QOTD is a fairly irregular exercise for us, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t dust it off for today’s marathon hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Needless to say, the ten-ish hour affair offered too rich a bounty of choice quotes to properly choose just one. And so we have two: the first and one of the last quotes of the day’s proceedings. The day opened with the following words from Chairman Edolphus Towns:
Good morning. I thank you all for being here. It is hard to imagine the horror of the event that took the lives of an entire family near San Diego, California on August the 28th, 2009. California highway patrolman, Mark Saylor, his wife, their 13 yr old daughter, and Mrs Saylor’s brother, Chris, were driving in a Toyota Lexus, a loaner car that the Toyota dealer provided while their car was being repaired. As they drove along the highway, suddenly the car… accelerating [sic] rapidly, he stood on the brakes, but nothing happened. No matter what he did, he could not stop the car from flying down the road, faster and faster. As this car reached top speed in just seconds, it was all he could do just to kep it under control. In a frantic call to 911, his brother-in-law, Chris, reported the gas pedal was stuck, the brakes did not work, and they were barreling down on an intersection. He yelled over the phone “hold one, hold on, hold on and pray. And those were his last words.”
Towns’statement was the perfect kick-off for the ten hours that followed. Though the hearing was long and diverse (and rest assured, more coverage is coming), the general thrust of the exercise was to blame Toyota for scenarios like the Saylor’s, which would have required multiple system failures (not to mention driver negligence) to inevitably result in the narrative so hauntingly retold by Rep. Towns. And consistent with the GIGO [garbage in, garbage out] paradigm, the committee seemed no closer to the truth by the time Dennis Kucinich wrapped up the proceedings with the following bon mot:
Toyota has blinders on about the throttle control unit issue… I don’t know if it’s liability or if there’s a link to a coverup, but there’s a piece of the puzzle missing… I know we’ve put in a long day, but if there’s a piece missing, you don’t stop asking questions.
Yesterday’s hearings were rife with a metaphor, first introduced by the “expert witness” Sean Kane, that “we have a bookend with Dr Gilbert’s work and we have a bookend with consumer complaints.” In short, there are myriad explanations for unintended acceleration, but only an undetectable electronic problem (as suggested by Dr Gilbert’s research) can explain the scenarios described by complaints of unintended acceleration.
Similarly, these two quotes form convenient bookends to the last two days of congressional hearings. On the one hand, the emotional appeal in the form of an inexplicable narrative. On the other, the sense of anger and frustration at congress’s inability to make sense of these mystifying yet troubling anecdotes, with the less than subtle implication that Toyota is hiding something from the bright light of the committee’s investigations. In both cases, the bookends are are necessary only because of the profound lack of rational explanations for many of the stories of sudden unintended acceleration. And in both cases, they represent individuals striving for complex, yet satisfying explanations, when less gratifying but eminently logical explanations (like a combination of pedal obstruction, sticking pedals, and human error) are as obvious as they can be.
Meanwhile, Toyota’s response to these rumors in the corridors of power (see the video above) is straightforward and impressively nerdy. What the innuendo-mongerers in congress fail to understand is that if they simply chided Toyota for its slowness to react to customer complaints and poor global communication, they’d still be seen as defenders of their constituents’ safety, and rightly so. By following Mr Kane’s pied piping of possible yet untraceable electronic gremlins, they’ve run the risk of turning a teachable moment into a recreation of the Audi 5000 frenzy. Which would make for a pair of interesting bookends to the history of unintended acceleration.