By on July 15, 2011

Unintended acceleration has been a huge topic in automotive circles over the last year or so, as the Toyota Recall Scandal brought new attention to that man-machine-interface problem. But did you know Mercedes has been receiving its own complaints about UA? Neither did we, as a post-Toyota Recall survey of NHTSA complaints showed Mercedes enjoying one of the lowest rates of UA complaints of all manufacturers. But, reports WardsAuto, the problem was indeed real.

Just about anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz in the past decade has experienced it: unintended sudden acceleration because of awkward placement of the cruise-control stalk on the left side of the steering wheel.

A driver may think he is signaling to turn right, when inadvertently he has pushed the cruise control lever upward to the “accel” position, occasionally sending the vehicle bolting forward instead of slowing down to turn at an intersection. This could happen if the cruise control was on but not active.

Left turns were somewhat less problematic because pushing the lever downward put the cruise-control system into “decel” mode.

And, starting with the new M-class SUV, the brand is tackling the problem head-on.

Nevertheless, with the all-new ’12 M-Class cross/utility vehicle going on sale in September, Mercedes has corrected the problem once and for all by placing the turn indicator at the 10 o’clock position and the cruise-control stalk at 8 o’clock.

Until now, those placements were reversed in virtually all Mercedes vehicles, triggering complaints.

The turn-indicator stalk, which also controls the windshield wipers and high-beam headlamps, is longer than the cruise-control lever, and Mercedes engineers are hopeful the new configuration will eliminate any confusion.

In determining that human error was the main cause of unintended acceleration, federal regulators have put a new emphasis on designing-in features that prevent the misuse of pedals, stalks and shifters. Between the Toyota scandal and a recall of its own earlier this year, for 137,000 M-Class SUVs that would not disengage their cruise control when drivers tap the brakes, Mercedes seems to be learning from history. Hopefully more manufacturers will use Toyota’s embarrassing ordeal as motivation to similarly re-examine the ergonomics of their future vehicles. After all, it’s clear that unintended acceleration is an issue that comes up again and again unless manufacturers go the extra mile to “idiot-proof” their cars.

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43 Comments on “Mercedes Tackles Unintended Acceleration With New Cruise Control Stalk...”

  • avatar

    Good riddance. I’ve never been a fan of the Mercedes cruise stalk arrangement. But the turn-signal stalk also controlling the windshield wipers? No thanks. At that point, why not just go all the way and add the cruise control to the same stalk a la malaise GM?

  • avatar

    I work at a dealership and I am in and out of many different models where the cruise is on the steering wheel, on a stalk at the 4:30 position which turns with the wheel (easy guess of brand), and a fixed stalk on the left commonly. Hopping into other makes results in the same flailing of arms. Those together with where the shifter is placed equals me swinging my arms to the console, the dash, to the column shifter grabbing at air. I must look quite the sight.

    I am not a fan of the steering wheel mounted speed control for use in the dark. The others just have to work to keep me happy. I adapt.

    Is there a standard for the increment taps up and down? 3 km/h per tap?

  • avatar

    Some Diamler-Chrysler “Chryslers” were forced to use this strange arrangement – probably because they used the same steering column. I always thought it was odd. But father always knows best.

    I kind of like the Honda arrangement. There is a “lights” stalk (on the left side of the wheel) turn/lighting/bright/dim. There is a wipers stalk (on the right) low/high/intermittent. And other functions are elsewhere on the steering wheel. They have these neat LED things that can light up the buttons at night.

  • avatar

    It seems to me that “idiot proofing” would mean having the turn signal stalk only work the turn signals, while lights and wipers would be on the dash, and cruise either on the dash or on a separate stalk, on the opposite side of the steering column from the turn signal stalk.

  • avatar

    After 12 years, I still grab the wrong stalk. I’ve given up on the cruise control, and the wipers are on auto. Fortunately the lights are on the dash. Dumb arrangement.

  • avatar

    What’s wrong with button operated cruise control? I have to say the cruise control operations I’ve always found easiest were of the three button variety (one to turn the system on, one to accelerate, another to slow down – with a combination of the last two to cancel). I’ve had issues with stalk operated systems because sometimes it’s hard to figure out if they’re on or not until you take your foot off the pedals and either maintain speed or slow down (the ones I’ve used commonly don’t have a light on the dash indicating if they’ve been properly activated).

