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Feds find majority of Toyota unintended acceleration cases were people hitting wrong pedal

Illustration for article titled Feds find majority of Toyota unintended acceleration cases were people hitting wrong pedal

The U.S. government's ten-month probe into Toyota validates the initially unpopular argument we at Jalopnik put forth at the start of this unintended acceleration witch hunt: This was a case of people pressing the wrong pedal. In every way, this was Toyota's beige-ification of cars biting them back, and hard.


The probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA scientists examined 280,000 lines of Toyota software, 3,054 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles and several dozen individual vehicles. "There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

(The NASA team did find one theoretical way for a Toyota's electronic throttle control to screw up and open wide even when the brake was depressed. But doing so requires two inputs at a precise electrical resistance; any variation and the car's warning lights come on, and NASA reviewed Toyotas own warranty data and found no evidence of any such faults.)


NHTSA officials said the causes were the ones they suspected all along — bulky floormats, sticking gas pedals and driver mistakes. "We found that when a complaint alleged the brakes didn't work, what most likely happened was pedal misapplication," said deputy NHTSA administrator Ron Medford.

Yet the proposed solution? More electronics and more regulations. NHTSA officials say they'll now push forward with three new rules for vehicles, requiring brake-override software, electronic data recorders and new rules for keyless ignition so that people don't get confused when they have to shut down a car by holding a button for one-Mississippi two-Mississippi. NHTSA will also study pedal design, to see whether vehicles need to be designed with podiatry standards in mind.

In the heat of the recalls last fall, everyone who complained of sudden acceleration had the benefit of the doubt, and even today, LaHood tried to claim that "nobody up here has even insinuated the term 'driver error.'" Why not? We know what Toyota did wrong: it's mechanical and business mistakes led directly to four deaths and several injuries, and it faces hundreds of lawsuits and a dented reputation for ignoring defects. We know what's wrong with Toyota's software: Nothing. Why avoid discussing what many drivers did wrong — mistake the gas for the brake?

Human nature suggests some of those who claimed sudden acceleration problems without a defect will likely go on believing the government just overlooked something rather than admit a smidgen of responsibility. New rules for safety technology will take several months, if not years, to put into place, while the technology on vehicles will require several more years to filter into production. Even then, it will only protect those who buy new models, not the ones on the road today.


Where's the call to improve American drivers? Where's the charter to make driving an essential skill rather than a chore which should be handed off to computers as much as possible? If part of the Toyota imbroglio stems from people becoming disconnected from driving their vehicles, part of the answer should be to restore that connection — rather than making every vehicle as somnambulant as the worst Toyota.

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I don't understand this "mistaking the gas for the brake" business even being a problem except in the short distance cases, like running into something in a parking lot or driving through the back of the garage or running into someone while braking down for a light. Here's why:

1) Pedal positioning is muscle memory. It should not require conscious thought. That's why they've been where they are for nearly a century. If you have to think about where the pedals are and you're out of the "I'm just learning how to drive" phase, you're fired. Stop the car. Get out now. Seriously. Before you kill someone.

2) Maintaining a safe distance from the person in front of you really helps.

3) The brakes in any and every car on the road can summon enough squeeze to stop the car even at WOT. BMW once pointed out that each and every car they make has more power than a Bugatti Veyron if you consider braking. If your car can't do that, park it, put it on jackstands and fix it now. Seriously. Before you kill someone.

4) When I end up in a situation where something other than what I expected happens, I immediately stop what I'm doing and assess the situation. I don't scream, freeze up and explode. If you're not capable of doing that, you're not capable of driving safely. For example, when you choose the wrong gear, like, say, you don't pull hard enough and get R instead of D, you don't keep on the gas and fly off a cliff. You let off IMMEDIATELY and deal.

I mean, really. Am I being over literal here or something?