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Is the Tesla Model S Pedal Placement A Safety Hazard? 394

Posted by samzenpus
from the keep-stomping dept.
cartechboy (2660665) writes "When things go wrong with the Tesla Model S electric car, its very loyal--and opinionated--owners usually speak up. And that's just what David Noland has done. An incident in which his Model S didn't stop when he pressed the brake pedal scared him--and got him investigating. He measured pedal spacing on 22 different new cars at dealers--and his analysis suggests that the Tesla pedal setup may be causing what aviation analysts call a 'design-induced pilot error'. And pedal design, as Toyota just learned to the tune of $1.2 billion, is very important indeed in preventing accidents."
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Is the Tesla Model S Pedal Placement A Safety Hazard?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 24, 2014 @03:53PM (#46567747)

    Size 13 winter boots. Brake pedal and gas aren't "as far" apart as other cars.

    User Error != Manufacturer Defect

    • by NotDrWho (3543773) on Monday March 24, 2014 @03:54PM (#46567763)

      He's holding it wrong.

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        My advice to him would be to get an angle grinder and chop 0.3" off the side of the brake pedal to bring it up to international safety standards.

        You can never be too careful.

        • by Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:09PM (#46568795) Journal

          My advice to him would be to get an angle grinder and chop 0.3" off of the side of his foot to bring it to international safety standards.

          That way, he can drive any car safely, without additional modifications to them.

          • My advice to him would be to get an angle grinder and chop 0.3" off of the side of his foot to bring it to international safety standards.

            That way, he can drive any car safely, without additional modifications to them.

            Sorry, that's just the US code (you can tell by the imperial units). To qualify internationally, he needs to amputate 0.001 kilotoes.

    • by hey! (33014) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:25PM (#46569007) Homepage Journal

      User Error != Manufacturer Defect

      That's incorrect. The set user error induced accidents and the set of design error induced accidents intersect each other.

      If you look deeply into most mishaps, you'll usually see a series of errors that compound each other. Often the omission of any one of them would have prevented the mishap. If it is foreseeable that a person wearing winter footwear might depress the accelerator when he intends to use the brake, *and* a simple design change could prevent this, the manufacturer ought to make the change.

      This is distinct from when a user *misuses* a feature. I have a friend that manufactures a sports car pedal extender that allows drivers on a track to simultaneously work the brake and accelerator [wikipedia.org]. It's an aftermarket modification meant for track use, and it's the customer's responsibility to exercise special caution if he leaves the device installed in a car he drives on the street. The customer has to be aware of the potential for unintended acceleration because he installed the device himself. The reason that the sports car pedal isn't designed to facilitate heel-and-toe shifting is that it would surprise people accustomed to "normal" controls who bought the car for cruising around on public roads.

      You have to take the characteristics of the user population in mind when designing a product. So the very qualities which make the aftermarket modification a good design would be a design *flaw* on a car intended primarily for on-street use by less-than-serious drivers.

    • by danlor (309557) on Monday March 24, 2014 @06:31PM (#46569585) Homepage

      I disagree.

      I feel that pressing the brake pedal should stop the car, no matter what other pedals or switches are engaged. To me, the brake pedal is the god pedal. It rules all others.

    • by mjwx (966435)

      Size 13 winter boots. Brake pedal and gas aren't "as far" apart as other cars.

      User Error != Manufacturer Defect

      Manual sports car. they're right fucking next to each other (why, because sports car, that's why*).

      In most modern auto's, the accelerator cuts out when the brake pedal is pressed (mainly because so many idiots right foot brake, so they never bother taking the left off the accelerator) so it definitely sounds like user error and refusal to accept responsibility. *No seriously, heel-toe shifting, sports car drivers do that kind of thing.

      • (mainly because so many idiots right foot brake, so they never bother taking the left off the accelerator)

        Where are you from? In the USA, the brake pedal is on the right of the accelerator, and one is taught to use the right foot for everything except operation of the clutch (if manual tranny).

