By on October 19, 2009

ES350 starter solenoid (courtesy cdn1.ioffer.com)

Toyota has taken a massive hit to its rep, due to reports of floor mat-related unintended acceleration, and the automaker’s subsequent recall. The headline case: a fatal crash on August 28th. As The LA Times reports, a “runway” Lexus ES350 slammed into another vehicle and embankment, killing California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, his wife, teenage daughter and brother-in-law. The Times raises an important point: ” . . . a close look at the Lexus ES 350 raises questions about whether the car’s very design may have compromised Saylor’s skills. One obvious line of defense is to simply shut off the engine, a step that may not be intuitive on the ES 350. The car has a push-button start system, activated by the combination of a wireless electronic fob carried by the driver and a button on the dashboard. But once the vehicle is moving, the engine will not shut off unless the button is held down for a full three seconds — a period of time in which Saylor’s car would have traveled 528 feet. A driver may push the button repeatedly, not knowing it requires a three-second hold.”

The Times points out that the ES 350 was a loaner; Officer Saylor’s car may or may not have had a push button start. What’s more . . .

That procedure is explained deep in the owners manual. In a text box labeled “! Caution,” Toyota tells owners, “Do not touch the ‘power’ switch while driving.” But under the warning it adds, “If you have to make an emergency stop, press and hold the ‘power’ switch for more than three seconds.”

So what about shifting out of gear, per Consumer Reports’ advice?

The other common defense tactic advised by experts is to simply shift a runaway vehicle into neutral. But the ES 350 is equipped with an automatic transmission that can mimic manual shifting, and its shift lever on the console has a series of gates and detents that allow a driver to select any of at least four forward gears.

The arrangement of those gear selections could make it difficult to shift from a forward gear directly into neutral in a panic situation, Toyota spokesman Lyons acknowledged.

“I think it’s possible to get the shifter confused, but I can’t be sure that’s what happened” in San Diego, Lyons said. “You’d be surprised how many people around here [Toyota] don’t know what the neutral position is for.”

Don’t know what neutral is for? How about the brakes?

The ES 350 and most other modern vehicles are equipped with power-assisted brakes, which operate by drawing vacuum power from the engine. But when an engine opens to full throttle, the vacuum drops, and after one or two pumps of the brake pedal the power assist feature disappears.

As a result, a driver would have to apply enormous pressure to the brake pedal to stop the car, and if the throttle was wide open might not be able to stop it at all, safety experts say.

When Audi got hit with sudden unintended acceleration accusations, the “step on the brake while engaging gear” requirement was born. One wonders how this Toyota situation is going to play out from a regulation point-of-view. Meanwhile, lawyers. Lots and lots of lawyers. Not because it makes sense, mind you. But because this is how these things always play out.

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79 Comments on “Starter Button A Factor in Runaway Lexus ES350?...”


  • avatar
    CyCarConsulting

    Seems the new electric motorcycles have the same glitch from some stories I’ve been reading.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    Starter buttons: the triumph of style over substance.

    Wait until they discover that until the 1930s–and later, for some pick-ups–Real Cars had starter switches on the floor, like old headlight dim/bright controls. Imagine the styling possibilities that opens up.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Give me a good old fashioned key with an actual physical electrical switch behind it any day.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    A big red PANIC button is in our future. It will simultaneously engage neutral, kill power to the engine, and call 911.

  • avatar
    Mike S.

    “A driver may push the button repeatedly, not knowing it requires a three-second hold.”

    Interestingly, Nissan’s variant will shut off with either a two-second hold or three consecutive presses.

  • avatar
    vvk

    My car has push button start and it is one of very few things I dislike. More than dislike, actually. I find it confusing and cumbersome to use. I do not hate it quite as much as run flat tires. But just like run flat tires it makes my family less safe. Note to car engineers: get a brain!

  • avatar
    50merc

    I thought as much. An insane “stop engine” design.

    Many cars today have computer-controlled transmissions. Might it also be possible that the driver did (or tried to) shift to Neutral but the electronic brain overrode that command? (“Dave, choosing Neutral or Park at high speed is not approved driving practice!”)

    And a computer runs the Stability Control and Antilock Braking features. The latter “pulses” the brakes if traction is lost even though the driver maintains steady pressure on the pedal. Any possibility for a glitch there?

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    When I first heard about the ‘killer floor mats’, I just thought this was ridiculous, and would blow over soon.

    Reading about the multiple/interactive confusing systems (starter button, gated shifter, brake pressure)…the dangerous car scenario becomes far more real.

    In a panic situation, how would a new or occasional driver know to hold the starter button for 3 seconds (an eternity in a panic situation!)…and again, in a panic an unfamiliar driver may find a gated shifter confusing (I actually still prefer them though)…and then to find that the brakes don’t seem to be stopping the car, and/or have massively increased pressure required…

    This SHOULD be addressed by safety experts, and perhaps some changes do need to be made, and/or additional safety measures designed in.

    My mother had an Audi at the time of the whole 60 Minutes acceleration bullsh*t, and I was so pissed because a great car/company got decimated by a few idiots (sorry) who stood on the gas and thought they had their foot an the brake. But design changes (including a wider brake pedal on automatics, and a depress brake/shifter lock) made all cars safer, and I beleive the changes have probably saved lives (of people who are probably not good drivers, but deserve to live anyway.)

