By on March 14, 2010

Your risk of dying from your Toyota’s unintended acceleration (UA) is so low as to be all but nil next to the more general risk of dying in an automobile, according to an “Opinionator” column in the New York Times, by journalist Robert Wright.
Wright calculates that your chance of dying from unintended acceleration in a Toyota is 2.8 in a million. Meanwhile, the average American’s chance of dying in a car accident over the next to years is one in 5,244, writes Wright. “So driving one of these suspect Toyotas raises your chances of dying in a car crash over the next two years from .01907 percent (that’s 19 one-thousandths of one percent, when rounded off) to .01935 percent (also 19 one-thousandths of one percent). (Methodology described in the article.)


Wright, who drives an ’05 Highlander, notes his suspicion that software is to blame for the UAs, and that he doesn’t particularly like the feel of electronic throttle control. But in examining the costs and benefits of cars that increasingly drive themselves, he says that even if electronic throttle control causes a few lives to be lost through unintended acceleration, it saves gasoline, reducing air pollution and global warming, and therein, saving some lives. Furthermore, the dollars saved can be spent to boost human welfare.
The thing that worries Wright is not the unintended acceleration, but irrational response to risk, such as that of terrorist attack, which can lead people to make mistakes, such as invading Iraq. “So go out and buy a Toyota,” he concludes. “It’s the patriotic thing to do.”

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23 Comments on “Unintended Acceleration Risk Lower Than Everyday Driving Risk...”


  • avatar

    I truly hope that all these claims of toyotas losing control is a hoax, because if its not, that could have serious reprocussions for Toyota down the road – aside from the shringing of their stock prices currently.

    Lately, I actually get worried when a Camry or Prius is behind me on the road and I watch them with scrutiny.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The point of the stats above is that you’d be foolish to get nervous about a late-model Toyota in your rear-view mirror. You ought to be afraid of cars in general.

      One in five thousand. That’s only slightly better (worse) than my odds of winning a twenty-dollar gift card in Tim Horton’s Roll Up the Rim.

      But in examining the costs and benefits of cars that increasingly drive themselves, he says that even if electronic throttle control causes a few lives to be lost through unintended acceleration, it saves gasoline, reducing air pollution and global warming, and therein, saving some lives

      Considering that manual throttles and cables failed far more often than electronics do, even this is foolish supposition. It’s akin to arguing against vaccination: yes, vaccines have side-effects. So does measles and polio, and they do so in greater numbers.

  • avatar
    NickR

    A reefside classic? Hmmm, a fuselage body Mopar…’70 New Yorker?

  • avatar
    Dr Strangelove

    Is that supposed to read “diving risk”? The picture seems to indicate it.

  • avatar
    porschespeed

    Hey, hey, hey.

    This is America. We seldom (if ever) take a measured, rational, calculated view when it comes to safety. And sometimes we do it wrong when we do (see: Pinto).

    The vast majority gets concerned about whatever happens to be hyped (or played down) by the media – no matter what a quick, easy, factual analysis tells you about the risk.

    As long as humans have communicated, few things have been as interesting as sex. Fear comes in a close second. That, and our culture still hasn’t admitted that we all die.

    So, if your statistically insignificant method of demise gets some press – well, you can be sure somebody, somewhere will trying to make us all safe from the menace of, say, shark attack.

  • avatar
    jimboy

    Frankly, the NY Times has virtually no credibility left in the real world, although I imagine some fools in New York still read the sunday edition. Any comment or opinion I hear from that rag would send me in the opposite direction. I’m surprised the author even knows how to drive. (well, he drives a toyota, so probably he doesn’t)

    • 0 avatar
      BuzzDog

      C’mon now…NO credibility?

      The book, theatre and art reviews in the Sunday edition are still very informative…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Very little of the mass media has serious credibility. Prior to 1960, they didn’t even pretend to be unbiased, but we’ve been far too trusting, and the media very good at looking objective, that we haven’t noticed.