    • 0 avatar

      The wizards of the car universe (Diamler) think a goofy stalk is the best way to do it. Typical users have been confused by this multiple stalk arrangement and accidentally activate the cruise.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. More than one stalk per side is asking for trouble no matter how they are arranged. Also, you are always more likely to accidentally hit a stalk than buttons.

      I strongly prefer cruise control buttons. My car (’02 Mazda) has a total of 4 buttons for cruise: an on/off button tucked away (which is always left on & I usually forget even exists), a set/coast button, a resume/accel. button, and a cancel button. The layout and function is the definition of intuitive, and in 10+ years, I am hard pressed to think of a time I’ve accidentally hit one to cause UA.

      On the other hand, I’ve rented cars with the cruise on a stalk. I can’t even count how many times I either accidentally turned on my turn signals or accidentally functioned the cruise in those cars.

      • 0 avatar

        @redav: It took GM 30 + years to figure out not to put cruise control (CC) functions on the stalk, any stalk. I have had two cars recently with the CC function assigned to buttons.

        One, was my old Malibu Maxx that had the CC buttons on the sides of the steering wheel hub, with a rocker arrangement similar to some of the cars that have manumatic shifters on the steering wheel hub. Once you got used to it (which didn’t take long) it was incredibly handy, and very hard to accidentally engage or disengage.

        My Pontiac has the CC buttons on the face on one of the three spokes of the wheel. It has on/off, resume/accel, set/decel and for a lack of a better term a “pause” function that allows you to slow down without hitting the brakes. For me it takes a little more concentration to use these buttons, but once the position/function is learned is easy to use. However, they are also easy to accidentally engage/disengage.

        But either one of those setups beats having the CC on a stalk.

  • avatar

    We begin with the fact that MB has one of the lowest incidences of UA of any manufacturer Then we immediately hear that anyone who has driven a Mercedes has had the problem?

    How strange. But this is another effect of the Toyota debacle. Out of fear of hungry packs of plaintiffs’ lawyers, a company has to spend a fortune to fix a non-problem, lest they have to spend a fortune defending cases based on the the non-problem.

  • avatar

    Really don’t care what anyone thinks, but the GM stalk and its variations is the singular most space-efficient and easy-to-use multifunction design period. I don’t need six different cruise function-related buttons on the wheel; those are where the audio and climate controls go.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      I always liked the “old” GM system (1980s until recently) for setting and bumping the cruise speed up and down. The “new” GM system of putting a silly number of buttons on the wheel and grouping the “set/-” function together I find stupid and tedius.

      • 0 avatar

        I could never get on board with that design, even though we had a number of cars with it. Eventually I could operate them blindfolded, but in a panic situation the fact that touching the brake pedal disengages the CC system was the saving grace.

        I much prefer the ones on the steering wheel, as the act of reaching or arching my wrist around the perimeter of the steering wheel felt completely unnatural to me. There are no controls that should be at the level of the steering wheel like that. Either they should be closer to the operator or on another plane, like the dashboard.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. On the old GM stalk system, which I’ve had on many cars, you can operate the CC with one finger without taking your eyes off the road, and both hands can remain on the steering wheel! What the hell is so wrong with that? Never understood why people get up in arms about that layout.

      Stepping on either the gas or the brake disengages the CC in a pinch… nuff said.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      Being familiar with the GM control stalk arrangement in my Roadmaster, I find it to be an excellent means of combining multiple functions into a single easy to access location. All the cruise control functions are push/pull fingertip operations along the length of the stalk. All the wiper/washer functions are controlled by twisting the cylinder at the end of the stalk. High beam activation is a binary toggle by pulling the lever back towards you. Turn signals are the traditional lever flip up or down. Each system has its own, unique set of finger and hand gestures to operate – and the only function I regret not seeing implemented is the Japanese high beam/flash-to-pass system where you push the control stalk forward to lock high beams in place, and pulling back the lever flashes the lights temporarily.

