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Toyota Sudden Acceleration Is Driver Error 930

Posted by kdawson
from the fed-findings-fault-fat-feet dept.
phantomfive writes "The NHTSA has investigated data recorders from Toyota cars whose owners claimed to have crashed due to an accelerator error. They found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren't being pressed. The investigation looked at a sample of the cars, selected by the NHTSA." Jamie found this article with a superior headline at Balloon Juice.
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Toyota Sudden Acceleration Is Driver Error

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  • This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Gordonjcp (186804) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:14AM (#32898122) Homepage

    ... that the throttle and brake position logging was recording correct data. If there's a fault in the ECU or software, how can you guarantee the data logging is correct?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Svartalf (2997)

      Yep, that it does. It also presumes the sensors collected the data correctly.

      NEITHER can be presumed. Toyota, you don't get out of this THAT easily.

      • Re:This assumes... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Jhon (241832) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:20AM (#32898210) Homepage Journal

        The answer can be even more subtle. If this study is correct, then either there are a bunch of stupid Toyota drivers *OR* there is a problem with the PLACEMENT and/or SHAPE of the accelorator and break peddles. I'm leaning towards the latter.

        • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by maxume (22995) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:32AM (#32898322)

          If 1 in 100,000 people cannot properly operate a device, it might be fair to conclude that the problem is with the people.

          • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Another, completely (812244) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:50AM (#32898574)

            But if the failure rate is lower on similar devices from other manufacturers, then it could have been designed better.

            Either there are so many Toyotas out there that they are showing up a general problem with people (all the other manufacturers sell so few cars that their uncontrolled acceleration problems don't count as a trend), or a disproportionate number of bad drivers buy Toyotas (the failure rates for different populations do not offer a fair comparison), or there is a problem with the car.

            It's also possible that the failure rate on other vehicles is the same, but that fact just hasn't been noticed by the media. I would have expected Toyota to point that one out by now, if it were the case.

            • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Stewie241 (1035724) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:11AM (#32898834)

              It's also possible that we're hearing about it with Toyota's because of the initial media report. This could have led to many people who got into accidents in their Toyota's to go public with a report to try and shift the blame off of themselves and onto the car. Also, the media, knowing there is a hot Toyota story, was actively looking for these sorts of incidents and could have imposed a bias.

              Meanwhile, the same things could have been happening in other cars (again, driver error) at the same rate but nobody really reported them because there wasn't already a story to piggyback on.

              • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

                by AxemRed (755470) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:27AM (#32900194)
                I agree.

                I have a 2009 Toyota Corolla. They have done two recall fixes. The first was the little metal piece that they inserted into the accelerator. Even after that fix was in place, there were still many reports of unintended acceleration, and the crisis was still escalating in the media. The second fix came later and was a software update that will stop the engine if the brakes and gas are fully pressed simultaneously (or at least, that's how it was described to me.) That second fix wasn't pushed out until reports of the problem were subsiding anyway, and it still didn't address any sort of cause.

                Despite the fact that no "real" fix was ever released, reports of unintended acceleration subsided. Problems like this don't fix themselves unless there was really no problem to begin with.
            • Bandwagon effect (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Joce640k (829181) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:12AM (#32898856) Homepage

              Notice that all the problems happened at around the same time. It's not a constant failure rate.

              The problem caused a massive amount of publicity and public awareness. Toyota drivers would most likely see problems where before they'd just shrug and carry on. I bet you'd see a similar effect for any manufacturer if you could create a suitable media storm.

              • by pnewhook (788591) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:29AM (#32899078)

                Notice that all the problems happened at around the same time. It's not a constant failure rate.

                It's entirely possible that a couple of drivers did have a stuck throttle due to a floor mat or other issue. This made the news. Then a bunch of other people thought that this would be a great way to make money on a class action lawsuit by faking the same problem. It doesn't have to be a defect or bad drivers, just a bandwagon effect of people trying to scam money in tough times.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by mcgrew (92797) *

              I was going to make a joke but was afraid some of you humorless mods would... of hell, who cares, mod me any way you want.

              Maybe only stupid people buy Toyotas?