    Looks like we have a new, and probably needed, round of safety measures on the way.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    I would imagine that power brakes are going to be the next big thing to be “physically” decoupled from the engine in the form of electric assist. People will say that it is common sense that the power assist should increase with speed and/or throttle instead of decreasing with a wide open throttle.

    I would think that some sort of electric assist is needed for hybrid cars when the engine is off. How does that work?

  • avatar
    lawmonkey

    Some low end cars that they try to splice on keyless start has a high margin option – Nissan Versa, Mazda MX-5 Miata – replace the key with a nub that you twist in a similar, and very familiar fashion. This might become required, as off is as easy as twisting it back like you would a key.

  • avatar
    50merc

    sfdennis1: “Looks like we have a new, and probably needed, round of safety measures on the way.”

    Look for Toyota to mail out “To Stop Engine Press Button for Three Seconds” stickers to slap on the dash.

    Hope the software engineers haven’t made it so that pressing for four seconds will re-start the engine.

  • avatar
    Mike S.

    “Hope the software engineers haven’t made it so that pressing for four seconds will re-start the engine.”

    Unless the software is really glitchy, it won’t restart without the car being in Park with the brake pedal depressed.

  • avatar
    Richard Chen

    We’re going to see more cars that will ignore throttle inputs if the brake is pushed, some cars have that already.

    Pic of ’10 Lexus ES shift gate

    With this design, moving the shift knob forwards 1 detent should put you into neutral. Familiarity is part of the problem, though, as that driver involved in the fatality had a rental that day.

    One of the slushboxes I drive has a gate very similar to that of the above Lexus, the other has a zigzag that goes down to 1/L. Fortunately, the forwards nudge will put either car into N.

  • avatar

    Although I’ve got two pushbutton start cars and find the interface ridiculous, the ES350 still has a transmission selector which allows you to hit “N” and a second pedal next to the accelerator with which to stop the car.

    So long as we accept the idea that it is a manufacturer’s responsibility to make up for poor driving skills, these kinds of nonsense stories will persist. My deepest sympathies go to the family, but any aircraft pilot is trained to deal with a variety of remedies for in-flight failures. Teaching parallel parking and 3-point U-turns is in another league. This “runaway” is 100% driver error.

  • avatar
    alex_rashev

    I remember driving a runaway ’75 Newport on I270 with stuck linkage. Brakes don’t do much; turning off the engine helps, but the second you restart you send out a nice fireball through the exhaust – the carburetor doesn’t care about your ignition switch :). I finally got to a safe spot and got hit by a brilliant idea of using the transmission shift lever; dropped her to neutral and coasted/gently braked to a stop.

    Given that it took me a good 30 seconds to even THINK of shifting to neutral, I’d say that having to press a button for at least 3 seconds is a recipie for disaster.

    Lawmonkey is right – I have a Miata with keyless iginition and it works great – just like a regular key. Better yet, you can always pull off the knob, take a real key out of your keyless fob, and use it in case your keyless fob died for whatever reason. Starter button is great for race cars, but they also have an on-off switch for ignition. Here we have a fine example of what happens when somebody goes, “OH, starter button! Cool!” and forgets about the other pieces that make it work.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Just give me a key; they always work.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    I love my pushbutton start on the Prius. I leave my keyfob and keys in my pocket and I can still enter the car and drive it without having to fumble for keys.

    Messing with keys is SO LAST CENTURY!

    Keyless entry and keyless start have been a HUGE convenience to me, with my bad back (sometimes makes finding my keys painful).

    Rentals are aggravating, because I have to “manually” unlock the car. It’s annoying!

  • avatar
    Areitu

    In the future, there will only be two buttons. GO and STOP.

    My first instinct would be to put the car in neutral, not to turn it off. Few people seem to know you can shift into netural from R or D without pressing the brakes. I’m sure this is some kind of regulation or mandate, just like the ordering PRND.

    I’m sure we’ll see permanent warning labels over the pushbutton starts like those giant airbag warnings on the sun visors in US cars now.

  • avatar
    qfrog

    If only there was a brake assist system that didn’t rely on vacuum… OH! Like the hydraulic brake booster system found in 80’s and early 90’s Audi models. Audi gave up on hydraulic brake assist but it was “the bomb” okay, maybe a component of the system is just known as “the bomb” by Audi folks.

    Using your parasitic power steering pump (that thing we’re doing away with now to implement electro-hydraulic steering racks) to provide the power assist for your brakes is great until of course your mineral oil based power steering system is hemorrhaging fluid in ever conceivable place.

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    Face it, were becoming a society of idiots. Not knowing how to place an automatic transmission into neutral drops below the line of “I have an acceptable knowledge of how to operate a vehicle.”

    Also, all slushbox tranny gates are a straight push forward one notch from “D” and must be unguarded. FMVSS standard. Duh.

  • avatar
    michal1980

    should be a fairly easy program

    If speed > XXX,
    And Acc = WOT
    And Brake = 100%

    Then Fuel = min

  • avatar
    Rick

    @Mark out west:

    The ES350 gear shifter has this configuration:

    N/-
    D
    +

    If the car’s in 4th gear, you would have to tap the shifter up 4 times to hit neutral. If it’s not something you’re accustomed to (driving a loaner), it’s not exactly self evident.