      And I will repeat my cry to bring back the all in one multifunction dashboard knob for full control of dashboard and running lights, main headlights and dashboard light brightness along with the especially useful “force interior lights on/disable interior lights” dial positions. You need control for auxiliary fog lights or pencil beams? Add a simple up/down position for the control knob shaft. There you have it: full control of all the most important vehicle vision functions combined into 2 locations. I defy anyone to produce a motor vehicle built in the past 10 years that can boast that level of easy to learn and quick to master system integration.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not a fan of the GM stalk, but maybe that’s because the button and switch feel so cheap on my mother’s Sunfire. It also lacks a Cancel button.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Yes it felt cheap and the same stalk was used in a Cadillac as in the lowliest Chevy, but the ergonomics were spot on.

        BTW no cancel button? Tap the gas OR the brake. Again, intuitive.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        I understand that sentiment, having suffered through driving a few friends’ older GM vehicles equipped with worn, broken or heavily abused control stalks. And thanks for the memory trigger; I purchased and installed a replacement stalk for one of them as a favor during the period I had borrowed his transportation. “Thanks for the loan: I tried to leave it in better condition than I found it. . .”

        If I just want to cancel CC outright, I pull the switch on the big B-body’s control stalk to its “off” position. I have no experience with Sunfires so I do not know how their system is implemented.

      • 0 avatar

        @Dan & Felis: The stalks used on the Sunfires are functionally the same as the ones on older GM models. They’re styled differently than the A body ones, but work the same.

        To reiterate: I like the fact that there’s a “pause” button on the newer GM CC’s. One of the things I didn’t like was that you either lit up your brake lights, or that you have to turn off the system entirely and then restart everything again.

        It’s nice to have options.

        The other thing that sucked, those things are not inexpensive to replace. Last time I replaced one (because they can be fragile) it was $67 for the part alone! You’re not likely to clip a steering wheel button with your knee…

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Geozinger, all valid points and I know we’ll have to agree to disagree but having driven a 1987 Oldsmobile for 3 hours at a strech and having driven my mother-in-laws 2009 Pontiac Torrent for a few hours at a strech on the interstate, I still prefer the old cruise control set up. (Mid you the Torrent was worlds better to actually drive on vacation cause of the advancements made in the last 20 years…)

      • 0 avatar

        The infamous GM multi-function lever was a decent piece of engineering, built to a very low price. Ergonomically it was sound, except to use the mist function — twisting the device towards the driver isn’t very handy, but being able to set the cruise by hitting “Resume” saved the effort of reaching all of 1/2″ for the Set button.

        The cracking-knuckle action to initiate a turn made it feel like the stalk would snap off in your hand (and many did — they’re very weak at the base of the pivot) and, if a very common electrical short had developed inside the switch, would also sweep the wipers one cycle.

        Overall, it remains a nice example of the GM mindset — an occasional good idea, killed by cost savings. The newer ones were better, though the white paint used for the markings wore off faster.

        And in case it sounds like I can’t say anything positive about a GM switch, the import-style turn signal/headlight and wiper stalks on my ’04 Grand Am were marvels of simple design, silky operation and ease of use. Fingertip-only effort. Flip the stalk “up” for wipers, press down to engage a mist cycle. Operation of the wipers is the opposite on my Mazda, and it still feels backwards to me after five years of use.

  • avatar

    Now people like me that know and love the old Benz way (in their classic, “Ve haf determined the very best answer to this question, und you will accept our answer without question. You don’t need cupholders or CD players, and dashboard tops should be dark colors to minimize reflection und glare”) will start using the wrong stalk in new Benzes.

  • avatar

    This appears to be another attempt to cram 10 lbs. in a 5 lb. sack. I can see where having another stalk to do a function heretofore perfectly performed by buttons on the wheel is, well, I don’t know what you’d call it, but it seems needlessly confusing. Just what we need – a “new” way of doing something that may be just another distraction at most, an annoyance at the least. I haven’t personally seen this vehicle, so I’ll withold judgment until I do, but something tells me this won’t go over too well.

    I’m a firm believer in simplicity, so I’ll stick to my lowly Chevys, Fords and other cars I can actually afford to buy and feed, especially when I’ll be driving 100 miles a day in a few weeks!

  • avatar

    I prefer the stalk. Can’t say I have ever bumped it unintentionally, but then again I pay attention to what I am doing behind the wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Yeah, me too. It took all of about 15 minutes to get used to it, but after the last constantly-broken Benz finally rolled on to the flatbed to be delivered to god-knows-where, that was one of the things I actually missed.