              (ducks)

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by Yewbert (708667)

            Proposing a new lUser acronym:

            PIDSNIT - Problem In Driver's Seat, Not In Throttle.

          • Re:This assumes... (Score:4, Insightful)

            by AndersOSU (873247) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:03AM (#32899758)

            If you design a device that is not properly operated by 1 in 100,000 people leading to severe injury or death, AND YOUR COMPETITORS HAVE NO SUCH PROBLEM, your users may be stupid, but it's still a design flaw.

            It may be that all things are equal, and the Toyota hysteria caused over reporting of problems with their cars and under reporting of problems on other makes, or it could be like the Audi 5000 - the consequences of a design decision weren't fully appreciated. (In that case, an engineer thought, "who doesn't want to be able to heel-toe?" The answer turns out to be senior citizens who buy full sized German sedans with automatic transitions.)

        • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by socrplayr813 (1372733) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:32AM (#32898330)

          Given how many times things like this have happened, you're probably right. However, we also know the first part is true. There are some truly stupid people, as well as other people that just plain shouldn't be driving for various reasons. I'd like to see/hear/read some better evidence one way or the other.

          I do similar types of investigations for my job and almost everything I've seen so far (from both camps) is circumstantial and/or loaded with assumptions. Surely there must be SOME relationship between the cars this has happened with. If there is, we have our first step to recreating the problem in a controlled environment. Until we can do that...

          Actually, have any of these types of accidents happened in the rest of the world? I don't recall hearing/reading about them.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by ommerson (1485487)
            Do incidents of this nature occur with other manufacturers' cars? Or did the adverse publicity that Toyota was already receiving in the media cause these cases to get the oxygen of publicity rather than being considered as freak, and unconnected accidents?
            • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by Captain Hook (923766) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:10AM (#32898830)
              There is another issue to be considered as well, if some of these accidents happened after the publicity started, then its possible some of the accidents are attempts at fraud and the driver has deliberately rammed someone/thing
              • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Informative)

                by Mitsoid (837831) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:50AM (#32899494)
                To quote without citation... Recently on my news local radio station (WTOP; long operating and trusted source for those that don't know it) they had a phone-in guest that spoke on the issue after reviewing the wall street journal article..

                He stated that the "Black box" in the cars are not always triggered.. The black box also relies on computer/electronic signals to activate the recording. As the issue with the throttle acceleration is electronic in nature, the cause of many of the accidents may also not trigger the recording. It also apparently does not activate at low speeds (exact definition of 'low speeds' or if it also excludes 'low starting speeds' was not given)

                The accidents that don't trigger the recording were not part of the sample group evaluated by the article. The WSJ Quotes toyota claiming the black box is a prototype... and the radio speaker also stated that Toyota testified in court that the "Black Box" is not in and of itself reliable for determining the cause of an accident as it's prone to failure as, already mentioned, it relies on electronic signals from the car.

                My opinion: Granted, all that said, I'm sure there's people who just want a piece of the lawsuit pie and are trying to shift blame ("I swear I hit the brakes and not the accelerator") and this article *can* support that to some degree... Though, there are likely legitimate claims --- back to the radio report; the electronic 'fail safe' system apparently is not very robust at handling failures of signals (either lack of, or improper signals) from the car...

                Lastly, from what I've heard these are cherry-picked by Toyota and the radio station speaker stated that there is evidence by Toyota technicians a problem does exist (contrary to the article) -- however he feels this is simply the Public Relations team of Toyota doing it's job and showing that there's no issue (or the issue is more rare than news credits due to 'false claims').

                Side note: the WSJ claims a similar problem arose in 1989
                Side note 2: I'm simply trying to relay what I heard as criticism to the article to provide an alternate viewpoint/more information. I personally do not own a Toyota/Lexus, and otherwise am not attempting to defame anyone/start a debate on the issue.
            • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Informative)

              by GizmoToy (450886) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:17AM (#32898912) Homepage

              This has happened with all automakers. Every automaker that I can think of has had a recall for floor mats interfering with the accelerator pedal. Honda had so many it redesigned the pedals on the new Civic to pivot from the floor instead of the firewall so the mats can't get under them.