  • avatar
    roverv8i

    There is something to be said for common control setups. While it does limit some of a cars personality, key on the left in a Porsche for instance, it does insure the driver knows what to do in a panic situation. Case it point, I put a big bad dent in a garage door with a borrowed lawn tractor. I typically use a John Deere with hydrostatic. It has a foot pedal for forward and reverse on the right an a brake on the left. Mom’s is older and uses a hand lever on the right and a brake on the right. In both you only use the brake when neutral will not stop you fast enough. The borrowed mower (lawn machines or some such) has the “fake” hydrostatic where you have only a go pedal on the right and must shift from forward to reverse with your hand. The Brake is also on the right and requires a high lifting of your foot to engage. additionally, the mower does not always stop fully with the lift of a foot. I was attempting to park close to the door and when the mower did not completely stop I got confused on where the pedal was and for that mater the key and continued to roll right into the door. Mind you I am a competent operator of machinery that usually requires little explanation to operate something new be it a car, mower or farm equipment. However, if you are not accustom to something till it is second nature you may get confused in a panic situation. It took me a while to instinctively reach for the right place to but my key in the Boxster as I do not drive it every day.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Several contributing factors are related to the driver’s unfamiliarity with the specifics of the vehicle. Perhaps this means that vehicles with these non-standard, non-obvious features make for poor choices as loaners?

  • avatar
    George B

    Richard Chen :
    October 19th, 2009 at 1:16 pm

    We’re going to see more cars that will ignore throttle inputs if the brake is pushed, some cars have that already.

    Pic of ‘10 Lexus ES shift gate

    With this design, moving the shift knob forwards 1 detent should put you into neutral…

    From the picture of the ES shift gate, it looks like it would be easy to accidentally put the lever into the manual mode where moving the lever forward causes an upshift instead of neutral. Should cars standardize on downshift forward upshift back? Accidental downshift forward would both slow the car and give the driver some feedback as to why the car isn’t going into neutral as expected.

    The other user interface improvement would be for manufacturers to agree on a standard time delay for that the starter button to stop the engine. I would think that holding down for one second would be long enough.

  • avatar

    @Rick. Are you certain? I think it is “slide to the right and up” to get to N. I didn’t think N was an option on the “manumatic” side (i.e., can only choose forward gears, not reverse or neutral with the “taps”).

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    These new cars are quite scary with so much electronic bull crap. Tops on my list is the silly keyless start for the above mentioned issues. We have truly become a society of lazy idiots. A person that cannot insert a key into a hole to start there car probably shouldn’t be driving. I can’t wait to see how these crap box cars are going to be when there 5-10 years old with 100K miles of salt belt and or dusty driving in varying degrees of temps. Can you say used car nightmares. Another of my favorites is the Lexus parallel park aid. How long before the sensors become dirty or defective so that instead of parallel parking your parallel scraping the car next to you.

  • avatar
    Rick

    @ScottyDriver:

    No, I’m not sure. I can’t give a definitive answer based on the picture. I guess that kind of proves the point, no?

  • avatar
    njoneer

    The OnStar operator could have remotely shut down the engine.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    “I love my pushbutton start on the Prius. I leave my keyfob and keys in my pocket and I can still enter the car and drive it without having to fumble for keys.”

    An acquaintance with a Keyless Go Mercedes drove to the airport in it, handed it over to his wife to drive home, and climbed aboard the flight to LA…with his keyfob still in his pocket. Wife stopped to do some shopping at a mall on the way home and turned off the car.

    That’s where it sat until her husband got back from his business trip, fortunately a short one.

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    @Rick,

    It’s a classic “tip tronic” slushbox. You tip/tilt the lever over to the sport gate and start tapping away. Tip back into “D” and you’re back into classic slushbox mode. No guard. In the worst case, neutral was two, not one click away.

    These boxes have been around since the early 90s.

  • avatar
    threeer

    I sincerely hope there was some serious tongue-in-cheek regarding “loving the pushbutton on the Prius” comments…sure, being able to get in the car without physical use is cool. Until the car goes ape-sh*t like this Lexus did. Not saying it will, but when any car of mine goes WOT, I want to be able to quickly, and without much thought, disable the damn engine…NOW! No…push three times BS or “shift the lever through four gates” garbage. In our effort to be “stylish” we’ve severely dumbed down the skills and knowledge needed to be safe. If we absolutely must have these idiotic pushbuttons, then put a huge red “STOP” button on the dash that disables the tranny from the engine and shuts the engine down, as well. Form should follow function, not the other way around.

    Dang, am I even more grateful for my puny 1997 Tercel…with it’s old-fashioned key start and manual transmission…I know that within a second I can either pull the key or pop the tranny into neutral.

  • avatar
    JMII

    In a panic situation slamming on the brakes is what everyone would have done. Are you telling me at WOT the brake system doesn’t have enough vacuum to to stop the car? If so there’s your problem! Push button or gear selector excluded if you can’t stop the car via the brakes (regardless of throttle position) you’ve got BIG problems.

  • avatar
    Pahaska

    I love my keyless start Genesis. I’ll never buy another car without the feature. The fob simply hangs in my pcket from a stainless spring clip and I never remove it except at the car wash where I plug the fob into the dash socket.

