The Jim Sikes 911 Call: 23 Minutes Of Unintended Acceleration

Edward Niedermeyer
by Edward Niedermeyer

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Draw your own conclusions. [ABC San Diego via Jalopnik]

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  • Werewolf34 Werewolf34 on Mar 10, 2010

    looks like the police interfered with natural selection

  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Mar 10, 2010

    I'm bothered by the common accusation that Mr. Sikes faked this incident, and the degeneration of the discussion into partisan politics. I've listened to the phone call. I'm certain that anyone faking such an incident would have vastly better "production values". It just doesn't have the right "look and feel" for a fake. Like a real fender bender compared to a Hollywood car crash, they're very different. Today, the CHP stands by the driver's version. The incident covered 30 miles in 20 minutes. Would someone think the risk was worth it to drive at 90 mph, in traffic, for 20 minutes? How can they sue Toyota for a fortune if there was no accident? I've read a number of descriptions about it online. Most vary on significant aspects. One said his wife said they had a similar but minor problem days before. One said an uphill grade helped slow the car. Some said the cruiser acted as a rolling barrier, another said it didn't. Some said Sikes tried to lift the gas pedal with his hand. One said he was afraid to shut the thing off because the steering would lock. Another said he didn't shift into neutral because he feared it would go into reverse. My only reservation is when he said he could smell his overheated brakes. My experience has been that people are always unaware of overheated brakes because the slipstream carries away the hot air from the brakes. Even at low speed. Many have insisted this is caused by pressing on the gas pedal instead of, or at the same time as, the brake pedal. That may be easy to conclude for brief incidents, but in this case the event went on for 23 minutes. Surely the driver would figure out a pedal application problem during that much time. Such as when he tried to lift the gas pedal. There have also been tests showing clearly that brakes in good condition have more stopping power than any car's engine power. But in this case, the brakes obviously overheated. I've heard that at high throttle, vacuum boost is reduced. The driver may be pressing on the brake pedal harder than they ever have, but may not be braking very hard. Most of us know how you have to STAND on the brake pedal if the engine isn't running. I believe the articles discussed on TTAC that quick application of the brakes can stop a car at full throttle. But we also know how brakes can get overheated by relying on them to get down a long steep hill. So if they were only partly applied, they would soon overheat under full throttle. This is different from tests that show (cool) brakes are more powerful than throttles. People also suggest victims of runaway cars shift into neutral. I once drove a '64 Chev Suburban with a V8. It had a problem known to happen on them and the equivalent pickups. The engine mounts would break, and if you floored it with a broken mount, the engine would shift and jam the trottle on full blast. You were too fully occupied with steering the careering vehicle to do something like shift or turn off the ignition. A couple of times when this happened, the condition stopped after a few seconds of wild swerving. The last time it happened the Suburban hit a brick building. In this case, the officer suggested the driver also use the parking brake. Since the Prius has rear discs, this would employ the little drums used for the ebrake. Good idea.

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    • TheEyeballKid TheEyeballKid on Mar 11, 2010

      No, the Gen-II Prius (NHW20) does not have rear disks - it has tiny rear drum brakes only. If he were standing on the brakes for most of the "ordeal" (and there wasn't some other simultaneous glitch preventing the rear brakes from engaging) the rear drums would have been hot already, and the parking brake - which is controlled by a conventional wire, as all parking brakes are - would have had no additional effect. There is no vacuum boost either - the Prius uses electric boosters for the regular brakes - almost all parasitic vacuum and/or belt driven accessories were replaced by electric accessories in the pursuit of efficiency (making the hybrid synergy drive in many ways simpler than a conventional ICE setup). (Added In Edit) Another thing - the police officer at the scene stated that the cars did not touch. The officer's vehicle was not used as a brake for the Prius - Jim managed to stop it all by his lonesome (with the cop yelling at him over the loudspeaker). Why does the picture show them touching? I read somewhere that after they came to a stop, the Prius "surged forward", but didn't see a source cited - for all I know, the officer backed his car into the Prius as a precaution. It certainly created a memorable, newsworthy image. By the way, I'm a computer programmer, and know it isn't impossible that the computer that controls everything in the Prius could go haywire - in addition to bugs in the software or bad data coming from the input devices (throttle and brake pedals, shifter-joystick, and even the power button), you could have a circuit board failure - there's even the possibility of high-energy rays flipping bits in the firmware. But in this particular case, I don't think there was a failure of any kind - Jim Sykes is a fraud, a liar, and a god-awful actor to boot.

  • Brandloyalty Brandloyalty on Mar 11, 2010

    Thanks for the corrections on the Prius' brake setup. That certainly erodes the credibility of the story. Assuming the story was true, though, could the throttle have gradually or suddenly disengaged before he shut the car off? Do cars with "faded" brakes still have any braking left, or can they go to zero? As for Sikes acting, the phone call ends with some very heavy panting. I wonder if someone acting could have gotten themselves into such a state? I worked as a computer support person, and as you say, bug-free software systems are difficult to achieve. I'd hate to think Windoze process control software is being used in cars, but I have no idea what they're using. And I wonder if this is related to cruise control.

  • CarPerson CarPerson on Mar 11, 2010

    Jim and his buddies may have thought that playing this gag on Toyota was a real belly laugh. He may have a different view if Toyota passes the hat his way to help fund the $2B people are claiming this UA thing is costing them.