              This is just for model year 2009, I've seen more complete tables as well...
              Unintended Acceleration - All Brands [cars.com]

              Toyota got nailed because it got a lot of publicity. The other brands are all nervously waiting for someone to point the finger at them, knowing they all have these complaints... even with mounting evidence that it's driver error.

          • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:50AM (#32898578) Homepage

            > Surely there must be SOME relationship between the cars this has happened with

            Why would you possibly suggest that?

            This happens all the time. There's a news story, and then suddenly everyone's complaining about the same thing. It doesn't make a difference if it's actually _true_.

            Its called "mass hysteria", although the term should be changed to be less loaded. But the effect is real, has been measured for hundreds of years, and effects practically all human endeavor equally.

            Maury

          • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:53AM (#32898612) Homepage

            > I don't recall hearing/reading about them.

            Oh please... google up "sudden acceleration".

            One of the stories this will turn up is the recall of Audi 5000's in the 1980s. 60 Minutes covered the story and claimed to demonstrate the effect. They actually faked it with a compressed air bottle.

            This topic has come up dozens of times, on dozens of models, in dozens of countries. To date, 100% of the time it's driver error.

            Maury

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by orthancstone (665890)

            Surely there must be SOME relationship between the cars this has happened with.

            1) They are lower in price.
            2) Toyota thus sells more of them.
            3) The larger volume of those particular cars on the road means a greater likelihood that there are more bad drivers behind the wheel of that particular car.

            (Ok, yes, this is incredibly simplistic...but I do think it is on point)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by socrplayr813 (1372733)

              Yes, and it likely is mostly stupid people or people trying to take advantage, but that doesn't rule out the possibility of an actual problem with Toyotas. There likely IS some kind of problem and it's just been blown way out of proportion.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by jridley (9305)

            have any of these types of accidents happened in the rest of the world? I don't recall hearing/reading about them.
            Either you're very young or you have a short memory. There have been many cases of sudden acceleration. There have even been other major cases involving Volvo and others going back to the 1980s when computers first started having significant engine control.

            In fact actual (less reported) cases go back decades; I'd suspect to when we started having automatic transmissions where it became easy to

        • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:30AM (#32899114)
          Actually, the very first article I saw that suggested the "driver error" explanation gave a demographic of the drivers involved in these cases. The author of that article had done a similar investigation for a different car company (I forget now if he was hired by the car company--Audi, I beleive--or if he was hired by an outside agency) that had had reports of a similar problem except with cars using mechanical throttles and brakes rather than computer controlled. He discovered that the demographics of those with the problem with the Toyotas was the same as in the previous case, overwhelmingly people in their 60s and/or teens. The other thing he discovered about the Toyota cases is that the overwhelming majority happened when the car was starting out from a complete stop (parked, traffic light) which was also the same as in the previous case he had studied.
          Basically, in the previous case that involved mechanical linkages they were able to determine that there were no possible mechanical expalnations for the sudden acceleration when the driver stepped on the brake. He was able to find medical explanations that would acount for otherwise experienced safe drivers suddenly starting to hit the accelerator when they meant to hit the brakes, this accounted for a large number of the cases, most of the other cases involved young, inexperienced drivers or drivers who were driving the vehicle for the first time,
      • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Informative)

        by BasilBrush (643681) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:14AM (#32898882)

        NEITHER can be presumed. Toyota, you don't get out of this THAT easily.

        RTFA:

        "The data recorders analyzed by NHTSA were selected by the agency, not Toyota, based on complaints the drivers had filed with the government. Toyota hasn't been involved in interpreting the data."

        and

        "Still, since the start of Toyota's troubles late last summer, the Japanese company hasn't blamed drivers for any of the sudden-acceleration incidents, though in many cases the company couldn't find another cause. Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said the company won't pin the blame on customers for its problems as part of its public-relations response.

        "An attorney who represents four drivers who sued Toyota in state courts over sudden acceleration said the NHTSA finding doesn't mean much for his litigation. "Toyota has always taken the position that the electronic data recorder system is not reliable," said Tab Turner, the Little Rock, Ark., lawyer.