  • avatar
    Emro

    this is the same auto gate setup as my Mazda3:
    http://www.lexus.com/lexus-share/images/gallery/models/ES/photos/interior/g_int5.jpg

    how would this be difficult to find N with? and hell, even if you were dense enough to get confused, jam the bloody thing into R or P in a panic situation!!

  • avatar
    trk2

    The biggest problem with these stories are operators who do not understand the functionality and limitations of the equipment they own. Brakes will stop a run away car but only if the brakes are applied forcefully and deliberately to bring the car to a quick stop. If the operator rides the brakes to simply cease accelerating while he/she attempts to figure out what is wrong, the brakes are quickly heating to the point where they will be useless.

    Similarly people are afraid of turning off the engine because they are afraid of losing power brakes or steering. Unfortunately a large percentage of the population doesn’t realize that steering is effortless above 20mph (power or not) and doesn’t become difficult until speeds under 10mph. Few people today have driven cars without power brakes, so they don’t know that biggest benefit of power brakes is the ease of holding vehicles at a stop, not because bringing vehicles to a stop required great amounts of strength.

    Unfortunately the luxury features we take for granted on cars today have so distanced us from automobile operating basics that we are afraid to even attempt to operate a vehicle without them, even in an emergency.

  • avatar
    blowfish

    the vacuum hose going to the brake vac booster usually has a check valve, prevent the vac from leaking back to the engine. So even the engine had just stopped running it should have 2-3 steps before it totally ran out of vac. Then is Foot strong as well as Armstrong.
    Need to hold the stop button for 3 secs seems to work for some situation when one can accidentally touch it.
    Same as the Toshiba note books, they require u to hold for few secs inorder to turn off. How often u need to turn off a Notebook, unless u in some Godforbidden site when someone walked in on u, then u wish u could kill the power Pronto too. If u running batery then is a different way, u need to pull the batt or else u need to wait for 30 secs or more.

    Whenever there are loss of Life due to some stoopid device or system then is no fun.
    When the car doesn’t work don’t u wish its a Volkswagen?

  • avatar
    dean

    All electric-start street motorcycles (that I’m aware of) are keyless start. You turn the key to the run position, then thumb the starter button to start.

    And all electric-start street motorcycles have an engine killswitch that shuts off the engine without requiring that you turn the key.

    Maybe if car companies had bothered to look at best practices they wouldn’t have tried to make a single button do double-duty. I suspect that either legislation or legal precedent will soon require the use of hard-wired killswitches.

    I predict you’ll see them on 2011 models.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    “Similarly people are afraid of turning off the engine because they are afraid of losing power brakes or steering.”

    I’d be careful about simply “turning off the engine.” In millions of car still on the road, turn it one notch too far–not hard to do– and you’ve locked the steering. Try then unlocking the steering while you’re hysterically putting useless pressure on the wheel to avoid that big oak tree and you’ll find it’s impossible.

    Some things are easier written than actually done. Also, I doubt that many ordinary drivers have any idea that a running engine has anything to do with the brakes or steering.

  • avatar
    Mike66Chryslers

    Chicago Dude : I would imagine that power brakes are going to be the next big thing to be “physically” decoupled from the engine in the form of electric assist. People will say that it is common sense that the power assist should increase with speed and/or throttle instead of decreasing with a wide open throttle.

    Right… because we all stomp the brakes while we’re accelerating at WOT! I will agree, however, that on cars with drive-by-wire throttle, it makes sense that the throttle input should be ignored when the brakes are also applied. Of course then you’ll have all the bad drivers that accelerate with the right foot and brake with the left foot complaining to the dealer that there’s something wrong with their car (because they were resting their foot on the pedal just enough to activate the brake light). One of my co-workers encountered this with his Jetta TDI which behaves that way. He had it back to the dealer multiple times, and each time they couldn’t find anything wrong or course.

    FYI, there’s supposed to be enough vacuum retained in the brake booster for at least one good panic stop, intended for the case case where your engine stalls and is no longer providing vacuum. In the worst case scenario, the emergency brake is a last-resort, but how many people today would instinctively use this anywhere except a parking lot?

    Lets also not forget that the one of the occupants of the “runaway” Lexus had time to call 911 and talk to the operator, albeit briefly. Surely the driver had enough time to figure out that he ought to shift into neutral after finding that the start/stop button wasn’t doing the trick.

    I’m going with my original conclusion that this accident was primarily driver error.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Reading about the multiple/interactive confusing systems (starter button, gated shifter, brake pressure)…the dangerous car scenario becomes far more real.

    If you stand on the brake, you will stop the car. You can try this yourself: step on both the gas and brake and see who wins.

    The problem is that people panic. People have always panicked, by the way, it’s not a new thing. No amount of driver education or manual transmission adoption is going to help people who freeze up and either do the wrong thing, or nothing at all.

    This is where things like pre-collision systems are going to play a bigger role: the car will sense oncoming obstacles, precharge that brakes, tighten the seatbelts and, when you pass from “collision warning” to “brace for impact”, actually apply the brakes. Mercedes and Lexus both have cars that do this now, and it’s probably something that will filter downmarket, just as ESC has.

  • avatar
    meefer

    As to the manumatic mode, the dash clearly indicates when you are in this mode by an indicator light labeled “S” and the gear you are in displayed in a separate LCD. If you are too dumb to figure out that S != D, then you shouldn’t be driving any car.

  • avatar

    It’s poor design that contributes to driver error.

