By on March 31, 2010

I’m not actually that cynical a person. Honestly. I want to see the best in everything, but 9 times out of 10, my cynical side is normally proven right. So, pardon me as I cast a caustic eye at the following lines.

Milwaukee’s WISN reports that a Myrna Marseilles crashed her 2009 Toyota Camry into a wall of a YMCA in her hometown Sheboygan Falls, Wis., while she was trying to park the car. “All of a sudden, there was this very loud noise and the car shot forward and hit the wall,” Miss Marseilles said. “There wasn’t time to think what I might do because the car was zipping toward the building.”

As luck would have it, the crash happened just steps from the Sheboygan Falls police station, so response was instant.

Police Chief Steven Riffel said: “It was a pretty good impact. There was a pretty good amount of damage to the front end of the vehicle.” There are also cracks in the YMCA, and Ms. Marseilles fractured her sternum. The NHTSA will investigate. There even is a surveillance video of the scene. If this is UA, that surveillance video will blow YouTube’s servers.

Far from me to suggest that we’re dealing with another Jim “No, seriously. It really happened” Sikes, but I have left out one salient point. Miss Myrna Marseilles is 76 years young.

We have another Toyota that has developed “a mind of its own” while the driver just happens to be one of the more mature members of society. Seriously, can anyone find a Toyota acceleration story where the driver is under 40? I’m not the only person to think this. John Voelcker of the Car Connection wrote a piece highlighting the same point (complete with a pretty graph).

Another point which makes me think that this is a case of driver error is that Miss Marseilles’ car was recently repaired as part of the Toyota recall program. A Toyota spokesman said that Toyota had started an investigation into the matter.

Which brings me onto another issue (that’s right, you get 2 blogs for the price of one! Aren’t I good value?), CNN reports that the NHTSA is enlisting the help of those brainiacs at Cape Canaveral, NASA. They’ve enlisted them on account of the heavy criticism heaped on the NHTSA for lacking technological expertise. But don’t think the NASA brains will take a quick look at a Camry and work out the problems. The study is expected to be completed by summer. At which time the NHTSA will decide whether they will start a formal investigation. Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences is also going to perform an investigation into Toyota’s “Christine” cars. Their study will last 15 months.

Don’t think Toyota’s March sales figures are going to kill this whole issue. LaHood will milk this for all it’s worth. And TTAC calls for a joint AAA-AARP investigation.

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39 Comments on “YATUAS: Yet Another Toyota Unintended Acceleration Story…...”


  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    I would suspect Driver error, hey I am in that age Group too, so know it could happen that she hit the accelator rather than the Brake also the picture is not a Modern Car, especially with the gear shift mounted on the steering wheel!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Seriously, can anyone find a Toyota acceleration story where the driver is under 40?

    To be fair, most new car buyers are over 40 for reasons of income. Now that said, the stats are still skewed towards the upper end of the over-40 set.

    It is interesting to note that Toyotas that have few (if any) SUA issues are those bought by the young: only the Tacoma falls into that category, while the Yaris, Matrix, Lexus IS, Scion tC and Sienna seem conspicuously absent.

    Again, this really makes me suspect ergonomic issues with these cars, exacerbated by age. After all, what’s more likely, a phantom electronic problem in a heavily redundant and sanity-checked computer system, or that the seat and pedal placement are suboptimal.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      Especially Toyota. Around 2005 or so, their average US buyer was 53, the oldest of all major manufacturers. I don’t know if this still holds true (thanks to Scion), but Toyota has long acknowledged as the single biggest threat to their long-term success.

    • 0 avatar
      mdensch

      “I don’t know if this still holds true (thanks to Scion), . . . ”

      Take a look at the sales figures, there aren’t enough people buying Scions to skew the demographics one way or the other.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      Again, this really makes me suspect ergonomic issues…

      The pedals are too close, too close to the same height, and too close to the same tactile feedback. Break up this trio and the SUA incidents will plunge.

      Add a layer of safety by outlawing the “witness” signal being parallel and linear.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      “To be fair, most new car buyers are over 40 for reasons of income. Now that said, the stats are still skewed towards the upper end of the over-40 set.”

      To be fair, there are lots of younger people buying second hand Camry/Corolla. There isn’t a lot of complaints either.

