I recently watched a rather disturbing YouTube video. In it, a Toyota Highlander is seen terrorizing a quiet suburb, not unlike a kid with a loud exhaust on his car, or worse: a neighbor who hasn’t mowed his lawn for a few weeks.
For those of you who are at work and can’t watch the video, I’ll sum it up for you: a security camera shows a Highlander pulling up to a quiet home in the kind of suburb where covenants say your bricks can be one of three highly distinct colors: light brown (which the builder probably calls something like “Stable Hay Cream”), dark brown (“Mojave Bronze”), or – for the uncultured among us – normal brown (“Sahara Sand”).
The Highlander slowly pulls into a driveway, and then quickly accelerates to attack the garage door. Then it backs out into the street and lunges forward once again, slamming into the garage door a second time. Finally, it reverses into the street again and does a wild J-turn that looks more realistic than any car-related scene in the last four James Bond movies.
The video’s description, which blames a stuck accelerator pedal, says the driver is a woman who was picking up teenage girls for a carpool. When Autoblog posted the story, their astute commenters – who use names like Johnny Trailerpark and PICKLEBOY (yes, with the caps) – needed to hear no more. This is a sample of several highly sophisticated remarks from the Autoblog comment section:
1. It’s a woman that got confused. It happens :)
2. I only see a foolish woman behind the wheel.
3. 100 bucks it was a woman driver
4. Attacking the house of the woman cheating with her husband?
I’ve never really bought into the “women are horrible drivers” thing. This is because many of my worst on-road experiences have been with men, who say things like “watch this” significantly more often than they use their turn signals. Recently, for example, I crashed a Panamera into a guy who was trying to make an illegal left turn across seven lanes of traffic. In the rain. At night. His excuse, quite memorably, was: “I didn’t see you.” If only my car had been Stable Hay Cream.
Once I rejected the “it’s a woman, so she must be at fault” theory, I started to come around to the stuck accelerator explanation of events. There were two reasons for this. One is obvious: Toyota recently had highly-publicized problems with stuck accelerator pedals. This led them to recall every single model since the 1979 Corona, plus a few thousand Power Wheels children’s toys and dozens of wheeled drink carts.
The other thing that convinced me the driver wasn’t at fault is the simple reality of what’s shown in the video. Consider it: first, she hits the garage door in Drive. Then she takes her foot off the gas, places it on the brake, moves the gear lever into Reverse, and backs up. Then she takes her foot back off the gas, places it on the brake again, moves the gear lever back into Drive, and hits the garage door a second time. Finally, she does the very same thing again, resulting in the J-Turn. With so many switches between the gas and brakes, it could be intentional – but it can’t be pedal misapplication.
To confirm my analysis, I sent the video to a friend who is a highly competent attorney in the automotive industry. Actually, I don’t know if he’s highly competent, but I believe he must be since he often uses words like “pursuant.”
His view on the video was very much the same as mine. But he had one question: do you need to push the Highlander’s brake to move the gear lever from Drive to Reverse? If you can move the gear lever without pushing the brake, the driver is probably at fault, since she was moving the lever while mashing the gas. But if you have to push the brake to move the gear lever, then she couldn’t have been pushing the throttle. In that case, the culprit was probably a vehicle malfunction – or an intentional act.
Since I’ve driven many of today’s finest automatics, and also a few Fiat 500s, I was pretty sure that you have to push the brake to shift from Drive to Reverse. But since I’m committed to bringing you the finest automotive journalism on the planet, as long as I don’t have to change out of my pajamas, I decided to find out for sure. This would involve my friend Mark, who is also an attorney, though he rarely uses the word “pursuant.” To make up for it, he has a beard.
More importantly, he has a four-cylinder Toyota Highlander. While this causes a problem on hills and highway onramps, it would be perfect for my test. So I called Mark, and our conversation went something like this:
Me: Hey, man. Can I come over?
Mark: Uh, dude. It’s noon on a weekday. I’m at work.
Me: But I need to test the Highlander!
Mark: You’re wearing your pajamas, aren’t you?
Mark and I eventually made plans to meet up on Sunday, when we would test the Highlander in his driveway. And guess what? You can shift from Drive to Reverse without pushing the brake. You can also shift from Reverse to Drive. In fact, you can shift from Drive to Park without pushing the brake, and Neutral to Drive, and Low to Neutral. Basically, you can move the gear lever from any gear to any other gear while your feet just dangle out the window.
In other words, the driver in the video was probably jamming the gas while she was shifting gears. There’s no stuck throttle here. Just a very angry homeowner with a driveway full of Sahara Sand bricks.
Doug DeMuro operates PlaysWithCars.com. He’s owned an E63 AMG wagon, road-tripped across the US in a Lotus without air conditioning, and posted a six-minute lap time on the Circuit de Monaco in a rented Ford Fiesta. One year after becoming Porsche Cars North America’s youngest manager, he quit to become a writer. His parents are very disappointed.