    From looking at the pictures of the Lexus shifter, it appears the manumatic gate is too close to the main gate. It is possible to accidentally shift into the manumatic gate if you move the handle to the left until it stops. I suspect

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Yes, cars are needlessly more complex than hitherto, but thanks, government. And, yes, Americans are, as a group, losing their collective IQ as more and more stupid people manifest. Most women, most feminized men (and I don’t mean queers), anyone with a cell phone and/or iPod, and anyone not speaking English, should not be driving. But since none of the above will ever happen, let’s just place the blame on an inanimate object and/or poor engineering. It’s easier that way, and allows for more government regulation at the same time.

  • avatar
    kitzler

    You can blame push buttons and technology for a lot of ills, but if the Lexus came with a stick shift instead of automatic only, the poor guy would be alive today. Of course most drivers today just want to aim their vehicle, not drive them.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Yes, cars are needlessly more complex than hitherto, but thanks, government. And, yes, Americans are, as a group, losing their collective IQ as more and more stupid people manifest.

    People are no more stupid or smart than they used to be.** What’s changing is that we’ve enabled “stupid” people to a greater degree than ever before by putting more and more technology and choices into their hands.

    If you’ve worked technical support, you’ll understand this. Anyone who bought a computer in 1990 probably knew how to use it, or at least wanted to. Now, they’re in the hands of people who really don’t know how they work, and the support requirements have exploded.

    Cars are similar: as we get more people on the road in more capable vehicles, we’re going to have more problems, despite that the accident rate is going down. The solution, really, is fewer cars.

    ** Everyone seems to think that people were always better when they themselves were younger, no matter what their current age. People who are 80 think that the world went to shit in 1945; people in the 50s think the cutoff is 1962. God help me, I’m starting to feel that way about the 1980s. Call it nostalgic social narcissism.

  • avatar
    Stephan Wilkinson

    “You can blame push buttons and technology for a lot of ills, but if the Lexus came with a stick shift instead of automatic only, the poor guy would be alive today. Of course most drivers today just want to aim their vehicle, not drive them.”

    Actually, if it came with a straightfowrard PRNDL automatic, he’d be alive too. The problem has more to do with sportomatic-tiptronic-whizbang-paddles electronic multimode shifters (and the other moronic electronic aids) than it does with manual-versus-auto transmissions.

    It’s sort of like saying he’d be alive if he’d had to start his car with a crank rather than a pussy electric starter, since then there’d have been a simple ground-to-stop switch somewhere to kill the mags.

    And of course everybody understands that Real Men Use Starter Cranks.

  • avatar
    Ion

    Honestly I think the main problem was that it wasn’t his car. If something goes wrong with my car I know what to do instantly on a borrowed car I’d have to take time to figure it out. The why didn’t he do this or if you can’t do this you shouldn’t have a license comments are irrelevant in this scenario since this wasn’t the driver’s regular vehicle.

  • avatar
    Power6

    If only there was a brake assist system that didn’t rely on vacuum… OH! Like the hydraulic brake booster system found in 80’s and early 90’s Audi models.

    There are lots of versions of non-vacuum brake boosters I am aware of. 80’s Turbo T-birds and late Buick Grand Nationals had Nitrogen pressure accumulator systems (GM called it “Powermaster” brakes) with electric pumps. Seems some engineers/lawyers were concerned about the lack of vacuum with a turbo motor. Early Grand Nationals had a hydraulic system similar to Audi called Hydroboost. I recall a friend’s Celebrity Eurosport (no euro, no sport) had the “HO” 2.8 V6 which, I guess because of low vacuum, had an electric pump to add supplementary vacuum to the normal vacuum booster brake system.

  • avatar
    cvelocity

    I didn’t know the ES350 would let you shift into neutral if you couldn’t downshift to first gear beforehand. It’s been a little while since I drove one, but I thought shifting into neutral was integrated with the manumatic downshift.

    Most electronically controlled automatics won’t let you downshift into a gear if you’re going to overrev, so how WOULD you get the ES350 into neutral (if my memory serves on the N/- sharing)?

  • avatar
    NickR

    Not to make light of a tragedy, but that’s one of the reasons I am sick to death of the gimcrackery that passes for innovations in today’s autos. A starter button…seriously, as far as a feature goes who gives a shit. Give me a key and use the money making sure something else lasts a bit longer.

  • avatar
    210delray

    @ psarhjinian

    people in the 50s think the cutoff is 1962.

    You’re close, but people in their (late) 50s know the precise date: 11/22/63.

  • avatar
    Wheeljack

    I’m still not entirely convinced that the floormats are the only problem in the various afflicted Toyotas. There’s a regular poster over on a Jeep forum I frequent with a base Corolla with no floormats who claims to have had several incidents of “runaway acceleration/stuck throttle” and of course the Toyota dealer can’t find anything wrong.

  • avatar
    Forty2

    My mother had an Audi at the time of the whole 60 Minutes acceleration bullsh*t, and I was so pissed because a great car/company got decimated by a few idiots (sorry) who stood on the gas and thought they had their foot an the brake.