      You don’t have to be the original owner to file a complaint to NHTSA, right? (Or was I misinformed?)

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      To be fair, there are lots of younger people buying second hand Camry/Corolla. There isn’t a lot of complaints either.

      True, but the more problematic Toyotas (in terms of SUA) aren’t that old, and likely aren’t in the hands of many young people yet, or young people are probably still more likely to prefer used, youth-targeted models (eg, the Yaris, Matrix or Sienna) anyway.

  • avatar
    PeregrineFalcon

    I’ve got $20 on this being down to pedal confusion.

    At least no one was killed this time.

  • avatar
    210delray

    Sounds like all the elements of pedal misapplication are in place here: Parking lot situation, running into a nearby building, and an elderly driver. I say this as I’m no young whippersnapper myself, but still nearly a couple decades younger than this woman.

    Love the photo of the old-timey steering wheel, complete with “cookie cutter” horn ring!

  • avatar
    ash78

    Did your Toyota accelerate suddenly?
    YES

    Are you over 70?
    YES

    Is your name Paul Newman?
    NO

    Fault: yours

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    It still boggles my mind that people think it’s a great idea to have two feet down there, but use only one of them to alternately hit two pedals which are inches apart, which you can’t see, and which perform completely opposite functions. If you were designing a system specifically to create problems, you couldn’t do much better.

    If you designed a system where you stuck both your arms into an invisible area, and in that area there were two identically-shaped buttons, in close proximity, which you had to hit with your closed fists, you’d be laughed at if you requested that people leave one arm to the side and punch the ‘go’ and ‘stop’ buttons with the other one, relying entirely on muscle memory to pick the right one. But if it’s your feet and a car? Somehow it’s dangerous to do it any other way. *rolls eyes*

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      Don’t expect it to change. There’s this little matter that the current pedal layout standardizes (in the US) at least back to 1928 (first Ford Model A, the Model T was the last mass-market car to have it’s own unique pedal controls), the layout differing only in the slow disappearance of that third pedal on the left.

      I seem to remember that Citroen tried something different on the SM (possibly going back to the DS?) brake pedal which caused a lot of confusion for uninitiated drivers. And it was still in the same position as the standard brake pedal.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It still boggles my mind that people think it’s a great idea to have two feet down there, but use only one of them to alternately hit two pedals which are inches apart, which you can’t see, and which perform completely opposite functions.

      Have you seen what people who two-foot drive do in a panic? I have: they stomp down with both feet which will often compromise your braking ability and result in pedal confusion anyways. It’s only recently that brake/throttle lockout has become common and makes this even remotely feasible and safe.

      Independently controlling two limbs and having them make two different, articulated motions is not intuitive. Helicopter pilots can attest to this: it is not an easy skill to learn. Heck, for many people, articulating a clutch is hard enough.

      The reason we train people to use one foot for two pedals, and it’s not just to save fuel and brakes: it really is less safe. Trained rally-car drivers can do it, but for the average person it’s an accident waiting to happen.

      The reason they’re two controls for one foot is that they do two very different and mutually exclusive things. The choice of which is supposed to be very deliberate and the chance of doing both, or the wrong thing, should be minimal. Your point about it being a blind control is a good one, but the solution is to space the pedals make them physically distinct (different shapes, offset at different heights, spaced wide apart), not to encourage people to use both controls simultaneously.

      To use your button example, if you used both hands, many, many people would press both buttons in panic, which is bad. A better solution would be to make both buttons easy to distinguish by making one button bigger, stiffer, taller and far enough away from the first button that you must make a deliberate move away in order to press it. In most cars, this is already the case; in Audi’s infamous 5000, it wasn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      A better solution would be to make both buttons easy to distinguish…

      Ta Da!

      People were having a problem with the Audi. Instead of looking at how the vehicle was contributing to the problem, the people who could have made a difference shrugged it off as a driver problem.

      Claiming the 2,200(?) reported incidents are “pedal mis-application–driver error” should not close the books, but open the investigation how the vehicle is contributing to the issue.

      Having said the above, what’s behind the “I saw two flashes of the Cruse Control lamp and away we went!”