    • by raymorris (2726007) on Monday March 24, 2014 @10:17PM (#46571057)

      I thoroughly disagree. As a UX designer, I consider my design "in need of improvement" if it's designed such that it's easy to make specific, known errors. A few hours ago I was on the phone with a customer who uses my Strongbox software. He was making the same error that many other people make. That many people make the error proves to me that the software doesn't make it sufficiently obvious what the correct action is.
        about when you've been in sometime else's car at night. Often you have to hunt for the door lever and especially on older cars you have to figure out if the handle should be rotated upward, pulled out and back, out and forward, etc. Doors on buildings often have instructions posted on them - Push or Pull. Other buildings don't need instructions - the door has a flat metal plate that can only be pushed. It can't be pulled or turned, it's a flat plate. Emergency exits get it right - a wide, flat bar is obviously for pushing. Some doors, like one I sawlast week, get it ENTIRELY wrong - that one had a round knob - which needed to be SLID to the side. Round knobs are for turning! Vertical slits or projections are for sliding to the side. Not surprisingly, I saw two different people struggle with that door until someone helped them.

      We talked about the handles inside of cars. Contrast that with the handles on the outside of a car door. That's a good design. Noone will ever need help figuring out how to operate an exterior car door handle because the design is such that the user can only do one thing - insert fingers and pull.

      I seek to make my designs be like exterior car handles - intuitively obvious. With the right design, not only do users not make errors, they aren't even distracted by looking at the UX, figuring it out. They just do it automatically, intuitively, like opening the door to get into a car.

      Credit to The Design of Everyday Things for the door handle example.

  • Tesla (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sexconker (1179573) on Monday March 24, 2014 @03:53PM (#46567749)

    Hey look, some idiot hit the gas pedal instead of the brake pedal and it's "news" because it was a Tesla.

    • Re:Tesla (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bluefoxlucid (723572) on Monday March 24, 2014 @03:56PM (#46567805) Journal

      Pretty much. I drive a car with a manual transmission; we don't get giant brake pedals, so I'm stomping on this tiny little square which my foot can easily slip from. It has, and has found the accelerator...which is usually non-functional because I'm out of gear.

      So yeah. His massive foot should have been able to find the massive brake pedal. It's the big, long, wide one. If you're hanging on the edge of the brake, you could slip off the edge and floor it. I've done it.

      • by gnick (1211984)

        Getting behind the wheel of an automatic with the parking brake on the floor and stomping down on the "clutch" can get pretty damned exciting too... Locked up the wheels on a GOV SUV getting off the Interstate. Whoops...

        • by Joce640k (829181)

          Yep, I've done that....

          • by Joce640k (829181)

            No I haven't. I though you meant you stomped the brake pedal when you went for the clutch.

            All the parking brakes I've seen are way higher than the other pedals and way over on the left. Pretty darn difficult to hit accidentally.

        • Re:Tesla (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Carewolf (581105) on Monday March 24, 2014 @04:42PM (#46568489) Homepage

          Getting behind the wheel of an automatic and putting it into gear and it starts moving is scary! Cars are designed to go to a halt without active user input, but for some reason automatics has mindblowingly retarded defaults that makes them move unless you floor the brake! Automatics are just scary scary things of EPIC UI FAIL!

          • Re:Tesla (Score:5, Informative)

            by twistedsymphony (956982) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:43PM (#46569189) Homepage
            That's not really an intentional "feature" in Automatics... it just happens to be a design quirk created by Torque Converters... Since there is no physical 100% disconnect between the engine and transmission (like there is in a stick-shift with the clutch depressed) the car generates enough torque at idle that, unless you're physically braking the car, the torque "seepage" through the converter will result in your car creeping forward.
            • by toddestan (632714)

              The effect is understandable given how an automatic transmission works, especially before transmissions became computer controlled. What's crazy is this effect is intentionally mimicked in cars that would normally not have this creep. I drove a hybrid (Nissan Altima) that when I released the brake while stopped would kick in the electric motor and start creeping forward, which I thought was nuts. It would do this when the gasoline engine was stopped, so there was no question that it was creeping forward

      • by sribe (304414)

        Pretty much. I drive a car with a manual transmission...

        Every once in a while, when I'm wearing winter boots, and go to push in the clutch, I get the brake too as a special bonus ;-)

      • Re:Tesla (Score:4, Funny)

        by Dachannien (617929) on Monday March 24, 2014 @04:52PM (#46568613)

        and has found the accelerator...which is usually non-functional because I'm out of gear.

        It's not non-functional. It makes you sound awesome!

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        Indeed, this image from TFA nicely demonstrates what a retard this guy is: http://images.thecarconnection... [thecarconnection.com]

    • by rasmusbr (2186518)

      Well, I hear you, but that's how news work. If a dog bites a man, it's not news. If a man bites a dog, it's news even if it happened in a faraway country.

      If an expensive high status car has a problem, it's news.

