed to allow carbon monoxide toxicologist Albert Donnay test her vehicle using a professional CO detector, not one you'd use for your home. 

He set up a detector in the back of the Explorer and one up front. Driving along back roads at low speeds, he saw no change in air quality. But on the highway driving more than 40 mph, the CO level was 9 parts per million (ppm) in the front and 30 ppm in the back, levelling out to 15 ppm. According to the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for carbon monoxide, established by the EPA, 9 ppm measured as an annual second-maximum eight hour average concentration and 35 ppm averaged over a one-hour period.

“And it takes time for all this CO to leave her body,” Donnay said. “It doesn't go out quickly.”
Shedrick said she won’t drive her Explorer

There are 2,700 complaints to NHTSA from people who say they've been exposed to exhaust fumes or carbon monoxide, including what Ford calls "regular" Explorers.

"Safety is our top priority," Ford told News4 in a statement. "We take these matters seriously. Ford engineers have been working with police departments and customers nationwide to address concerns, and are currently onsite in the Washington DC area working to inspect both vehicles. According to NHTSA, no substantive data or actual evidence has been obtained supporting a claim that any alleged injury or crash allegations have been the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. We encourage any driver with concerns to contact their Ford dealer or call our hotline at 888-260-5575."

Source: 2 Md. Women Suspect CO Leaks in Their Ford Explorers Responsible for Symptoms - NBC4 Washington
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Government Investigates Possible Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Ford Explorers

The government opened an investigation of Ford Explorers last year, but News4 found complaints to Ford and the government going back years before any investigation became public, bringing into question just how long the manufacturer may have known about a potential safety defect.

The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration opened its investigation into possible carbon monoxide leaks in Explorers from the years 2011 through 2015 in July 2016. A year later, NHTSA bumped its investigation up to what's called an engineering analysis. It now includes model years 2011 through 2017.

Many safety experts and consumer advocates want to know when Ford first started getting complaints.

“There's a few things about this that really disturb me,” said David Friedman, the former head of NHTSA who is now with Consumers Union, the policy and action division of Consumer Reports.

Friedman said not only has Ford known about possible exhaust or carbon monoxide leaks for years, but Ford also sent technical service bulletins to their dealers on how to fix it.
“That tells me they know something is wrong,” Friedman said.

A News4 consumer investigation found technical service bulletins (TSBs) from 2012, 2014 and 2016, including one from 2012 about exhaust odor in Explorer model years 2011 through 2013. It tells mechanics how to repair the leaks.

Another from 2014 and including model years 2014 and 2015 also mention exhaust odor in the vehicle when the auxiliary climate control system is in use.

NHTSA also received complaints about Explorers. One from June 2011 said "the vehicle cabin is filled with exhaust fumes." Another from March 2011 said "my wife numerous times was having problem concentrating driving."

In all, there have been more than 2,700 complaints over six years, including three reported crashes and 41 injuries.

Many Explorer owners, including Susan Stazetski of White Plains, Maryland, are filing lawsuits against Ford, claiming their cars are making them sick.

“I'm still waking up every day with a migraine,” Stazetski said.

Stazetski's attorney, Jacqueline Herritt, said cases like hers could fall under the lemon law.

“This clearly falls within the parameters of the lemon law,” she said. “If people are driving around, inhaling this carbon monoxide, passing out, getting migraines, or all the things that are happening to them, obviously that's a serious safety defect.”

"Safety is our top priority," Ford told News4 in a statement. "We take these matters seriously. Ford engineers have been working with police departments and customers nationwide to address concerns, and are currently onsite in the Washington DC area working to inspect both vehicles. According to NHTSA, no substantive data or actual evidence has been obtained supporting a claim that any alleged injury or crash allegations have been the result of carbon monoxide poisoning. We encourage any driver with concerns to contact their Ford dealer or call our hotline at 888-260-5575."

NHTSA said it does not comment on open investigations.

NHTSA's preliminary investigation found no evidence to support claims that any of the injuries or crashes were the result of carbon monoxide poisoning, however it does say, "CO levels may be elevated in certain driving scenarios."

“If this is determined to be a safety defect, Ford will be on the hook for significant fines from NHTSA for failing to address this problem when they already knew about it,” Friedman said.

Several police departments nationwide, including Montgomery County, Maryland, have grounded their Ford Explorer fleets after several police officers reported being sickened from carbon monoxide leaking into their SUVs.

Source: Government Investigates Possible Carbon Monoxide Leaks in Ford Explorers - NBC4 Washington
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Saturday, September 9, 2017


U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
Your vehicle MAY be involved in a safety recall and MAY create a safety risk for you or your passengers. If left unrepaired, a potential safety defect could lead to injury or even death. Safety defects must be repaired by a dealer at no cost to you.
Why am I getting this email?
You are receiving this message because you requested to be notified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) if there is a safety recall that may affect your vehicle.
The following may apply to one or more of your vehicles if your vehicle is listed below. Click on the NHTSA Recall ID Number below to read more about the safety issue and the reason for the recall.
To find out if your specific passenger vehicle is included in the recall, use our VIN Look-up Tool.
NHTSA Recall ID Number :17V520
Manufacturer :Gulf States Toyota, Inc.
Subject :Improperly Torqued Roof Rails Fastener
MakeModelModel Years
What is a recall?
When a manufacturer or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determines that a vehicle creates an unreasonable risk to safety or fails to meet minimum safety standards, the manufacturer is required to fix that vehicle at no cost to the owner. That can be done by repairing it, replacing it, offering a refund (for equipment) or, in rare cases, repurchasing the car.
What should I do if my vehicle is included in this recall?
If your vehicle is included in this recall, it is very important that you get it fixed as soon as possible given the potential danger to you and your passengers if it is not addressed. You should receive a separate letter in the mail from the vehicle manufacturer, notifying you of the recall and explaining when the remedy will be available, whom to contact to repair your vehicle, and to remind you that the repair will be done at no charge to you. If you believe your vehicle is included in the recall, but you do not receive a letter in the mail from the vehicle manufacturer, please call NHTSA's Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236, or contact your vehicle manufacturer or dealership.
Thank you for your attention to this important safety matter and for your commitment to helping save lives on America's roadways.
Additional Resources 
Understanding Vehicle Recalls 
Recalls FAQ 
Thank you,
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 
United States Department of Transportation