  • avatar
    panzerfaust

    There are stories like this on police blotters across the country every week, if its a 76 year old woman driving a ’88 DeVille, or a 2000 Crown Victoria we assume its driver error. But if it’s a Toyota… lets get NASA involved. Lord have mercy.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    And TTAC calls for a joint AAA-AARP investigation.

    A point about the AARP: they will, to the death, fight against anything like this being made into a senior’s driving issue that would make licensing for older driver more ornerous.

    It’s interesting how we can make the young jump through all sorts of hoops, but the elderly (who, by about their mid-to-late-70s are as dangerous on the road as under-25s) are treated with kid gloves. It says a lot about the clout that the young do not hold.

    • 0 avatar
      ash78

      The elderly (including the currently retiring batch of boomers…my parents) are the single demographic source behind most of our nation’s financial problems.

      But if a politician wants to get re-elected, pandering to them is almost always a guarantee.

      This cycle is going to have to end at some point, from car licensing requirements to increasing the age for Medicare and SS.

      Sorry for the tangent, but yes, the older folks hold many of the cards when it comes to just about all legislation.

    • 0 avatar
      Angainor

      Fortunately they won’t live forever (maybe). Obamacare will probably even speed that up some.

  • avatar
    cjclaymore

    As an auto insurance adjuster, I can confirm that plenty of old people run into buildings all the time, because they got confused about the pedals. This is not exclusive to Toyota drivers. I’m sure she’s a sweet old lady, but the cynic in ME agrees, this lady ran into a building on her own, it’s not her car’s fault. Of course, the insurance adjuster processing her claim, and the property damage for the building, may reach a different conclusion…

  • avatar
    Turbo60640

    Here we go again. Another geriatric who can’t tell the difference between the accelerator and brake pedal, or drives with two feet.

    When I was learning to drive, my Dad would sometimes point out the “two footers.” You can usually identify them as the cars going down the road with their brake lights constantly lit or flickering erractically.

    He would say “You never want to drive like that.”

  • avatar
    don1967

    Seriously, can anyone find a Toyota acceleration story where the driver is under 40?

    Land sakes, Cammy! As a 42-year-old I’ve got half a mind to come down there and give you a piece of my mind. Lucky for you I forgot my slippers in the dishwasher again…

  • avatar
    variousoldcars

    Psarhjinian makes a couple good points and misses a couple. First, right-foot operation of brake and gas pedals allowed left-foot operation of the clutch pedal, which in the old days with straight-cut gears was necessary to allow finessing of the gas pedal during shifting. If clutch pedals had disappeared early in automotive history — say, as hand-operated steam valves or manual mixture enrichment did (not counting chokes) — then perhaps engineers would have changed the layout for gas and brake pedals. But indeed, all my cars still have three stompy pedals. And that being the case, P’s best point was that right-foot operation of the gas and brake pedal ensures that drivers use EITHER the brake or the gas. If Myrna is one of those automatic drivers who two-foots it, pulling away at a green light with her left foot still lighting up the brake bulbs, well it’s easy to get confused and press hard with the wrong foot or both feel when the Y is coming up fast in the windshield.

    I think P got his new pedal placement idea wrong, though. Were there no clutch pedal in the mix, moving the brake far away and placing it at a different height wouldn’t make braking safer — it would make it slower. For one-foot drivers, it would delay braking response, and for two-foot drivers… have you ever seen folks doing the hokey pokey? Most drivers don’t have the gross motor skills to make that happen as efficiently. Worse, one-foot [automatic transmission] drivers tend to lift off the loud pedal later than manual drivers, so braking has to be harder leading to more rear-end accidents.

    In contrast, the right-foot gas/brake layout requires lifting off the gas before braking, and encourages a more anticipatory approach to braking situations. At least, that’s my reasoning for putting my kids in a manual when they turn 16. That, and I only have manuals.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I think P got his new pedal placement idea wrong, though. Were there no clutch pedal in the mix, moving the brake far away and placing it at a different height…

      I probably didn’t make the degree of assertion clear: I don’t mean moving it to where the clutch resides, but moving it an inch or so to the right, raising it a half-inch (yeah, I know, goodbye heel/toe) and changing how both are hinged (pedal at the bottom, brake at the top).

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      …moving it [brake pedal] an inch or so to the right…

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe you mean to the left.