    I’ll agree that the whole Killer Audi zOMG!!1! thing was heavily sensationalized, but only someone who never owned the miserable pile of crap Audi called the 5000 in the US would ever claim that it was a great car. Oh sure, when everything worked, it was a nice car, but those days were rare, and the car was a giant money pit. $20 for a liter of magic green mineral oil made by Oktoberfest elves in the Black Forest, and it’d piss that plus more in a few days out of the power assist systems. Or, in-tank fuel pumps that ground themselves up after a few months (OK, this was a Bosch problem but that fact did not mitigate the rage), or the two automatic transmissions replaced under warranty because someone thought it’d be a great idea to run a shaft through the diffy then into the trans with a five-pfennig seal between them *and* running 90w gear lube in the former and of course ATF in the latter, so when the seal blows the trans shits the bed.

    Eventually the warranty expired and I finally let the bank repossess the fucking thing after it began grinding up its third transmission; I drove beaters for a few years til my credit recovered from that hit.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Paul Niedermeyer: “A big red PANIC button is in our future. It will simultaneously engage neutral, kill power to the engine, and call 911.”I would also like an escape hatch with explosive bolts, please.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    As a process control engineer by training, interface issues like this and mode confusion are well understood problems. I’m surprised that Lexus find themselves in this position.

    There is another contributor however; respecting the danger of the equipment.

    People jumping into a non-familiar vehicle should acquaint themselves with vehicle operation. In industrial equipment settings this is part of the training you receive.

    We’re altogether too blasé about driving.

  • avatar
    golden2husky

    It’s poor design that contributes to driver error.…

    Exactly!! A push button starter offers nothing over a key. You still have to have a fob with you. All it saves is the effort to put the key in the ignition. This is a classic case of style over function. All this concern for “what-if” can be eliminated by going back to a key. Yes, it is possible lock he wheel accidentally when backing off on the key, but that is more easily dealt with than any of the other potential problems. Sometimes the best way is the old way…

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Give me a key and use the money making sure something else lasts a bit longer.

    There’s nothing more robust about a key vis a vis a button and radio transceiver. The key-twist wears out, the keys themselves will wear, break or have key-code issues. A button and radio, well, they should actually last longer.

    The most effective way to stop a speeding car is to stomp on the brakes—hard and continuously. This person didn’t do that, so having a key, stick shift or what-have-you probably didn’t help as what happened here was a misjudgment due to panic.

    There are more bad drivers out there than people think, especially since their bad habits don’t manifest in “normal” driving. You’d be surprised how many people drive two-footed, blindly lash out with their feet, weave right through to two lanes when they fail to check their left, or panic and let of the wheel (and/or cover their eyes) in extremis. Combine one of more of these and you’re looking at a situation where, if a floor mat sticks on the pedal, something bad will happen.

    Training these people will not help as this kind of stuff, again, doesn’t show up in normal driving. Making testing somewhat more rigorous and frequent might, but the civil libertarians would never stand for it and even then people would work to pass the test, not drive properly. The only way you’ll avoid this is to make cars that compensate for bad drivers.

    Yes, that means more technology, which no matter what the “get off my lawn” contingent thinks, is generally a good thing. The nice thing is that it’s all software in this case, and software weighs nothing.

  • avatar
    Bimmer

    Just ban damn slushboxes! If you don’t know how to operate a clutch pedal and engage gears, you shouldn’t be driving!

    P.S. Driving is a privilege, not a rite!

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Usually when things go horribly wrong the cause is multiple bad things all happening at the same time.

    There have probably been thousands of times when Toyota floor mats got stuck on the accelerator, and nearly every time the driver figured out how to deal with it.

    But, when you add multiple ergonomic issues and a driver unfamiliar with the quirks of that particular vehicle it can all add up to a very bad ending.

    “Yes, cars are needlessly more complex than hitherto, but thanks, government.”

    What government mandate are you talking about? The government didn’t require that the floor mats be able to overlap the end of the gas pedal. The government didn’t mandate push button start/stop. The government didn’t mandate the bewildering array of different automatic transmission shifter mechanisms we see in today’s cars. If anything the government might be too lax in allowing massive variations in basic driver controls from vehicle to vehicle and in having such minimal driver training, licensing and re-certification programs. Aircraft pilots have to be checked out in every different plane/cockpit configuration as well as passing routine physical and job performance inspections. Thus aircraft flying is much, much more regulated than is car driving … and the accident rate per mile of air travel is orders of magnitude less than for cars. Some people pull the knee-jerk “government is the problem” answer out of a hat when it doesn’t apply.

  • avatar
    criminalenterprise

    @ michal1980
    should be a fairly easy program

    If speed > XXX,
    And Acc = WOT
    And Brake = 100%

    Then Fuel = min

    My car is 7 years old and does this. As soon as the brakes are engaged the ECU ignores the (DBW obviously) accelerator pedal and requested fuel goes to idle. I have also never locked myself out of my car because the driver’s side lock won’t go down while the door is open; you must use the fob remote or insert the key in the outside lock tumbler.

    I could never get my head around the idea of GM advertising OnStar satellite emergency unlocking when you lock your keys in your car when simple design changes can make it so you’d not be capable of thoughtlessly locking yourself out.

    We all have idiotic lapses. It’s nice to know that simple, uncomplicated human-specific engineering can compensate for the faulty nature of our wetworks. Hey, it beats tapping into a NORAD satellite, pressing 1 for English, 4 for support and listening carefully as menu options have changed while asking for an override signal to kill your engine when your floormat nails your accelerator to the firewall.