To file a Vehicle safety-related complaint, please go online to our File a Complaint web page, or call us toll-free at 1-888-327-4236.
To find out more about NHTSA, visit, and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Ghost in the Engine: Cabbies, engineers, dying whistle-blower say unintended acceleration is real

Ghost in the Engine: Cabbies, engineers, dying whistle-blower say unintended acceleration is real

Real-life experiences of professional drivers mirror ignored warnings from engineers of cars that take off by themselves

By Amy Martyn

Photo (c) WCVB-TV
A nurse places earbuds for Betsy Benjaminson as she sits in front of the computer screen, preparing to give an interview through Skype to a reporter seven thousand miles away from her home in the Israeli border town of Sderot.
Her motor skills are failing and her speech is halted and slurred when we talk in January. But thanks to the magic of a computer software program, Benjaminson, fluent in Hebrew, Japanese and English, can still make a living as a translator, the lifelong career she stumbled on after attending the University of Tokyo to study art.
The clientele that pays Benjaminson for her translation services is no longer the same tier of high-powered, high-paying companies it once was, though not because of the disease that is attacking her nervous system. The promise and unanticipated failures of computer technology is also what has brought Benjaminson here, for a virtual interview, on a difficult mission; to provoke a powerful former client into suing her.
“I already have a death sentence and I have nothing to lose by being sued by Toyota,” the 60-year-old translator matter-of-factly.
Benjaminson Photo (c) Times of Israel

A long-forgotten blip

For most people in the world, Toyota Motor Company’s recall of cars that they warned could accelerate on their own is a long-forgotten blip on an otherwise trusted brand’s radar, a series of freak happenings caused by poorly fitted floor mats, sticky pedals, old people who can’t drive, or maybe a combination of the three. The issue, according to the corporation’s public relations team, is resolved.
But Benjaminson, using a bare bones website powered by a free blogging platform, has been trying to revive public interest in runaway cars. On her BlogSpot site, she has published dozens of internal Toyota documents that were never supposed to see the light of day. In her translations and her analysis, she asserts that Toyota’s recalls and even government investigations do not tell the full story.
"Basically the safety regulators are spineless because they have a revolving door to the industry,” she says.
Most of what Benjaminson has published are her own English translations of communications between Toyota’s executives and engineers in Japan, alongside the original source material in Japanese. The documents describe engineering and electrical issues, though whether they are relevant to the acceleration scandal is a matter of conflicting professional opinions. “When the accelerator pedal position sensor is abnormal, the all-speed Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) starts the vehicle moving forward by itself,” one Toyota engineer wrote, according to Benjaminson’s translation of a 2006 internal report. This sensor system, Benjaminson’s translation of the report goes on, “erroneously determines that the pedal was pressed, so it releases the brake and the vehicle starts accelerating.”
A more revealing document that Benjaminson has obtained and published gives a window into the thoughts of Toyota’s English-speaking corporate executives in California in 2007, shortly after Toyota issued a warning that loose floormats in some Camry cars could interfere with the accelerator pedal.
The infamous Toyota floor mat
“We want to thank you and your team for doing such a great job in limiting this to a floor mat recall!” George Morino, National Manager of Toyota’s Quality Compliance Department, wrote in a celebratory email to others in the company. “All the media outlets are calling it Floor Mat Recall,” Morino continued in a follow-up message. “Corporate Communications told me one contact couldn’t believe we were doing a recall on floor mats.”
Benjaminson has lost business by leaking these documents to journalists several years ago and then self-publishing them after the media moved on from the scandal. Toyota briefly tried to make her to take them down.
“We believe the release of these documents is a clear violation of the translator’s obligations to her employer at the time and Toyota,” Toyota’s press team tells ConsumerAffairs in an email. By continuing to keep these documents online, Benjaminson is also technically in violation of a 2014 federal court order -- “a clear violation of the protective order governing confidential materials in litigation against Toyota,” Toyota’s press team says, and for Benjaminson, this is exactly the point.
“I was hoping to raise the issue once again by provoking Toyota to sue me,” she explains. “It was very deliberate. But they ignored me as soon as they learned I had ALS.”
Benjaminson was diagnosed with the neurodegenerative condition better known as Lou Gehrig's disease last year, and with a prognosis for most patients of two to five years, she knows she doesn’t have much time to get her point across. In her final years, she has become an unlikely voice in a small chorus of people across the world who allege that Toyota -- and possibly other automakers -- have been failing to correct flaws in their cars' electronics and computer software, with horrific results.

"I can't stop"