        "A Toyota spokesman said the company considers the device "a prototype tool. It wasn't designed to tell us exactly what happened in an accident. It was designed to tell us whether our systems were operating properly.""

        Toyota aren't "trying to get out of it that easily". They appear to have behaved commendably.

    • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by IflyRC (956454) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:18AM (#32898176)
      I would think that verifying the validity of the data would be one of the first things they would do in a study such as this. This question would most likely be proposed in any aircraft crash situation as well when the black box is checked. If this study is right - it sounds almost like a bandwagon effect where everyone was trying to get out of higher insurance premiums, out of fault from an accident they potentially caused, etc. It's a lot easier to say "It wasn't me, it was my Toyota!" than "My bad, it was my fault. I'll take responsibility for pulling out in front of you."
      • Re:This assumes... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by vlm (69642) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:27AM (#32898286)

        If this study is right - it sounds almost like a bandwagon effect

        Exactly. The Fine Article fails to raise that point, yet tantalizingly provides a graph of the number of reported complaints which follows a short term fad trajectory. Logically, if there were a bad batch of parts out there, the graph of the cars manufacture date vs complaints would look like that graph. Or if it were a bad design, the graph would resemble the very long term model year production graphs not a short term PR graph.

        The only common feature of the problem seems to be that people whom crashed their Toyota during certain months were very likely to blame the car. Basically just a witch hunt. I feel confident driving my wife's Toyota.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MoeDumb (1108389)
      Well, you can say that about anything. It's correct until proven otherwise.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by skids (119237)

      Let's assume that the sensors were logging the wrong data. That would require assuming that the NHSTA was too stupid to be able to figure that out.

      It's entirely possible, mind you, for bunglers to occupy government jobs, but if I had to bet money on it, I'd put my money on the NHSTA lab people being at least moderately competent.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I would like to think that the engineers investigating the issue would have that same obvious insight. The guy on the left here [wsj.net] certainly looks sick enough of dealing with this crap to look into that sort of detail.

    • ... that the throttle and brake position logging was recording correct data. If there's a fault in the ECU or software, how can you guarantee the data logging is correct?

      I would hope that enough independent data is recorded from the vehicle to avoid this kind of mistakes.

    • One would presume that the black box records more than simply the inputs, but also all the servo feedback data...

    • This assumes...

      ... that the throttle and brake position logging was recording correct data. If there's a fault in the ECU or software, how can you guarantee the data logging is correct?

      It also assumes that the folks at the NHTSA know what they're doing.

      If they do, then they've assured themselves that the data logging is correct.

      If they don't, then we've got far bigger problems then just these Toyotas.

    • Strangely enough (Score:3, Informative)

      by Chrisq (894406)

      ... that the throttle and brake position logging was recording correct data. If there's a fault in the ECU or software, how can you guarantee the data logging is correct?

      Toyota agrees with you: From TFA:

      Toyota has always taken the position that the electronic data recorder system is not reliable," said Tab Turner, the Little Rock, Ark., lawyer.

      A Toyota spokesman said the company considers the device "a prototype tool. It wasn't designed to tell us exactly what happened in an accident. It was designed to tell us whether our systems were operating properly."

      • Re:Strangely enough (Score:4, Interesting)

        by skids (119237) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:51AM (#32898592) Homepage

        Reading comprehension fail. First, delete the first sentence, because it is uttered by a lawyer. You cannot trust as lawyer to quote his opponent accurately.

        Second, what Toyota is saying in the second sentence is that the black box is not designed to collect all data about an automobile accident for courtroom purposes, it is designed to collect data about what the subsystems were doing for engineering purposes. That's plenty sufficient to tell whether a pedal was down or not.

    • Re:This assumes... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by ultranova (717540) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:09AM (#32899840)

      ... that the throttle and brake position logging was recording correct data. If there's a fault in the ECU or software, how can you guarantee the data logging is correct?

      You can't, obviously. However, since the logs agree with ECU, it's likely that the problem is in the throttle sensor, the throttle itself (maybe it stucks to bottom), or the placement of throttle (so the driver accidentally pushes it down without meaning to).

