Something to keep in mind with all the ruckus about Toyota's sudden acceleration

This WSJ piece puts the current discussion in some perspective. It is quite possible that people are getting freaked out over drivers making mistakes.

It took Audi 15 years to rebuild its U.S. sales to the level the company had achieved before the CBS show "60 Minutes" made sudden acceleration a household phrase in November 1986.

The "60 Minutes" segment, featuring the late Ed Bradley, showed owners of the Audi 5000 sedan who said their cars had suddenly and unexpectedly surged out of control. Some of the people were suing the company.

To dramatize the problem, "60 Minutes" showed an Audi 5000 moving on its own. Later, a consultant for plaintiffs lawyers disclosed he had altered the car's transmission for the shot, according to media reports.

In a subsequent report, the show discussed a 1989 study sponsored by the U.S. government that concluded the sudden acceleration in Audis was largely the result of driver mistakes, not mechanical issues.

A "60 Minutes" spokesman said, "There's nothing to add to the last update, broadcast 21 years ago, that included the NHTSA findings." . . .

Another article in the WSJ raises real questions about whether the latest incident involved fraud.

On Monday James Sikes, 61 years old, called 911 and told the operator his blue 2008 Toyota Prius had sped up to more than 90 miles per hour on its own on Interstate 8 near San Diego. He eventually brought the vehicle to a stop after a California Highway patrolman pulled alongside Mr. Sikes and offered help.

During and after the incident, Mr. Sikes said he was using heavy pressure on his brake pedal at high speeds.

But the investigation of the vehicle, carried out jointly by safety officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Toyota engineers, didn't find signs the brakes had been applied at full force at high speeds over a sustained period of time, the three people familiar with the investigation said.

The brakes were discolored and showed wear, but the pattern of friction suggested the driver had intermittently applied moderate pressure on the brakes, these people said, adding the investigation didn't find indicators of the heavy pressure described by Mr. Sikes. . . .

The investigation's findings aren't 100% conclusive and still must be finalized. But they are likely to cast doubt on how the situation was described by Mr. Sikes. . . .

During the 911 call, the operator urged Mr. Sikes to shift the car into neutral. He later said he was afraid doing so might cause the car to "flip" or shift into reverse. . . .

A reader points me to an interesting article by Michael Fumento that indicates that at least the most recent event in California looks fraudulent. Thanks to juandos for the link.

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Blogger juandos said...

Good Evening Professor John...

Did you get to read Mike Fumento's piece in Forbes?

If not you should give it a quick glance...

Toyota Hybrid Horror Hoax

Well Jim Sikes has been outted as a fraud...

3/14/2010 8:49 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Thank you very much for this link. I will add it to the top of the article. There was also an article that came out in the WSJ that made many of the same points and had some initial information on the brake usage that Fumento was only guessing at.

3/15/2010 12:19 AM  
Blogger Lazy Bike Commuter said...

this morning on Car and Driver... Applying the brakes will most certainly stop a car, even if one is holding the gas pedal to the floor:


I would definitely pin a very high percentage of these accidents on the driver. Even if the car accelerated unexpectedly, common sense measures should easily be able to bring it to a safe stop.

3/15/2010 11:23 AM  
Blogger Lazy Bike Commuter said...

My Ranger actually did get the pedal stuck under the floor mat when I was driving a few months ago...solved very simply by pushing in the clutch, grabbing the mat, and throwing it behind my seat. The only time it affected my safety in the lest was when I leaned a bit forward to grab the mat..and that was not terribly unsafe because I was not in traffic at the time.

3/15/2010 11:29 AM  
Blogger Mike Gallo said...

FYI, never shift a car moving at high speed into neutral. Just turn the engine off. Shifting into neutral in an automatic tranny (in many designs, at least) causes one of the drums to go from speed X in one direction to driveshaft speed Y in the opposite direction instantly, and X + Y can often exceed 15,000-20,000 RPM. This can actually grenade some transmissions.

3/15/2010 11:30 AM  
Blogger Bill Bulgier said...

I made a simular comment on a blog post.

3/15/2010 11:40 AM  
Blogger OldeForce said...

Please have your readers remind their friends [and people they meet on the street] that you do NOT pump the breaks on a modern car. It counters the ant-lock braking system. Had a talk with a 40ish woman with a Prius yesterday - she thought she had to pump the brakes.
Liked the note on neutral and a damaged tranny - a manual downshifted at high speeds will usually, especially on a slick road, lock up the drivetrain.
Dr. J, keep up the books and blog!

3/15/2010 4:20 PM  

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