Men smoke cigarettes, watch television, play cards and socialize in circles according to which country where they were born as they wait to get dispatched to Boston’s largest airport. The airport taxi pool itself is about the size of a strip mall parking lot -- ten lanes wide, each lane fitting approximately 25 tightly-parked cabs. With little source of shade in the small break area that directly faces the rows of parked cabs, drivers during slow periods wait in the stuffy taxi pool office building on this brutally humid afternoon. An outdoor wood-frame structure that some drivers use for prayer is now missing a wall and sits empty. The outdoor picnic tables won’t attract people until the sun sets.
Cab rank at Boston's Logan International (Staff photo)
Late afternoon on a recent Monday, two drivers get into an argument over what caused a former colleague to careen out of control and plow into a crowd of drivers at this very taxi pool only two weeks prior. Attention in the international media quickly turned to whether the crash was terror-related, but here at the taxi pool, it’s a different sort of debate.
“By accident!” says driver Rachid Kerany.
“By negligence!” his friend counters, raising his voice and his fist in the air.
“By accident!” Kerany yells back.
“By negligence!”
Neither driver witnessed the crash. Like most people working here today, their opinion is colored by the limited, contradictory information that has been released by the investigating police agency, as well bizarre circumstances of the accident itself.
Business was slow the day of the crash, July 3, 2017, so slow that drivers recall waiting four or five hours for a fare. One eyewitness, who says he was trying to cool down under a tree, remembers suddenly hearing the sound of honking -- something drivers are normally barred from doing at the the taxi pool. He looked in the direction where the sound came from and saw a cab going at least 60 miles an hour down the far left taxi pool lane, quickly barreling toward the break area.
The driver behind the wheel, 56-year-old Lutant Clenord, appeared to have lost control of his cab. In a moment, he jumped the curb, mowed down a small concrete pillar meant to protect drivers in the break area, and then kept going. “When the car hit this post here, airbags came out. And the car just slides.”
Clenord knocked down the wall of the worship center next, then crashed into an outdoor picnic table where a group of Ethiopian drivers were playing cards. Only a final impact against the concrete wall of the office building brought his vehicle to a stop. One driver had been pinned down in the process, leading others to run to his aid and help free him.
Clenord looked shaken up afterward, drivers say. “Maybe his shoes got stuck with the accelerator?” this eyewitness wonders, giving a brief interview as he runs to his own cab to get his next fare.
Police say that one driver was seriously hurt in the crash, while nine others have been treated for lesser injuries. Several drivers repeat rumors that one of those hit may not be able to drive again. As independent contractors, they worry how their injured colleagues will be able to pay their medical bills or support their families.

Sympathetic to the driver

Still, the majority of people interviewed today are sympathetic to Clenord. Even the police agency now trying to prosecute Clenord for the accident said that Clenord was cooperative from the get-go and had no red flags on his driving record. Massachusetts State Police initially described the case as a “tragic accident.”
“He’s known to be a very nice gentleman by his peers, and we have no history of violations or anything,” a police spokesman said on television shortly after the crash. Clenord reportedly had been driving cabs in Boston for 23 years without any problems.
But one week later, that same police department said they were charging Clenord with operating to endanger, a misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison. A police spokesman said the department “determined that the cause of the crash was operator error."
“I feel bad for him, he’s a nice man,” says a driver on his break. "He’s not like one of those...” He doesn’t finish his sentence.
“You can tell the bad drivers. You know, they’re driving drunk. We know each other,” another driver named Aziz Mouhib says. He describes six or seven as being part of a group of the “crazy” drivers. Clenord, whom drivers say seemed nice, quiet and kept to himself, wasn’t part of that group. “I can tell that guy, I don’t know him, [personally] but he’s a good driver.”
Aziz Mouhib (Staff photo)
While two witnesses tell ConsumerAffairs that Clenord was going at least 60 miles her hour, a local newspaper pinned the cab's speed even higher, at 80. Drivers stare in disbelief at a taxi pool lane that runs approximately 400 feet in total.
“No that’s a lie. That’s a lie,” insists Manny Hanny, even though he also didn’t see it happen. “He took off from there to here in 70? That’s a lot. It’s not like speeding car or a race car. Just Toyota Camry? I don’t think so.”
“He’s the weak part in this accident, the driver. You know?” Hanny continues. “For me to go 60 miles, 70 miles, an hour. Should be long distance.” He points to a thick, continuous concrete barrier that the transportation department installed between the break area and the taxi pool afterward. “They should have put it earlier.”
“Record is everything,” another driver adds, pointing to news reports saying that Clenord had nothing else on his driving record. “Maybe because a human being is involved, they can at least suspend him. I don’t think he has to be punished.”
Since getting charged, Clenord has stopped talking to media. Reached by telephone, he declined an interview request. The only clues into what could have happened, at least from his own first-hand perspective, come from  interviews he gave police and a local television station.  

"I thought I'm going to die..."

The New England News Network went to the scene on July 3, when Clenord was still there. He had already spoken to police, according to the channel, and subsequently agreed to give the news station some quotes.
New England News Network paraphrases Clenord saying that his car suddenly accelerated and that his brakes would not work. "When I see I’m going to hit something... I thought I’m going to die," Clenord told the channel. "I can’t stop. More spinning."
The interview describes Clenord as asking the police to examine his car. “I tried to explain everything, what happened, not my fault, they have to find out what the problem was in the car.”
Clenord told Massachusetts State Police the same story. When State Troooper Joseph Grant arrived at the scene, the cab was still smashed against the wall of the office building.  "At the scene, a brief discussion was had with the operator" of the crashed cab, Grant writes in his police report. "He stated that while trying to stop his cab by braking, that the car continued to accelerate and did not stop."
Photo via NECN
Toyota, in a statement, responds that it contacted Massachusetts State Police after the crash and offered to send a team over. “After looking into this, we learned that Massachusetts State Police conducted their own investigation,” Toyota spokesman Aaron Fowles tells ConsumerAffairs. “Although we offered to send one of our teams of engineers there, the police told us there was no need for additional analysis and they consider the case closed.”
Clenord’s car, according to drivers, was a hybrid model of the Toyota Camry. The police report indicates the car is a 2016 model. The Camry Hybrid is a popular vehicle at the taxi pool, but one that several drivers are now hesitant to trust because of their own experiences with sudden acceleration.

The story that the automobile industry and car enthusiasts want told...

Rare but persistent consumer complaints about cars that take off on their own and don’t respond to the brakes have been in the public eye dating back to a 1986 Dateline report about the Audi 5000. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's online consumer complaint database, a site where anyone can submit and search anonymous, voluntarily-submitted complaints by keyword, turns up over 2,000 reports from the past five years describing cars that “suddenly accelerated,” and 25 reports about a “Toyota” that “suddenly accelerated,” the most recent Toyota report coming from a Florida driver in April 2017.
But the popular, louder counter-narrative told by federal regulators in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the automotive industry, and automotive publications is that these cases aren’t real. These powerful voices have used their authority to dismiss most sudden acceleration cases as the result of mass hysteria, personal injury attorneys and driver error.