      In other words, the ECU works just fine, but the controls send it bogus data - namely, they send "pedal to the metal" when the driver didn't intend this.

  • by Corporate Troll (537873) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:15AM (#32898138) Homepage Journal

    I am not surprised.... Same thing happened to Audi back in the day [manhattan-institute.org].

    One thing for me that was a dead giveaway was that every single report regarding the Toyota sudden acceleration issue happened in the good old United States (Same for Audi, by the way). Statistically, it's very unlikely that such a problem would only happen in a single country even though these cars do not differ significantly between different countries. You'd expect a few deaths in Japan, France, German, the United Kingdom where Toyota cars are also very popular.

    Too bad for Toyota that their brand has been permanently damaged in the US. (Just ask Audi how well it went for them the years after the accusations). GM, Ford and Chrysler are probably very happy about this.

    • by skids (119237)

      Toyota got a good wake-up call in the process -- they have issues like any large company and they needed a slap, even if it was for the wrong thing. I don't like seeing mass hysteria in action, it's ugly, but at least it make the corporations adequately fear the consumer.

      • There are better ways to get the message across. Telling automotive companies to audit the code properly is one way. But this, THIS cost jobs. Is that what we want, to bitch-slap peoples lives back to the unemployment line for no damn good reason?

    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:30AM (#32898306)

      GM, Ford and Chrysler are probably very happy about this.

      Whom coincidentally spend lots of advertising dollars on the media people whom manufactured the Toyota problem.

      Even more interesting is the graph of reported problems. Fits a very short term PR profile not a manufacturing defect profile.

    • by SpazmodeusG (1334705) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:46AM (#32898518)

      There were reports of stuck accelerators here in Australia for a while but it was the Fords not Toyotas.
      Basically some guy rang police up on the freeway and claimed his cruise control was stuck at 80. There was a police chase/escort and eventually he was stopped. Soon after the incident there was a ton of idiots all ringing up talkback radio for days on end claiming the same thing happened to them in their Fords and that's why they crashed or got a speeding fine.

      In the end the real storey started circulating. The guy who initially made the claim seemed to have issues. During the chase the police asked him to brake and he said it didn't work. They then asked him to change gear to neutral and he claimed it had no effect. They asked him to turn the key on a car with an old fashion manual key and he claimed that didn't work. His car was inspected afterwards and no fault was found.
      In the end the reports of problems quickly disappeared. All the bandwagon jumpers suddenly shut the hell up.
      http://news.drive.com.au/drive/motor-news/no-sign-of-cruisecontrol-faults-20100107-lwrq.html [drive.com.au]

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Doctor_Jest (688315)
      There were some reports in Japan (I remember an article during this whole thing coming out about the inability of regular Japanese to bring these sorts of complaints to light regarding a corporation, and how unlike the US, these things are MUCH more difficult to bring up in Toyota's homeland) And the context of the sudden acceleration problem was the basis for the article. I sure wish I could remember where I read that... Google is my friend, but it's too early to bother right now. :)

      And unlike Audi, Toy
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by internewt (640704)

      Just to play devil's advocate for a sec, America is the land of the automatic gearbox. In those other countries, the average Toyota is likely to have an extra pedal that can conveniently cut the drive to the wheels: the clutch.

      Could the popularity of automatics in the US have a bearing on the rate of accidents?

      I personally do think this is an issue that has been blown out of proportion by those looking to cash in on it, for the various reasons proposed in this discussion: business interests of non-Toyota co

  • Not conclusive (Score:5, Insightful)

    by OWJones (11633) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:17AM (#32898166)
    While this is a useful data point, it's not conclusive. If the root cause is some electronics error whose symptoms are a sudden acceleration and (according to two victims) no response to the brake, it's not surprising that the black box -- presumably using the exact same input controlling the engine -- would claim that the accelerator was fully pressed and the brake was untouched.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by StripedCow (776465)

      Also, if my car would suddenly accelerate, and my brakes didn't work, I'd also try to push the throttle, to see if it was stuck or something...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by The MAZZTer (911996)
        One of the points made that first cast the claims into doubt was that some (most?) new cars now will cut the engine if you press the gas and brake at the same time. One specific case that they were trying to reproduce they concluded that if the gas was stuck and the driver had REALLY been holding down the brake, the engine would have shut off.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      Could it even be the spring that makes the pedal spring back to the top that was broken or displaced? There could be a lot of failures that would cause the same things to be logged.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by vlm (69642)

      presumably using the exact same input controlling the engine

      That being the problem. Multiple inputs, not input. You need to fail the gas partially to wide open and the brakes completely off.

