"Unintended Acceleration" Rears Its Ugly Head

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer
unintended acceleration rears its ugly head

I'm sure many TTAC readers will recall the great Audi 5000 "unintended acceleration" legal turmoil of the mid-80's. The legal/media feeding frenzy set Audi sales back by a decade, despite the fact that every case of "unintended acceleration" was found to be caused by human, not mechanical error. Well, those bastions of quality journalism, the Detroit Free Press and Motor Trend blog, are trying to resuscitate the media frenzy, only this time Toyota's to blame for people mistaking the accelerator for their brake pedal. Apparently the NHTSA has received 33 complaints that Toyota Tacomas are driving themselves off the roads, and has launched an investigation into the 2006-2007 model years. "Toyota has said to us they've found nothing wrong with the truck and it's our fault," says one "victim." "They're basically calling us all stupid." Of course, after a crash nobody wants to take responsibility for the fact that they may have hit the gas instead of the brakes, but what is motivating this investigation has nothing to do with the facts of the individual cases. No, the investigation is being spurred by the fact that only four "unintended acceleration" complaints have been logged against non-Tacoma pickups in the period that 33 were logged against the 'yota. "If there were truly human error, there would be a proportional distribution across models," says Clarence Ditlow, head of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington. "It's very difficult to explain how some makes and models have higher numbers of complaints than others absent some flaw in the vehicle." Yes, but it's very easy to prove that your brakes are more powerful than your engine. In fact, if a TTAC reader out there has a Tacoma, perhaps they would do us the honor of standing on the brakes while mashing the accelerator for a few seconds. This should prove fairly simply that "unintended acceleration" is possible only when you are not actually on the brakes.

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  • Davejay Davejay on Apr 09, 2008
    “Toyota has said to us they’ve found nothing wrong with the truck and it’s our fault,” says one “victim.” “They’re basically calling us all stupid.” Wow, it's the 80s all over again; I swear I used almost that exact quote from a newspaper article about the Audi debacle for a school paper back then. I say the following as a person who has had a floor mat in a Sentra SE-R stick the gas to the floor twice when pulling away from a light (a problem solved by clutching in, and eventually Nissan recalled the floor mats) -- even when it isn't driver error completely, driver error is likely involved in some way. Consider my experience -- if I had been driving an automatic, I might have hit the brake instead of clutching in. If I wasn't familiar with the car for some reason (let's say I was used to a different car's pedal arrangement) I might have hit the gas by accident, and since a stuck gas pedal triggered my attempt to hit the brake, of course I'd believe with all my heart that I had hit the brake without success. The Audi problem ended up being a chain: there was a surging idle causing cars to jump a bit under certain conditions, and the drivers (who were significantly new to the car, or not the regular drivers of the car) hit the gas instead of the brake in response. Since an experienced owner of the car might be familiar with the idiosyncratic behavior of the car, it really does come down to an unusual behavior coupled with an unfamiliar design for a particular driver. Similarly, the second time my gas pedal stuck, it was a yawn -- I was familiar with the behavior now -- but the first time was quite a wake-up call. Even though it was the floor mat, the floor mat didn't send me careening into another car, because I was paying attention. But then, I was driving stick as well, and cars with automatic transmissions don't require as much attention, so they're more likely to be driven by those with shorter attention spans. Oh, and hey: remember those Mazda 5s catching on fire a few years back, that got traced to people shifting the transmission into manual mode and leaving it there? The cars automatically shifted into 2nd gear, and stayed there -- and drivers then proceeded to drive at highway speeds with the cars redlined in 2nd until the exhaust got hot enough to start a fire. Unfamiliar behavior (the manumatic's functionality) coupled with driver unfamiliarity (the high engine noise wasn't a red flag.) So this too shall be settled, and perhaps we'll see something good come from it as we did with the Audi event in the 80s -- cars that don't shift out of park without your foot on the brake were a direct result of that bruhaha.

  • JK43123 JK43123 on Apr 11, 2009
    If its any indication based on my morning commute, over 90% of people on the road could easily fall into that category... Just 90 percent? John

  • FreedMike Bicyclists.
  • FreedMike But will it have a badge?And maybe I don’t understand this whole truck thing, but isn’t 430 hp out of 7.3 liters a bit low? That’s not a whole lot better than the Coyote engine in the Mustang. I don’t see that as a selling point.
  • Goatshadow My favorite Lambo ever. It's gorgeous..
  • DenverMike Column shifter in all trims? Thank god someone is listening. The console shifter is just the stupidest thing ever. Frick just make the whole area useful utility. Luxury means something different in trucks. Definitely removable and I’ll make my own work station.
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