CHP fatality

The fiery car crash death of Mark Saylor and his family in 2009 briefly gave new legitimacy to the phenomenon that came to be known as sudden unintended acceleration. Mark Saylor drove for a living as an officer for the California Highway Patrol. On an off-duty errand with his family in a rental Lexus, Saylor’s brother-in-law called 911 from the back seat. 
“We’re in a Lexus. And our accelerator is stuck,” Chris Lastrella told the operator. “We're in trouble. There's no brakes.” Screams and Saylor’s voice yelling “pray” is heard. The Lexus, going as fast as 120 miles per hour, kept racing as the highway dead-ended and turned into a T-intersection. At the end of the road, the Lexus slammed into a Ford Explorer and then went flying in the air. It landed in a dry riverbed and burst into flames.
Saylor wreckage photo via NBC San Diego
Toyota had already issued a recall over floor mats that could affect the accelerator pedal in 2007. But after the enormous public scrutiny that Lastrella’s 911 call brought, Toyota issued a wider-ranging floor mat recall in 2009.
In 2010, after authorities and the news media reported more runaway car crashes in which the floormat did not appear to be a factor, Toyota issued subsequent recalls over accelerator pedals that it said could get stuck. The car-maker in total recalled over 9 million cars over floormats or pedals that it linked to sudden acceleration. Notably, the two glitches were entirely mechanical in nature, and therefore relatively easy to fix.  
There is nothing wrong with the electrical engineering of the cars, Toyota insisted. “The safety of Toyota's Electronic Throttle Control System (ETCS) has been repeatedly confirmed by multiple independent evaluations,” Toyota’s spokesman Aaron Fowles writes to ConsumerAffairs.
The Justice Department and Toyota finally reached a settlement in 2014. In exchange for avoiding criminal prosecution, Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine for attempting to cover up the floor mat and sticky pedal defects.

"Pedal misapplication" re-emerges

Since then, the popular narrative that Toyota’s sudden acceleration scandal was the result of driver error has re-emerged, thanks in large part to government agencies who have followed the automobile industry’s lead in blaming “pedal misapplication” for most of the reported cases.
NHTSA and NASA joined forces to conduct a ten-month investigation into sudden acceleration in Toyota cars. The auto-safety regulators concluded in a widely-cited paper in 2011 that pedal misapplication caused the problem.“...pedal misapplication remains an identified cause of some UAs [unintended accelerations],” the NASA report says, with a caveat that “it is not possible to accurately estimate from available survey and laboratory data how frequently this error is an underlying cause.”
In news releases, the Department of Transportation was much more unequivocal about the findings. The DOT announced that NASA found “no evidence” of electromagnetic interference or any other electronic-based malfunction that could provoke an acceleration event. “The jury is back,” then-transportation secretary Ray LaHood (now an industry lobbyist) told reporters. “The verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period.”
The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration two years ago reiterated that 16,000 car crashes were caused by drivers who mistook the gas for the brake. "Wear flat-soled and light-weight shoes whenever you’re in the driver’s seat," the agency advises.
Last year influential New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell revisited the Toyota scandal on his podcast. Toyota had ultimately agreed to pay the Saylor family a $10 million settlement, but after failed attempts to recreate sudden unintended acceleration while on a closed course with a so-called “car guy,” Gladwell decided that the Saylor case “sounds a lot more like an unintended acceleration case in which driver error played a role.”
Automotive publications like Jalopnik and Car and Driver took a similar view. Another highly-publicized Toyota case, in which the driver called 911 but avoided an accident, was later deemed a hoax by Jalopnik after a reporter discovered that the driver had previously filed for bankruptcy. “Toyota drivers are old and can't tell the difference between an accelerator and a brake,” Jalopnik has assured readers in its coverage about sudden acceleration.
Betsy Benjaminson, the Israeli translator, was initially oblivious to the sudden acceleration controversy across the world when she took a job for Toyota through a translation agency in 2011.
“There was hundreds and hundreds of documents with many clues in them. I wasn't looking for clues but they popped out at me over and over at me,” she says. In reading into those clues, she has become part of a parallel version of events that takes a vastly different perspective on the sudden unintended acceleration scandal.
In that world, much of it in the courtroom, owners of cars that were never recalled are nonetheless being awarded settlement money from automotive companies after saying this terrifying ordeal happened to them. One driver who says his Toyota took off by itself has been freed from prison. But countless more stories, according to the people in this universe, are untold. Engineers who testify in court that sudden unintended acceleration is real and vastly under-reported say that for most drivers, there is no recourse should another person get maimed or killed as a result of a one-in-a-million computer glitch.

The engineering experts who tell a different story

Bob and Carol Kerestes waited five years to watch the cab driver whom Chicago prosecutors said was responsible for their son’s death face a jury.
With a passenger in the back of his Ford Crown Victoria at 6 o’clock in the morning on August 12, 2012, veteran cabbie John Kesse reached at least 100 miles an hour on Milwaukee avenue, a fire department official later told reporters. Kesse’s driving history up until that day had not been perfect. He reportedly had racked up 33 tickets for minor infractions in his 25-year career, and had been involved in another accident on the job in 1998, though he was not ticketed in that case. The accident in August 2012 would prove to be uniquely catastrophic.
That morning in August, Kesse used the oncoming lane to weave around traffic and ran a red light, prosecutors said. As the cab approached a bus stop, it jumped a curb.
Kesse crash photo via NBC Chicago
Kesse would later say that the problem came from his Ford Crown Victoria. Out on a $200,00 bond two years after the crash, Kesse filed a federal lawsuit against Ford Motor Company and said in the suit that his cab that morning had “suddenly accelerated automatically at a high rate of speed.” The brakes did not respond, Kesse charged. Fearing that he would crash into another vehicle, he decided to make a drastic, evasive move of hitting a light pole on the sidewalk.
The driving maneuver did not stop his cab. Kesse knocked down one light pole, then another, prosecutors said, before his vehicle flipped and caught fire. Kesse and his passenger escaped alive thanks to witnesses who helped pull them out. But somewhere in the wreckage on the sidewalk, Kesse’s cab also struck a person. Erick Kerestes, an engineering student at the University of Chicago, was waiting for his bus that morning when an impact with the car sent him flying 200 feet. Kerestes was pronounced dead at age 30.
Police found no alcohol or drugs in Kesse’s system. The Cook County District Court nonetheless arrested Kesse during a court hearing the following month and charged him with reckless homicide and reckless driving.
Local news reports about the tragedy focused on Kesse’s somewhat troubling driving record and the dangers that pedestrians face at the hands of irresponsible cab drivers. But little attention was paid to Ford Motor Company’s own record. 