      Or, you need to fail the engine computer, the ABS computer, and the logging computer simultaneously with the same problem.

      The problem has to be completely unreproducible, and cannot be explained by subsequent testing or disassembly.

      Finally per the graph in the article, the problem somehow occurs in direct proportion to television coverage and with a slight delay after the PR ha

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by thegarbz (1787294)
      I don't know of any cars which break entirely electronically from start to end. Hydraulically yes, engine assisted yes, but not electronically.

      A very useful point it actually is since now it shows there would have to be TWO faults for the story to add up in the favour of the drivers. Both the sensor sensing the position of the break and some kind of weird accelerating issues would have to independently occur. As there is a much less likely chance of this rather than a simple single point of failure the l
  • I don't understand how these data recorders work - but I'm guessing they're electronic/computer controller rather than mechanical - in which case, surely it's possible for the brakes to not be pressed according to this recorder/computer even when they are? i.e. could that the root of the problem? (whatever control system is in charge can't "see" the brakes are pressed and hence the press isn't recorded either)

  • Certainly there were a large number of people who either purposefully, or subconsciously, blamed their accidents on this well-known issue that was plastered all over the news. There were probably a small number of people who had accidents on purpose to try and make a quick buck.

    The real question is, statistically, are people more likely to be involved in these sort of accidents in specific models of Toyota than in other vehicles? At some point during all of this I did read news articles to that affect. I

  • Weren't some of these cars supposedly accelerating with brake-pads grinding away and smoldering from the friction?
    • No (Score:3, Interesting)

      Stop watching fox news.

      ANY such evidence would be EXTREMELY easy to spot. The police would notice it in a second as would anyone investigating the accident. The entire claim was that the brakes did NOT work. A toyota won't easily go through its brakes. It ain't super cars.

  • by Maclir (33773) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:30AM (#32898310) Journal

    Did any of the drivers, when they found that the car was not responding to them taking their foot from the accelerator, shift the car out of gear? You know, that position on the lever between "D" and "R"? One of the first things I was taught was to slow the car down in an emergency you put your right foot on the break pedal, pressing hard, and with your left foot, push the clutch pedal in all the way - that disconnects the engine from the driving wheels.

    Now, I realize that most drivers in the US these days would recognize a clutch pedal or a manual gearbox if it hit them over the head - but in an automatic transmission the same principal applies - shift into neutral (and the "N" doesn't mean "Now we are almost ready to go"....)

    I guess no one wants to make the point that poor driver training and lack of ability contributed to the accidents - hey, the ambulance chasing lawyers can't sue anyone over that, and besides, we can't have any restrictions on people driving (like, are they smart enough and capable of controlling a two ton vehicle that can travel at upwards of 80 miles an hour).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc (563838)

      There are several other things that a driver could have tried to slow or stop a car that's not responding to the accelerator or brakes, such as:
      - Use the emergency brake. It's there for a reason, and could help you slow down. Best done after shifting into neutral - otherwise the brake is competing with the engine.
      - Cut the ignition. This will probably destroy the engine, but if it stops the car it may save your life.
      - If it's an automatic transmission, shift into park. This will likely do horrible things to

      • by GigsVT (208848) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:10AM (#32898820) Journal

        I don't disagree that these are all somewhat reasonable actions to try if all else failed. However...

        Cutting the ignition won't destroy the engine. It can lock the steering if they turn the key all the way back though, which is why it's not generally recommended.