      People forget that big media is, first and foremost, a business. Individual journalists have some integrity, but it’s naive to think that the larger organizations aren’t in it for themselves.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    From other media:

    Theodore H. Frank: I am not afraid of my Toyota Prius
    By: Theodore H. Frank
    OpEd Contributor
    March 11, 2010
    Washington Examiner:
    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/columns/OpEd-Contributor/I-am-not-afraid-of-my-Toyota-Prius-87361597.html

    How Real are the Defects in Toyota’s Cars?
    Mar 12 2010, 2:56 PM ET
    By: Megan McArdle
    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/03/how-real-are-the-defects-in-toyotas-cars/37448/

  • avatar
    carguy

    Of course the risk is minimal but its a great story so the media loves it – how can you resist an out of control car story? Of course if you really check the CDC statistics on what sort of stuff people really die of then you’ll also note that child abduction is a negligible risk and that crime rates have been falling for quite some time – but both are still great stories because they evoke protective and fear emotions so they continue to run. The real truth is that cars are the greatest killer of children aged 4-12 – by a factor of 400% and that for middle age folk obesity, smoking and type 2 diabetes are the biggest killer – but where is the drama in that?

  • avatar
    210delray

    It’s pretty obvious that the risk of dying in a Toyota because of the alleged sudden acceleration problem is tiny compared to the risk of dying by driving at all. Preliminary figures for 2009 indicate 33,963 lives were lost on US highways, the lowest since 1954. Toyota sudden acceleration (whether due to vehicular malfunction or human error) has claimed 52 lives in 10 years. This “problem” has been blown completely out of proportion, but the same occurs whenever a young, attractive white (and usually blond) woman is abducted.

  • avatar

    OK, what happened to my comment about the news media? There was absolutely nothing in it deserving of moderation.

  • avatar
    adonasetb

    Enough of this Toyota talk – let’s get back to killing Buick

  • avatar
    Z71_Silvy

    Further proof that the media has taken a non-issue (unintended acceleration), singled out a manufacturer (Toyota) and has done considerable damage to them…for no reason.

  • avatar
    forraymond

    I totally agree, the NYT is just a left wing radical rag. I get all my facts and all my opinions and all my talking points from Fox News.

  • avatar
    JohnAZ

    The Toyota mess is not about the risk their cars provide to an individual. The story is about how Toyota handled news about the defects. They did everything in their power to bury the news and avoid expense and loss of reputation.

    It may be appropriate for the NYT to suggest there is little risk with your Toyota, but it is not appropriate to suggest that the Toyota company is not a risk to America.

    Just like Global Warming and Climategate, the NYT wouldn’t recognize the real issue of the Toyota story unless they were paid to.

    God bless Fox News, Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the 912 Project. There is hope that we will all survive the NYT, the MSM, unfair competition, and Obama.

    • 0 avatar
      Ed S.

      “God bless Fox News, Glenn Beck, the Tea Party, and the 912 Project. There is hope that we will all survive the NYT, the MSM, unfair competition, and Obama.”

      Haha! Good one, JohnAZ.

      That was a joke, right?

    • 0 avatar
      Tricky Dicky

      JohnAZ – I spend most of my waking hours trying to work out what the strategies are for car companies. I just don’t know how you can assert so strongly that Big-T “did everything in their power to bury the news and avoid expense and loss of reputation”. It’s a libellous kind of statement to make.

      Burying safety information is far from proven (as long as you know not to accept hysterical, fear-whipping, self-serving media). I mean, really analyze the situation: What could have been done differently? Could that only be done with the benefit of hindsight? Did they deviate from their famously stable processes? Where are the people on the inside raising their voices to ‘tell-it-like-it is’?

      Come on if this was such a well-founded attempt at burying facts about corporate evil-doing, someone’s going to crawl out of the woodwork to spill the beans. Sure there’s that crazy ex-lawyer dude, but the courts have seen the rubbish documents that he stole and have said there’s nothing doing – he just trying to screw cash out of them.

      All in all, I don’t see how you can confidently say those kinds of things that are frankly libellous.

  • avatar
    210delray

    I bet that didn’t hold up posts in the Farago era. Hmm, I posted this AFTER I saw psar’s comment.


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