Hundreds of Ford lawsuits

Consumers have filed hundreds of lawsuits for decades alleging that their Fords  have unexpectedly accelerated. Some of those lawsuits describe drivers who were killed, brain damaged or paralyzed. Ford Motor Company won a majority of the 507 acceleration lawsuits it faced between 1985 and 2002, according to an analysis that Bloomberg News published in 2003. Later that year, an Ohio-based personal injury attorney named Tom Murray secured a settlement with Ford behalf of a Cleveland minister who fell into a coma after crashing into his neighbor’s house. The minister’s wife said his 1987 Ford Crown Victoria took off on its own, and Murray argued in court that the problem was rooted in the Ford’s electronics.  
Murray’s firm often handles Ford sudden acceleration lawsuits now and is among twenty law firms that are currently representing drivers in a 2013 class action lawsuit, alleging that Ford failed to install a brake override system or other fail-safe systems to prevent sudden acceleration. The attorneys are currently fighting to get to a copy of Ford’s source code, the code that powers the software inside the company’s cars.
But high-dollar civil lawsuits are a privilege for those who can afford those attorneys' services and don't tell the full story.
A former Massachusetts police officer named Stewart Merry was also driving a Ford Crown Victoria during patrol in 2007 when he slammed into civilian Bonney Burns’ car at more than 50 miles an hour, killing her. At his first criminal trial, Merry’s defense attorney said his police cruiser had mechanical problems that caused it to surge on its own. But a jury found Merry guilty and his attorney later backed away from the sudden acceleration story, telling a judge during a re-trial that Merry had suffered a seizure. That argument didn’t work either. Merry was sentenced to three years of supervised probation.
In 2009, a 22-year-old driver in Australia named Chase Weir called police to say that he couldn’t stop his Ford Explorer. They cleared the highway and ordered him not to use his hand brake, concerned that the car would flip. Weir told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that he forced the car to slow by standing on his brakes, pushing down with as much of his body weight as he could, while pulling the handbrake simultaneously. 
With Kesse’s own lawsuit against Ford languishing, his criminal trial this July instead became the first chance for a jury to decide whether Erick Kerestes’ life was ended by reckless cab driver now trying to profit off the crash with a lawsuit or the sloppy engineering of a profit-driven corporation. To bolster their argument that Kesse was driving recklessly, the Cook County Court relied on the expert witness testimony of a consultant who used to work for Ford.   

"They're all safe"

Dr. Thomas Livernois defends Toyota and other car companies in high-profile cases and formerly worked for Ford as an electronics engineer. He tells ConsumerAffairs that his inside view into automobile assembly lines and Ford's electronics has given him confidence that most cars on the road are safe. "In my assessment, cars each year, are safer and safer. On a whole, they're all safe. If you go back to a car 15 years ago, it’s safe for its intended use."
“This idea that car companies continue to build vehicles that everybody knows is unsafe, that’s not my experience.” 
For the Kesse trial, Livernois was tasked with convincing a jury that Kesse’s car did not accelerate on its own, but he did not need to provide an alternate scenario. "Maybe he got his sandal stuck in the pedal. Maybe he panicked and hit the gas instead of the brake. I have no evidence about what happened," Livernois says. "He’s of the age where that begins to happen. As people get to middle-age and beyond, people don’t think as quickly. It’s called hyper vigilance.”
But Kesse’s defense team had their own electrical engineering expert to put on the stand, someone who does not share the same optimistic view of the automobile industry. Electrical engineer Samuel Sero has managed the engineering operations of nuclear power plants, industrial plants and municipal water purifiers. He also offers private consulting to attorneys working on technical cases that involve appliances, elevators, chain saws, sprinkler systems and the conditions that lead to “slip and falls,” to name just a few specialties listed on his resume.

"A cover your ass group"

In an interview with ConsumerAffairs several months before Kesse’s trial, Sero gave a blunt assessment of the federal regulators who have blamed pedal-mistaken drivers for the majority of sudden unintended acceleration cases. “NHTSA is nothing more than a cover your ass group for the auto industry,” Sero tells ConsumerAffairs. Toyota’s determination that its surge of sudden unintended acceleration cases was caused by a floormats and sticky pedals, Sero adds, is “crap.”
“I thought for sure, at some point in time, these people would get smart and take care of the problem and do something. But apparently they haven't.”
Sero became interested in sudden unintended acceleration by chance -- his friends, mechanical forensic engineers, told him about frequent calls they received from drivers who claimed their cars just took off. That was in 1989.
“I got really curious if this could happen and if so how,” Sero recalls. He says it didn’t take long for him to find defects in the car's electrical engineering that could make it vulnerable to surging on its own, even at a time before people realized just how much of a car is controlled by a computer. "I told people for years that this is an electronic malfunction that's occurring.”
In older, less computerized cars, the cruise control system is connected to a vacuum pump, which pulls on a cable to keep a vehicle at a set speed. Sero says he found that it only took 3 tenths of a volt signal to interfere with that cable, and posits that electromagnetic interference can make those signals go haywire.
The results vary by manufacturer and year, but generally, Sero says the problem worsened as more automakers moved to “drive by wire,” the automotive industry's term for using electrical systems and computer software to perform tasks that, before the 1980s, had been performed mechanically.