        Shifting into park at speed is the same as shifting into neutral except the parking pawl will be skipping on top of its slot making a fast clicking noise. When you hit under 5mph or so the car would slam to a halt or the parking pawl would disintegrate.

        Shifting into low gear won't happen in a modern auto transmission at speed. They won't lock into 2 until you are under 50mph or so.

        But yeah, there's plenty they could have tried instead of focusing on praying. I guess that's what happens when you think an imaginary man is going to save you.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Raenex (947668)

        So I'm curious how many of these drivers did any of these.

        I'm curious how well you would do if faced with sudden wide open acceleration while frantically pressing down on the brakes and trying to avoid traffic. Also note that in the case of the Lexus crash (the one with the 911 recording that really started the whole media frenzy), the ignition was keyless. To turn off the engine, you had to depress the switch for 3 seconds.

        I'm really sick of the assholes talking about Darwin awards because somebody didn't have the presence of mind to switch the car into neutral.

  • And what about the test they did on live TV in which a technician was able to cause a short, the car to accelorate exactly as described by people, and the computer logged it as if the throttle was wide open and no one was pressing the brakes... exactly as was found here? I can't find a link... anyone remember which broadcaster it was? I know it was one of the big 3.
  • by gotpaint32 (728082) * on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @08:41AM (#32898454) Journal
    From the article: Police in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., investigated and believe driver error was to blame, Chief Steven Riffel said Tuesday. He said surveillance video showed that the brake lights didn't illuminate until after the crash. But Mr. Riffel said that determination is preliminary and that his agency has turned over the investigation to NHTSA. Based on the black box data, NHTSA investigators found that the brake was not engaged and the throttle was wide open, according to a person familiar with the matter. Ms. Marseille sticks by her story. "It makes me very angry when someone tells me, 'She probably hit the gas pedal instead,' because I think it's a sexist comment, an ageist comment," she said.

    Brake lights are controlled by a simple switch in the brake assembly. Regardless of how much TOyota may have jacked up the throttle system I doubt they were able to screw that up too. Sounds like most these idiots are too stupid to own a car
    • by ctetc007 (875050) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:44AM (#32900486) Homepage

      Ms. Marseille sticks by her story. "It makes me very angry when someone tells me, 'She probably hit the gas pedal instead,' because I think it's a sexist comment, an ageist comment," she said.

      It was really funny to read that comment especially after I just finished reading this article on the misinformed believing lies over the truth [slashdot.org].

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bobb Sledd (307434)

      The woman is right to be upset.

      You assume that the lights are controlled by a switch and a simple circuit and that's all. But it could be more complex than that, if the entire system is fly-by-wire (which it is). If the computer is somehow misreading inputs in a system such as this, then it certainly is possible that the driver has the brake on but no lights and no brakes.

      My father-in-law had this problem happen to him in his Rav4 three times and told me about it months before the news or Toyota ever ment

  • by businessnerd (1009815) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:22AM (#32898984)
    I am not surprised with this outcome. I read an article from Car & Driver a while back where the specifically tested the scenario of trying to stop your car with the throttle wide open. Here's the link [caranddriver.com].
    br> Key facts:
    1) In a Toyota, shifting into neutral while the throttle is wide open, will disengage the engine from the transmission and slow the car down. So all of the people claiming that these cars are all computers and not mechanical so it still wouldn't work, are full of crap.
    2) They brought a standard Toyota Camry up to highway speed (including a 100 MPH test) and hit the brakes while still holding down the accelerator. The result? The brakes were able to overpower the engine and slow down the car. The faster your initial speed, the longer it took, but the distances, even at 100 MPH, were reasonably safe.

    C/D's conclusion without actually analyzing the specific reported incidents, was that the most likely cause of these accidents was driver error, specifically people hitting the gas instead of the brake. The natural instinct for any driver if a car starts accelerating uncontrollably is to hit the brakes, which C/D has shown is sufficient to slow the car on its own. If that wasn't sufficient, then the thing to do is to shift into neutral. This real data from the incidents seems to support the gas instead of brake theory, and the statistics showing a sharp spike (and subsequent sharp drop-off) in "unintended acceleration" incidents after Toyota instated the recall for sticky accelerators and at a time when the US auto industry has one foot in the grave, Toyota is looking more and more in the clear on this one.
  • GIGO (Score:4, Insightful)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:34AM (#32899182)

    If there was a fault in the electronics, the data recorders could be recording incorrect data. If anything, this raises more questions. It is completely out of the ordinary for a driver to have the throttle wide open under any circumstances. And for it to be happening to so many drivers, is very suspicious.