      • by gutnor (872759)
        All cars of in that price range have quirks that don't make the news, it is just Tesla. That's the flip side of all the positive media hype surrounding Tesla: extravagant CEO, car company from silicon valley, aggressive communication ( eg: to defend the car after a mild review ), ...
      • by PopeRatzo (965947)

        If an expensive high status car has a problem, it's news.

        No, if it's an electric car, it's news.

        It's safe to say that there are some powerful people who really don't want Tesla to succeed. These "pro-consumer" stories are most likely coming from the same place laws that laws forbidding Tesla from having showrooms in several states come from.

        If they'll go to the extent of having captive legislatures pass laws making it harder for Tesla to do business, does anything think they wouldn't gin up a few press rel

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      Other makers have found to be "at fault" in similar incidents with close pedals. Audi got partial blame for their unintended acceleration problems because the brake and throttle were close enough that when it was fully depressed, the driver would have trouble telling from position which pedal was depressed. Sure, you should know before you press it, but it's not like you can glance at your feet and see where they are. Aside from trucks, I can't recall any cars that you could see your feet while driving.
      • by amorsen (7485)

        The thing is, you have no use for heel-toe in a Tesla. Not only is it not a manual, it does not have gears at all.

        • The thing is, you have no use for heel-toe in a Tesla. Not only is it not a manual, it does not have gears at all.

          Huh?

          Heel-toeing is not a manual-transmission thing, you know.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H... [wikipedia.org]

          • by amorsen (7485)

            I know what heel-toeing is. You have no use for it in a fixed-gear car.

            • Hey, you're the one that superfluously mentioned manual transmissions. Since you know what the term means, assume my comment is directed at anyone who may have been confused by yours.

      • by MasterOfGoingFaster (922862) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:26PM (#46569029) Homepage

        Audi got partial blame for their unintended acceleration problems because the brake and throttle were close enough that when it was fully depressed, the driver would have trouble telling from position which pedal was depressed.

        That was Audi's excuse - but not the actual reason.

        I was driving on an interstate highway on cruise control in an Audi 5000 Turbo, when the car suddenly went to full throttle. I could easily move the gas pedal up and down, so it wasn't stuck. I shut off the cruise control via a dashboard switch, and regained control. The throttle issue was clearly the cruise control malfunction. It never did it again. I could not duplicate the fault, so I suspect poor RF shielding (trucker using a hopped up CB radio?).

        Yeah - I contacted Audi with the "good news" and they had zero interest. They would rather blame the customer than recall the cars.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    And yet only one idiot has this problem.
    In the toyota case lots of people were having problems. Not just one with a tape measure and an axe to grind because he made a foolish mistake.

    • by Altus (1034) on Monday March 24, 2014 @04:00PM (#46567859) Homepage

      Before posting crap like this for the love of god at least consider the difference in number between the most popular car on the road and a super expensive specialty vehicle that very few people own. Somehow I am not surprised that with only 25,000 cars on the road there are less reports of problems with the tesla than there are with the 3.2 million prius' sold world wide.

      Obviously its just a conspiracy and also there is clearly no way that anyone at tesla could ever make a poor design decision.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by dreamchaser (49529)

      But...but...he writes a BLOG about Tesla! How can he be an idiot? He must be an authority on all things automotive!

      (that was sarcasm btw)

    • by amorsen (7485)

      It may be a foolish mistake, but it was also very easy to prevent by design. Either move the pedals farther apart or change the error handling in software.

    • >In the toyota case lots of people were having problems

      Put elderly people in Teslas, and they'll have many people complaining too. There are many more Toyatas, and very few feeble-minded people driving Teslas.
  • by Virtucon (127420) on Monday March 24, 2014 @03:55PM (#46567773)

    It needs a big red shiny button on the dash! It'll simultaneously apply the brakes, eject the battery pack, contact your insurance agent to file a claim, call your lawyer to sue Tesla and deploy the fire extinguishers. Not necessarily in that order.

  • News for nerds (Score:5, Informative)

    by BlackPignouf (1017012) on Monday March 24, 2014 @03:55PM (#46567777)

    Guy cannot drive and trashes expensive car, blames manufacturer.
    News at 11.

    PS: Apparently, "The Model S accelerator pedal is disabled if you press the accelerator pedal and brake pedal simultaneously."

  • by 0racle (667029)
    Is this the same bullshit that almost made Audi pull out of the US? It looks like it.
    • by MasterOfGoingFaster (922862) on Monday March 24, 2014 @05:18PM (#46568923) Homepage

      Is this the same bullshit that almost made Audi pull out of the US? It looks like it.