"100 million lines of code"

"You no longer have mechanical linkage from the accelerator pedal to the throttle body," he explains. According to the marketing material of BlackBerry, which helps produce automobile software, the average high-end sedan is now powered by over 100 million lines of code, “dwarfing the amount of software in the Space Shuttle.”
Sero claims to be among the first people who drew a link between electronics and sudden acceleration, but eventually others relied on this theory too. A British electrical engineer named Dr. Antony Anderson, a consultant who analyzes failed machinery for a living, got a call from a local news station asking him to recreate unintended acceleration in Ford Explorers for their television program seventeen years ago. After researching the issue, he determined that phenomenon is rooted in electronics and the automotive industry can and should do more to reduce the likelihood of it happening.  
"There have been a number of cases where as a result of a SA [sudden acceleration] incident, drivers have been prosecuted for vehicular homicide and have been sentenced lengthy prison sentences," Anderson wrote in a 2014 article for The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. "Criminal Courts in the USA have tended to accept prosecution arguments that if no physical evidence of a malfunction in the cruise control or electronic throttle can be found, the SA incident must have been caused by driver error."
 Among the cases that Anderson has worked as an expert witness for are that of a wealthy Florida mother named Mary Hill. She crashed her BMW into a tree while her daughter and the girl’s friend sat in the back seat in 2000. The high-speed impact killed both girls, and the jury didn’t buy her defense in 2004 that the luxury car accelerated by itself. Hill is currently serving the remainder of her manslaughter sentence in a Florida prison.
Anderson maintains that people like Hill are wrongly blamed by police and the courts for software or electrical problems that may be incredibly rare, but aren’t unheard of. Among the major design flaws that Anderson says are problematic across the automobile industry are the computerization of “safety critical features” without outside scrutiny from a third party to engineer to ensure that the code is as bug-free as possible.
In a phone interview months before Boston cab driver Lutant Clenord crashed into his colleagues at the Logan International Airport or before Chicago cab driver John Kesse faced a jury, Anderson describes a hypothetical scenario that could have applied to either cab driver. “The driver has often been driving the vehicle for quite a long period of time,” Anderson says. “They’re not novices. They’re often experienced drivers.”
“Sometimes it’s after they’ve done a bit of steering. Sometimes it's just as they’re braking. And there’s slight variations between one car and another. But they really do take off. And if somebody happens to be in the way, they’re likely to be badly injured or killed.”
Automobile news organizations and industry defenders like to point out that experts who study sudden acceleration are typically paid by private attorneys for their testimony in court. The engineers counter that there is a closely knit relationship between NHTSA and the automobile industry, a relationship that even Joan Claybrook, the head of NHTSA under President Carter’s administration, described in 2010 congressional testimony as “lap dog, not a watch dog.” 
Dr. Phil Koopman, a software engineer and faculty member at Carnegie Mellon University, can claim double potential conflicts of interest. An expert in embedded systems, or the academic term for the computer software that powers large electrical machine like cars, Koopman has had years of his research sponsored by General Motors and has worked for Ford Motor Company as an expert witness in patent trials. The engineer currently conducts stress and safety testing on self-driving vehicles, though he can’t name his specific clients. “I still get emails, phone calls from people who say they've had an unintended acceleration incident. I get these on a monthly basis."

"Definitely a thing"

Despite his close and profitable relationship with car companies, Koopman is among the engineers who insist that sudden unintended acceleration is a real phenomenon. If Toyota were willing to pay him to fix this problem, he says he would happily oblige.“Sudden acceleration is definitely a thing, and it existed even before computer-run cars,” Koopman tells ConsumerAffairs in a telephone interview.
He points to one rarely-discussed recall that originated in Japan: in 2014, Honda Motor Company announced that it was voluntarily recalling 175,000 of its Fit hybrid models abroad because of a software defect that the company flat-out acknowledged could cause sudden unintended acceleration. “So saying it can’t possibly happen is ridiculous,” he says.
Koopman learned about the phenomenon from attorneys who sought his help in lawsuits against Toyota, but studying potential flaws in embedded software has also inspired him to publish reports and presentations on sudden acceleration during his university hours.
Laying out the problem to non-engineers, Koopman and the other engineers like to compare a car’s software to a smartphone or computer that acts buggy, freezes and crashes, requiring a reboot.
After the computer or phone restarts, they ask, can you show people how it crashed earlier? Can you prove that the system crashed, and recreate the scenario to make it happen again? "The car companies routinely go to the theory of pedal misapplication,” Koopman says, and while that may explain some cases, he said that this theory is wrongly blamed for all of the cases.
“Why is it so hard to believe that a software bug can cause a problem?” he asks.
In this video, Koopman talks about his research into Toyota incidents.