  • by Nikkos (544004) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:39AM (#32899268) Homepage
    Because there's a significant age correlation to these reports of sudden acceleration.

    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/OpEd-Contributor/I-am-not-afraid-of-my-Toyota-Prius-87361597.html [washingtonexaminer.com]

    http://www.thecarconnection.com/marty-blog/1043440_toyota-sudden-acceleration-is-it-all-older-drivers-fault [thecarconnection.com]

    Not definitive, but enlightening. Another group also proved that a runaway car with open throttle can still be stopped by the brakes anyway - they tried it with multiple cars - even a 500+ horsepower car.
  • "Women Drivers" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v1 (525388) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @09:48AM (#32899434) Homepage Journal

    Ms. Marseille said in an interview Tuesday that she was entering a parking space near a library when she heard the engine roar. "I looked down and my foot was still on the brake, so I did not have my foot on the gas pedal," she said.

    Police in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., investigated and believe driver error was to blame, Chief Steven Riffel said Tuesday. He said surveillance video showed that the brake lights didn't illuminate until after the crash. But Mr. Riffel said that determination is preliminary and that his agency has turned over the investigation to NHTSA.

    Based on the black box data, NHTSA investigators found that the brake was not engaged and the throttle was wide open, according to a person familiar with the matter.

    Ms. Marseille sticks by her story. "It makes me very angry when someone tells me, 'She probably hit the gas pedal instead,' because I think it's a sexist comment, an ageist comment," she said.

    So, every piece of evidence we have, and we have many, shows this woman panicked and jammed on the gas instead of the brake, and yet she remains thoroughly convinced she didn't do it. It's drivers like that who give credit to the phrase "woman drivers". But in this case we just have a bad driver crying "sexism!" as a defense. No, ma'am, you just need to fix your brain-foot coordination.

    It's also interesting to look at the graph of reported incidents. Although there was no related changes in Toyota production, just look at that two month spike. That's caused by people, not by hardware. The number of bad drivers remains constant, and the performance of the vehicles remains constant. The only thing that surged was the number of people trying to blame their bad driving on Toyota. I'd bet that had they not gotten all the media-frenzy publicity to start with, that spike would not exist, that's just people latching onto a scapegoat. I'd love to see the graph of media coverage on toyota below that graph, to see the correlation. Bet there's about a two week lag from media to claims. Gotta feel bad for them, they're taking a lot of unfair heat, AND they're doing a better job than I would in holding their tongue when you know they want to just flat out call it, driver error. I don't think I could have that kind of resolve given the situation. They've waited until a lot of time has passed and the amount of evidence is overwhelming before starting to take that position publicly. And then Ms Marseille still insists she was hitting the brake when the black box AND the ramp cameras both say otherwise. The only thing left to debate here is whether she's genuinely that mistaken, or whether she's just stubbornly continuing to cover for her bad driving.

    The two remaining issues are slow-return accelerators and floor mat traps. I don't see how a slow return to idle accelerator is going to significantly contribute to a crash, you still have the brake. (and so far, almost all the accidents investigated have shown NO brake use) As for the floor mats, heck, *I* have had that happen to me once in my cutlass. That's not a Toyota problem. That's a problem of floor mat creep that goes unnoticed for a long time (weeks) without the driver readjusting it. Again, driver error.

  • by Zaiff Urgulbunger (591514) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @10:46AM (#32900542)
    "driver error" or "a driver error"?
  • by NotSoHeavyD3 (1400425) on Wednesday July 14, 2010 @11:58AM (#32901892)
    He could reproduce the acceleration problem consistantly. I mean he's a good engineer, very technically minded. If he says he can reproduce it I tend to believe him.

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