  • avatar

    “Yes, cars are needlessly more complex than hitherto, but thanks, government.”

    What government mandate are you talking about?

    Complying with safety and emissions regulations require the use of a number of complex systems including air bags, fuel injection and ECUs. They also add weight. You might think that a big American car from the 1960s was heavy, but my family’s ’66 Oldsmobile 88 weighed about 4500 lbs. A new Ford Taurus SHO weighs almost as much, 4,360#. The Taurus may be a couple of feet shorter than a pre 1977 full size US sedan, but it weighs almost as much.

  • avatar
    V6

    i am not a fan of push button start at all, i reckon the best is the method my Ford Escape rental had. Twist the key all the way around and it’ll crank itself till it starts even tho the key has been released. it’s been a couple of months since i rented that car and i still miss it in my car. something so simple, but makes so much sense imo

  • avatar
    Bubba Gump

    A couple years ago all the manufacturers changed the off switch time to 2 or 3 seconds. Why? Because people were hitting the switch when reaching across the dash and accidentially shutting cars off. Seems it was happening at the most in opportune times. Like in the middle of the intersection or making a left turn. I like push button but better yet I would like to see them all go to a rotary knob instead of a push button momentary.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    If only all incompetent cops killed themselves, instead of usually just other people. Too bad he took his family with him.

    Just another reason to drive stick.

  • avatar
    sfdennis1

    @mpresley quoted :

    “And, yes, Americans are, as a group, losing their collective IQ as more and more stupid people manifest. Most women, most feminized men (and I don’t mean queers), anyone with a cell phone and/or iPod, and anyone not speaking English, should not be driving. But since none of the above will ever happen, let’s just place the blame on an inanimate object and/or poor engineering.”

    Well, your post proves that yes, it seems, ‘more stupid people are manifesting’…perhaps you’d be happier living in Saudi Arabia, or Afganistan or some other godforsaken place where women and feminized men (wtf?!) would be under the thumb of neanderthals such as yourself.

    I don’t think that unfortunate cop, nor any of his dead family members would have been saved if your ‘not helpful’ (to be kind) suggestions were in place.

  • avatar
    Davekaybsc

    I hate gated shifters, and will never buy a car with one. I’m not so stupid as to be killed by an errant floor mat, but I HAVE been in situations where I need to slam into reverse and back up NOW so I don’t get clipped by some idiot.

    I don’t have time to take my eyes off the road, look down at the console, and push the lever in several directions until it actually selects reverse. I want a shifter with a button on the side that I can push in, push the lever up twice, and hit the gas.

  • avatar
    william442

    Just put the clutch in. Seriously I have held some very powerful cars at the starting line with 50s drum brakes.(line lock) It is hard to believe that today’s brakes would not slow the car a lot.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    sfdennis1 :Well, your post proves that yes, it seems, ‘more stupid people are manifesting’…perhaps you’d be happier living in Saudi Arabia, or Afganistan or some other godforsaken place where women and feminized men (wtf?!) would be under the thumb of neanderthals such as yourself.

    Not sure Arabia, or any place ending in “stan” for that matter, is the place to look for smart and effective drivers. I can also tell that you have some difficulty with the idea of a “feminized man?” It’s understandable, since most Americans born after, say, 1965, have been under the influence of a feminized liberal educational system–and many born earlier, too; but usually not before 1950-55, and definitely not in the almost extinct WW2 generation. You can usually spot one since they don’t know how to drive a stick, and would feel “queasy” carrying a concealed weapon.

  • avatar
    shaker

    mpresley :
    “feminized man?”

    Don’t overlook the consumption by ‘manly men’ of hormone-laden beef and dairy products, as well as all of the artificial “estrogen analogues” floating around (courtesy of the chemical industry).

    I’m sorry for the poor fellow and his family, and this issue should be addressed, as the more these systems become common (even on entry-level cars), more average Joes may be confronted by a vehicle with a mind of its own.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    feminized men ????

    Well, I wanted to be …. a lumberjack!

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Not sure Arabia, or any place ending in “stan” for that matter, is the place to look for smart and effective drivers. I can also tell that you have some difficulty with the idea of a “feminized man?” It’s understandable, since most Americans born after, say, 1965, have been under the influence of a feminized liberal educational system–and many born earlier, too; but usually not before 1950-55, and definitely not in the almost extinct WW2 generation. You can usually spot one since they don’t know how to drive a stick, and would feel “queasy” carrying a concealed weapon.

    There must be a companion rule to Godwin’s Law that states that the more popular that a website is, the weirder and more wacky that the comments become.

    I mean, seriously, how many Bubbas do you see driving manual transmissions? How many cars parked at a NASCAR event have stick shifts? Not a whole lot.

    There are plenty of Europeans who would be horrified by the idea of owning a gun, concealed or otherwise, yet who shift their own gears. There is simply no correlation between a transmission choice and a preference for weapons. You have to be taking a vacation from reality to believe that there is.

  • avatar
    ASISEEIT

    It seems Toyota is starting to run into some quality and possibly engineering problems as of late! I don’t know but this could possibly be attributed to using G.M. parts suppliers and hiring laid off G.M. engineers!!!