Software not regulated

Software engineers say that the quality of coding in cars should make the prospect not all difficult to believe. In 2010, as NHTSA and NASA were in the middle of their high-profile study on Toyota, Dr. Anderson and two other engineers, Dr. Brian Kirk and Euring Keith Armstrong, published an open letter asking the regulators to solve “the three decades-old problem of sudden unintended acceleration” and to examine in particular the “electronic systems directly controlling” the throttles of many cars.
They point out in their letter that the automobile industry is not legally compelled to employ independent third-parties to assess the safety of their software, and the NHTSA does not regulate automobile software quality. A voluntary industry-created automobile software safety standard, called ISO 26262, is “deficient in many ways,” the researchers charged.
Betsy Benjaminson is not an engineer, just a translator who developed a knack for translating technical papers. The Toyota project she was hired to oversee was never explained to her. Benjaminson now believes she was helping Toyota prepare for a pending investigation from the Department of Justice. Benjaminson says she had somewhat anti-corporate views in the past, and tried to live off the grid on a farm at one point. But she had never been interested in literally trying to take a corporation down. 
She felt compelled to share her findings with the world because she believed the risk to public safety was too grave to ignore. “I wasn’t looking for clues but they popped out at me over and over, that there’s something wrong with the electronics."
In 2012, Benjaminson decided to provide some of her key documents to reporters. CNN that year published a story reporting that Toyota engineers found sensor problem in a Lexus 460.
"The cruise control activates by itself at full throttle when the accelerator pedal position sensor is abnormal," the document says, according to CNN’s translation of the leaked source material, which they hired three agencies of their own to confirm. Toyota responded by disputing the accuracy of the translation, but refusing to supply their own translation.
Somehow, Benjaminson managed to keep her job another year and a half before anyone noticed that she was the most likely culprit behind this leak. 
Benjaminson now has to work for what she describes as “the lower level, lower paying, more anonymous kind of clients.”   
“I was pretty naive when I got started with this. I thought I could make some difference,” she says. The Justice Department would later fine Toyota $1.2 billion for covering up sudden acceleration, but even that settlement did not determine that the electronics played a role, insteading sticking with the floor mat and pedal theory.
“They have not fixed them and people are still dying. There's millions, many millions of cars on the road with very defective software.”
She is currently trying to write a book but has otherwise not profited from the sudden acceleration controversy or any of the related litigation. "People do not reach out to me very much,” she says. “I normally know that I can have nothing to do with victims because their lawyers won't want contact with me. So I don’t try."
Attorneys in the business of suing car companies have steered clear from Benjaminson's work. “I admire her bravery in doing it but I can’t condone her methodology because it did violate some court orders,” says Don Slavik, an engineer and personal injury attorney who sues automobile companies.
Major legal milestones won by Slavik or his peers tell a similar story of a gap between cars that were recalled and cars that drivers say should have been.
Koua Fong Lee, a father in Minnesota, was convicted in 2007 of vehicular manslaughter after rear-ending an Oldsmobile and killing three people in the crash. The jury didn’t buy his story that his 1996 Toyota Camry had accelerated on its own. But after Mark Saylor's dramatic car crash and others hit the headlines, the Innocence Project of Minnesota in 2010 took up Lee’s cause.
"I think we heard in total from, gosh, about 40 or 50 drivers who had similar situations with their cars,” Julie Jonas, the legal director of the Innocence Project of Minnesota, tells ConsumerAffairs.
Among those drivers was Ron Neumeister, a professional pilot with Sun Country Airlines. He testified on Lee's behalf about his own experience with sudden unintended acceleration in a 1996 Camry. 
Lee, free from prison after a judge listened to the Innocence Project and the other drivers, joined the family members of those killed by his car in a lawsuit that years later resulted in an $11 million judgement against Toyota.
The 2005 Camry that Jean Bookout drove before crashing into a wall and killing her best friend was also not included in any sudden acceleration recall. Bookout, with the help of a team of attorneys, made the case in an Oklahoma City civil court that defective software in Toyota’s computers was to blame for her best friend’s death.

"Hundreds of settlements"

In a first for a case centering on Toyota’s electronic throttle system, Toyota lost to Bookout in 2013 and abruptly settled. The jury found that Toyota was liable for the crash and awarded $1.5 million to Jean Bookout and $1.5 million to the family of her friend who died. The jury was supposed to then decide on punitive damages for the second phase of the trial, but Toyota settled before that could take place. 
Experts say that the company has been settling ever since. “After Bookout, all of a sudden, it all shut down,” Koopman says. "Now we're literally hundreds of settlements later.”
Such settlement are nearly always "sealed," meaning that they are confidential and both sides agree not to disclose the terms. This is a tactic that is intended to prevent other consumers from finding out about the settlements and filing their own suits. 
Toyota has in recent years installed a brake override system in many of its cars. Yet for the car that Bookout drove,“there is no fix that has ever been proposed by Toyota,” Koopman adds. “To be clear, there are a large number of vehicles that Toyota never did anything to.”
In an email, Toyota tells ConsumerAffairs that it does not have a comment on Koopman’s assertions. Dr. Livernois, the former Ford engineer who defends car companies, says that Toyota’s settling is not necessarily an admission of guilt.
"For whatever reason, if the jury is not clear on what actually happened, then they tend to not make a tough decision. They tend to say, ‘I don’t want to blame this woman for her friend's death and this car accident,’" he said. 

"Incredibly difficult to prove"

Livernois characterizes any potential software glitches as incredibly rare and difficult to prove. "It requires several random things to occur at the same time, several random failures to occur at the same time, and then disappear and leave no evidence.”
But the industry critics counter that there is enough uncertainty to leave open computer glitches as a possibility. “There some bugs that are inherently not possible to reproduce. It can’t be done. You’d have to drive around one hundred million miles to see it once,” Koopman argues. "With millions of cars, something that happens one in a million times is going to happen to somebody.”
Expressing this view has been a tough sell. "I’ve been called a charlatan, scam artist, conning people into using the auto industry,” says Sero, the engineer who testified for the criminal defense of the Chicago cab driver. "People are like, this is an electronic problem? Duh. Hell, I’ve been saying it for 25 years."
But perhaps more consumers are willing to believe that the problem could be real and electrical. On July 28, after a four-day trial, Chicago cab driver Kesse was acquitted on all homicide and reckless driving charges in the crash that took Erick Kerestes’ life. The verdict, according to the Chicago Tribune reporter there, was so devastating to Kerestes’ family that they stormed out of court.
Ford Motor Company’s press team did not coment on the Kesse case.“While certainly tragic in certain circumstances, NHTSA has investigated alleged unintended accelerations many times over many years and has concluded that driver error is the predominant cause of these events," Ford spokesman Brad Carroll tells ConsumerAffairs in an email. "Ford takes the safety of our customers very seriously, which is why the company’s designs and specifications have numerous redundant fail safe features that prevent a vehicle from accelerating on its own.”