      ANYONE: Make a list of vehicles with SUA issues. Make a second list of vehicles that have 3 inches between the throttle and brake pedals and the brake pedal is 2 inches higher. Notice the lists are mutually exclusive.

      Mine are and I heel-and-toe but usually don’t need to because I bought the best tires and brake pads I could find.

      In any event, an automaker that puts pedals designed for Road Alanta in a street car will soon learn the folly of that.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Serve society and shove the relics down stairs.

  • avatar
    Contrarian

    a) I’m sorry she got hurt.

    b) ““There wasn’t time to think what I might do because the car was zipping toward the building.” LOL.

  • avatar
    ttacfan

    While enough under 40 folks are buying used Camries/Corollas, the model years involved into record didn’t make it to the used sales pool in the overwhelming numbers yet. If there’s a line of reasoning to buy a new Camry or Corolla, it certainly includes intention to hang onto it for more that 3 years or so.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    I think part of the problem is marshmallow seats. Anyone who has sat in (especially the) cloth front seats of a Camry knows what I mean. You could end up pretty much anywhere relative to the location of the pedals!

  • avatar
    baabthesaab

    For what it’s worth, I had an episode of unintended acceleration last week. I, a geriatric 58-year-old, was driving South of Oxford, UK on A34, when my rented Mercedes A150 accelerated up a hill (yes, they can actually do that!). My first guess was that the cruise control had turned itself on, so I stabbed the brake. Problem solved, never to return in the three days I had the car.

  • avatar
    Daanii2

    This story, the New York story, and the Sikes story all seem to put a smokescreen on this problem. But I think it is a problem.

    I go back to the California Highway Patrol Officer story. He was not lying — that he and his family died is proof of that. Nor was he confused about which pedal to press. He was apparently standing on the brakes while someone else was trying to pull the accelerator up.

    Was it the floormat that was the problem? Maybe. But that does not make sense to me. Even if it was, that story shows that you can burn out your brakes without stopping a car in full throttle.

    With all the fire burning about unintended acceleration, it’s hard to see through the smoke what the problem really is. And NASA and other government agencies are not going to help. They’ll just add to the confusion.

    And I don’t blame Toyota. I think they are trying. The last thing they want is to have people killed by their cars.

    But some people will still die from this. In terror. And we may never know why. That’s sad.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      +1

    • 0 avatar
      i_godzuki

      I have read in several places that the police guy Lexus crash was down to the wrong type of mat trapping the pedal and the fact that the previous renter of the car had the same problem, leading to the brakes being worn down. Apparently, the previous renter reporter the problem to the rental place but they didn’t fix it. When it happened again, the brakes were so worn, the policeman couldn’t stop the car. As we know, Toyota has admitted the mat problem and the faulty accelerator problem.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    Quote: Seriously, can anyone find a Toyota acceleration story where the driver is under 40?

    Thats easily answered because 95% Camry/Corolla/Avalon owners are well over the age of 40. 70 more like it actually. While this particular incident may have involved driver error I do know for a fact that certain late model Toyotas indeed have run away acceleration issues in certain circumstances. This is something that even most of the Toyota aplogists cannot deny and taking these small incidents and making Toyota look innocent is not going to work!!!

  • avatar
    adonasetb

    How old is Bob Lutz? He can still wheel a Caddy with the B&B and doesn’t get his feet or pedals confused.

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    Maybe car makers should take a leaf out of the books of motor-boat makers and have a wheel and a throttle lever which you push forward to go forward and pull back to brake and then reverse when the car has come to a stop.

    Sticking with the nautical theme, maybe the car’s brake over-ride system could be activated by seven or more short blasts of the horn followed by one long blast.

    Or perhaps people could be made to learn to drive properly and be expected to demonstrate this and take responsibility for their actions when the screw up.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Far from me to suggest that we’re dealing with another Jim “No, seriously. It really happened” Sikes, but I have left out one salient point. Miss Myrna Marseilles is 76 years young.

    I’m tired of this blame the elderly crap. A moment’s reflection would tell you that if elderly drivers are the chief cause, then Buick would be a leader in SUA cases. But Buick isn’t.

    The problem is with the Toyotas. No matter how badly pistonheads want to blame driver error, it just isn’t stacking up that way if you look at the stats.


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