      The bullshit was Audi blaming the customers for confusing the pedals. The fault was elsewhere. I know - I owned an Audi 5000T that did this.

      I was driving on an interstate highway on cruise control - my feet were not touching the pedals. The car suddenly went to full throttle. I could move the throttle pedal up and down with my foot. The brake pedal would not budge. I shut off the cruise control via a dashboard switch, and regained control. After the turbo boost dropped below atmospheric pressure, I regained brakes. I later discovered the check valve on the vacuum assist was worn, causing the loss of brakes when the turbo was on boost. The throttle issue was clearly the cruise control malfunction. It never did it again. I could not duplicate the fault, so I suspect poor RF shielding (trucker using a hopped up CB radio?).

      I contacted Audi, and they blew me off.

      To their credit, they stopped using the check valve method, so someone at Audi understood the fault condition. I'm less sure about the other issue. I solved the problem by deciding never to buy another Audi.

  • Moving the pedals farther apart and with more vertical separation may make it harder to quickly switch from the accelerator to the brake pedal, causing more accidents than the few prevented by the people with size 13 feet wearing large boots. Plus, with a large vertical separating, the big footed guy might find his foot trapped under the brake pedal when trying to quickly shift over.

    I think it's going to take a little more research than one man's anecdote to determine if it's a problem.

    • The guy did not actually recommend what you just said. He suggested a software fix where if brake and gas are both pressed, the brake would over-ride the gas pedal. So brake would always stop the car independent of whether the gas pedal was pressed.
      • The guy did not actually recommend what you just said. He suggested a software fix where if brake and gas are both pressed, the brake would over-ride the gas pedal. So brake would always stop the car independent of whether the gas pedal was pressed.

        According to the comments section, it already works that way. Also, if you look at the pictures of the pedals, the brake pedal area is huge compared to the gas pedal area. While I personally like a long gas pedal hinged at the bottom, compared to a small square one, it's pretty clear his heel was too far right for braking. He probably needs to adjust his seat forward to increase his foot rotation.

    • by Altus (1034)

      You mean moving them to a position consistent with other cars on the road would somehow make this car less safe than those other cars?

  • by WilliamBaughman (1312511) on Monday March 24, 2014 @04:09PM (#46567997)

    Toyota's fine was not just about sticking pedals (and initially making deceptive statements about the safety of those pedals). Toyota's fine was in part for claiming that sticking pedals were the sole cause of unintended acceleration when in fact multiple defects in Toyota’s engine software directly caused at least one (decided by a jury) other crash.

    An Update on Toyota and Unintended Acceleration Barr Code [embeddedgurus.com]

    U.S. Fines Toyota $1.2 Billion but Defers Criminal Prosecution Over Vehicle Safety Deceit - IEEE Spectrum [ieee.org]

    This is an important safety (and technology) issue that has flown mostly under the radar. I believe that is in part because journalists and the public believe they got their answer years ago, when in fact new evidence, expert testimony, and court verdicts have come to light. I think the issue is important enough that this misconception should be corrected whenever it's reported.

    My opinion, not my employer's.

    • Correction: the fine mentioned by the summary is actually because of two different pedal related defects. Toyota and suing parties are still in court-ordered negotiations over the software-related problem. I thought this was a case of the article not recognizing the software defects (and it doesn't) but there was another, separate, also pedal-related problem which was new to me. I still think it's important to bring up the software-related problems as they are underrepresented but the article isn't actua
  • The worst pedal arrangement I've ever seen was in a manual transmission Mini Cooper S. That floorboard was designed for a goddamn stick-man. Seriously, I'm not a very big dude, and even I had trouble heel-toeing to the brake pedal without accidentally catching the edge of the clutch pedal.

    Long story short, unless Tesla outsourced the pedal design to Mini, it could be worse.

  • I just went from an Rx-8 to a Mini, both 6-spd manual boxes.

    I find myself stepping on my clutch foot with my brake foot. That didn't happen with the 8. Disconcerting, to say the least.

    I'm getting better after a month (2000 miles), but that does tell me there are differences between the two cars that my muscle memory is trying to overcome.

    I'm not blaming the car, I'm changing how I drive.

    Maybe that's what's going on here, except they're not changing how they drive?

  • I thought the biggest failure in pedal placement on the Tesla was placing them in a $75,000 car.

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