Cab drivers say it could have happened to them

Working at the Boston airport taxi pool isn’t easy, and drivers say that any of the unfavorable factors here could have played a role in the accident on July 3 that Lutant Clenord is facing criminal charges for. Stiff competition from Uber has resulted in cabbies working shifts that last as long as 18 hours to make the same living that they used to. Some drivers say they’ve heard of other drivers sleeping in their cars as they wait for their number to be called. There is not enough shade provided in the break area, and a supervisor at one point approaches three drivers sitting in a small sliver of shade they’ve found, to ask where the chairs that they are sitting on came from. None of them has an answer.
Most drivers, out of the nearly two dozen at the airport interviewed, seem incredulous that Clenord’s Toyota would just surge forward on its own, even if they are sympathetic to his situation. But there are exceptions. Five cab drivers who spoke to ConsumerAffairs describe having experienced their own bouts with sudden acceleration. Three of those drivers agreed to attach their names to those stories.
Aziz Mouhib gives the most vivid account. Mouhib stares at the taxi pool with all of the confidence of an eyewitness who saw the accident, even though he didn’t. “It’s a car defect."
Mouhib, 46, has been driving for 25 years. About two and half years ago, he estimates, he was taking a passenger through the Ted Williams Tunnel, a major highway in Boston. On some days, the traffic on the highway crawls as slow as a parking lot. This day was luckily not one of those. As he approached Exit 26, he says, the cab, a 2010 Toyota Camry, suddenly surged. Telling the story now, he rapidly kicks his foot down to demonstrate frantically hitting the brakes.  He remembers pressing down on the brake and getting nothing in return.
“I mean there was no brake at all. Nothing! Nothing. Zero brakes.”
This lasted for five seconds, he thinks. Then the car returned to normal again, obeying his command to slow down. “If there was traffic at the time, I would have crashed into somebody."
Looking back, Mouhib says he should have pulled the hand brake or put the cab into neutral. But in the moment, the shock of what was happening overtook his rational thinking. “When it happens to you, trust me. You don’t know what to do.You’re just thinking, you’re going to die."
Once the Camry began responding to brakes again, Mouhib pulled over. His passenger looked terrified. Mouhib kicked him out. “I had to. I don’t want to put him or put myself in danger.” From there, he took the car straight to his body shop. He wanted his oil, his engine, everything possible checked. The mechanic could not find anything wrong. The problem has never reappeared.
Yet that experience has made Mouhib certain that Clenord is not at fault. “It could happen to anybody,” Mouhib says. “That’s why he was speeding like 70 or 80 miles. There’s no way you could speed 70 miles here. No way.”
A friend named Aziz Taghi says that a similar situation happened to him while driving a Ford Crown Victoria for work years ago. “How can you 80 miles from that way?” Taghi agrees. “Fast means, something wrong with the car. Not the driver.”
Yves Charles, a 42-year-old, says that he was behind the wheel of a Camry hybrid that once surged as he drove on Ted Williams. After not getting a response from the brakes, he says he moved his foot underneath the gas pedal and pushed it upward, a move that he says returned the car to normal. This model of Toyota was later recalled for accelerator issues, and Charles says the problem did not return after he took it in for service.
Several other cabbies express reservations about the growing use of electronics in cars. “I don’t really trust the hybrid system,” Wysmith Guillaume says, “because the computer controls everything.”
Only a few drivers believe that Clenord deserves to face jail time, and those who do base this opinion in their trust that the Massachusetts State Police would have found something wrong with Clenord's car if there was a defect.

Police training may not be enough

The problem with this line of thinking, according to engineers, is that diagnosing a computer bug in a car requires an advanced computer engineering degree, not police training. Sometimes, evidence like seeing a brake light can free drivers, but Dr. Koopman says that lack of a brake light doesn’t necessarily mean that the brakes weren’t failing.
While police do have access to a car’s black box data, engineers say that this data is unreliable at detecting computer failures. If the brakes aren’t working, the black box won’t register that the driver tried to use them, Koopman says. “In most cases the police have not considered the possibility of the car is at fault. They automatically blame the driver.”
Police who do contemplate sudden acceleration as a factor in car accidents are left with circumstantial evidence, as a recent case in Erie demonstrates. On July 7, three grandfathers were traveling in a 2009 Hyundai Sante Fe when the car crashed into the back of a truck trailer. Surveillance footage shows the Hyundai speeding in excess of 100 miles per hour and swerving around traffic skillfully, according to police who reviewed the footage, leading one police sergeant to tell the local newspaper that the car must have had a mechanical issue. Erie’s Police chief, in interviews with the local paper, mentioned consumer reports about Hyundai cars with sticky accelerators.
In fact, regulators in Singapore and South Korea have both launched investigations into suddenly accelerating Hyundai cars after a series of cab crashes and videos purporting to document runaway cars on YouTube scared drivers abroad. But the regulators, like their counterparts in the United States, still blame drivers for the bizarre crashes.
George Barnes, the nephew of one of the passengers killed in the Erie crash, says that driving so fast would be uncharacteristic of the men. "Sixty miles an hour was speeding to them,” Barnes tells ConsumerAffairs.
In an email, Hyundai says they have sent engineers of their own to Erie to look at this accident. “Our investigator will also look at the incident/data along with the local police investigator,” Hyundai spokesman Derek Joyce writes.
With only automobile companies having full access to their own source code and automobile companies insisting that pedal misapplication is the cause of these accidents, being able to prove that a car’s faulty computers are to blame is hopelessly out of reach for most people. “It’s tough. Because it takes a lot of resources. These are million dollar cases,” Koopman says of the civil litigation he has worked on. "An average person who is in this situation, there is not a lot that they can do. Car companies aren’t going to let them look at the source code."
Lutant Clenord does not drive cabs in the city of Boston anymore. Police suspended his commercial license. And two days after the crash, Trooper Joseph Grant spoke with a trooper from the department's accident reconstruction arm.
That investigator "stated a preliminary report revealed that the accident was caused by human error not mechanical.That at no time had the brake been activated on the white taxi cab. All the pressure was applied to the gas pedal." 
The technical analysis ends there. Clenord told police that his brakes did not work, and the police report does not explain how the accident investigator came to the opposite conclusion. The police report indicates that a more detailed accident report is pending. Massachusetts State Police spokesman Trooper Paul Sullivan tells ConsumerAffairs that criminal defendants can be arraigned before accident investigators release their final determinations. Sullivan says that investigators typically examine a car's skid marks, physical damage and black box data to determine what caused a crash, though he did not have information about the specifics of this case. 
With little other technical information released by the police, it is not yet clear whether they have at least considered the possibility raised by software engineers that a computer glitch would not have recorded Clenord's attempts to use the brakes. The question of whether Clenord or other drivers are being prosecuted for product defects well beyond their control is one that the American judicial system may not be ready to answer.