  • avatar
    CamaroKid

    Unlike most of the best and brightest above,

    I have actually driven a new ES with that shifter…

    If you are in “D” neutral is one shove up on the stick. The computer locks out R and P but N is there if you want it at ANY time and ANY Speed…

    If you are in “S” (shift mode) then no amount of ups and downs will get you to “N”.. And worse if you are in “S” and you try to down shift to get some engine braking the computer will prevent that shift if you are going to fast…

    But again…even from here “N” is two bumps away… one to the right into “D” and one up into “N”

    This guy took a Lexus in for servicing and got this car as a loaner… Unless his normal car was 10 years old he probably used a shifter pretty much exactly like this for years and years…

    Unfortunate? yes. Could the driver prevented this? Absolutely.
    100% Driver Error? That’s a little harsh… But the driver could have easily saved himself and his family. The tools were there, unfortunately he panicked

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Pch101 : There must be a companion rule to Godwin’s Law that states that the more popular that a website is, the weirder and more wacky that the comments become.

    Who was it that said, if you’re not living on the edge your’re taking up too much space?

    I mean, seriously, how many Bubbas do you see driving manual transmissions? How many cars parked at a NASCAR event have stick shifts? Not a whole lot.

    It’s not necessarily what they drive, it’s what they know how to drive that counts.

    There are plenty of Europeans who would be horrified by the idea of owning a gun…

    Sometime right before WW1 Europe became noticeably degenerate, and really not worthy of emulation. It actually happened sooner, as Herr Nietzsche observed, but for most of us we can trace WW1 as the turning point. Besides what you say is only partially true: the Muslims and Africans in Europe have no problem with guns. It’s only the feminized, nihilistic and socialized indigenous white Euro-types who worry.

  • avatar
    davejay

    I had my accelerator stick once, in my 2005 Sentra SE-R Spec V, while pulling away from a stoplight. It was caused by the floormat. I almost rear-ended the car in front of me.

    However, it wasn’t my brilliant mind that prevented the accident, or my amazing driving skills; it was my reflexes. The car’s a stickshift, and it stuck as I was shifting into second. Reflexively I pushed the clutch back in, took my foot off the gas, heard the engine keep revving, and reached down to see if anything was blocking the pedal.

    This isn’t a call to arms that we should all be driving stickshifts, any more than it would be appropriate to say that people are idiots for not understanding their cars. What I am saying is that engineering textbooks are full of epic failures that were initiated by human error and/or mechanical failure, and which could have been stopped easily, but lack of training and/or the simple tunnel vision that comes with being a human being caused the initial failure to escalate until it could no longer be controlled.

    Proper training is a big part of solving this kind of problem, and that includes teaching people to take the operation of a mechanical device seriously. Beyond that, however, standardization of controls, failsafe devices and well-labeled emergency shutdowns are common on dangerous equipment, and vehicles should be the same.

    Does this mean a big red panic button? I don’t think so. However, a few things mentioned above make perfect sense:

    1. Keyless ignitions exist that operate like keyed ignitions, and the push-button start only exists for marketing purposes. Stick with the key metaphor.

    2. Brakes should continue working, and working well, regardless of the engine’s running state.

    This won’t solve all the problems, obviously; I have vivid memories of an old woman plowing through several parked cars in a nearby parking lot, eventually shoving a Celica sideways through a fence. She was driving an old Chevelle she’d been driving for at least a decade, and whether she was pushing the brake instead of the gas or the throttle stuck was never determined — certainly at WOT without power brakes, a Chevelle would be hard for an old woman to stop.

    Regarding training, though; it seems like “how to stop your car in a runaway condition” should be part of basic training. Goodness knows it will be for my kids. And at the end of the day, the lower the barrier of entry to driving a car is, and the less we compensate for that in the design of our cars and the nature of our training, the more we’ll have preventable accidents like this.

    And that’s why I like cars with keys and stickshifts.

  • avatar
    criminalenterprise

    Yes, cars are needlessly more complex than hitherto, but thanks, government. And, yes, Americans are, as a group, losing their collective IQ as more and more stupid people manifest. Most women, most feminized men (and I don’t mean queers), anyone with a cell phone and/or iPod, and anyone not speaking English, should not be driving. But since none of the above will ever happen, let’s just place the blame on an inanimate object and/or poor engineering. It’s easier that way, and allows for more government regulation at the same time.

    Not sure Arabia, or any place ending in “stan” for that matter, is the place to look for smart and effective drivers. I can also tell that you have some difficulty with the idea of a “feminized man?” It’s understandable, since most Americans born after, say, 1965, have been under the influence of a feminized liberal educational system–and many born earlier, too; but usually not before 1950-55, and definitely not in the almost extinct WW2 generation. You can usually spot one since they don’t know how to drive a stick, and would feel “queasy” carrying a concealed weapon.

    @mpresley: I come here to read about cars and the car business and have to wade through the ancient history of Randian tripe flavored with a sprinkle of bigotry, sexism and luddism.

    Reading your posts is like watching an episode of Mad Men.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    # criminalenterprise :@mpresley: I come here to read about cars and the car business and have to wade through the ancient history of Randian tripe flavored with a sprinkle of bigotry, sexism and luddism.

    That’s the beauty of a place like this…you can skip over what you don’t want to read; and you don’t have to waste your time telling others what you don’t like, either.

  • avatar
    criminalenterprise

    you don’t have to waste your time telling others what you don’t like, either.

    Quod erat demonstrandum.

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