  • avatar

    Let me get this straight. They’re trying to reduce people mixing up the turn signal and the cruise control but putting the cruise stalk where the turn signal one currently is, and putting the turn signal stalk where the cruise control one currently is? I… can’t imagine that would cause any problems.

  • avatar

    I much prefer the VW way. Hard to confuse. The only complaint I have with their ergonomics is the high beams push the turn signal stalk too far away.

  • avatar

    I guess it depends on familiarity. I find the Mercedes user interface great for three reasons: it’s always active (you don’t first have to turn it on before setting), it never lights an annoing light on the dash, and the four directions of pushing the stalk for set, cancel, accel, and resume seem intuitive. BMWs and Porsches fail all three items with their stalk mounts.

    Older cars also physically moved the throttle cable so that you could feel what was happening with your foot. Instantenous MPG displays are also good for following what is happening.

  • avatar

    I thought the one on my buddy’s S4 was bad, where I fumble around in the dark with my fingers and sometimes hit the turn signal when I’m trying to adjust the speed, but MB’s old one sounds even worse. It seems like MB will be using a similar design to Audi now.

    Mazda has a great design. Simple, easy to reach four buttons on the face of the wheel that feel good and are well-lit for night, and it stays on until you turn it off, so I don’t have to push an extra button every time I start the car. It also has a dedicated Cancel button so I don’t have to touch the brakes or turn it off every time I want to coast.

  • avatar

    We liked the controls so much on Mercedes it was one of the reason we standardized all our cars to the brand. Once you get use to it, you can use everything without looking, even the older COMAND nav.

  • avatar

    Thickheads! How on earth can you mistake a thick, 5 times larger indicator stalk that sits at 9 0’clock with a thin, cruise control stalk that sit at 11 o’clock. If you can afford a Mercedes, surely you have the intelligence to read the manual and understand the controls in your vehicle. If the government nannies get wind of this, Just think of the consequences. Not only will you have to have a drivers licence, you will also have to have an operators certificate for that vehicle. Change vehicles and you will have to undergo a recertification and a check ride with a government representative to prove you know how to operate it. RTFM!

    • 0 avatar

      Part of what I always found awkward about the M-B turn signal/cruise layout was that the turn signal stalk was lower than it is on every other car, perhaps to differentiate its position from that of the cruise lever. Whereas in most cars it feels to be somewhere between 9- and 10-o’clock, on M-Bs I’ve driven it feels as thought it’s closer to 8-o’clock.

  • avatar

    Cc release has nothing to do with accelerating Toyotas with non-model specific floor mats, sticking pedals, and human error.

    Nice way to cover ttac’s tracks and the rest of the media that brought it to our attention. Toyota is still recalling cars and trucks for faulty designs years afterward.

  • avatar

    My Toyota has an awesome CC arrangement.

    A stalk on the right hand side. There is a button on the end to engage or disengage the system. A light will turn on in the dash if the system is activated.

    Pull the stalk towards you to set the speed.

    Push up, or down to accelerate or decelerate.

    Button on end of stalk easily used to to turn the system off, or tap on the brake. I prefer using the button.

    Actually, all of the controls in the car are extremely intuitive, user friendly, good tactile feel, and high quality.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always wondered if the accelerated / decelerate / resume features were worth the added complexity. They also encourage people to move their feet away from the pedals.

      Isn’t a single button to “hold current speed” sufficient? Use the accelerator or (tap) the brakes/clutch to change speed (disabling cruise), and then press the button again?

  • avatar

    Really? “Just about anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz in the past decade has experienced it.” Are you flipping kidding me? Even my 70 year old grandmother can drive a Mercedes without getting these confused.

    The cruise control stalk in a Mercedes is about 3″ above the wiper/high beam stalk, and it’s *considerably* smaller. I mean seriously, guys. If you can manage to dress yourself in the morning, you ought to be able to handle correctly operating two levers of radically different sizes that are spaced about a hand’s width apart. We’re not talking rocket science here, folks.

    Maybe I’m biased-I’ve been a Mercedes enthusiast since I was a toddler and I’ve owned them since before I was old enough to drive-but I like their cruise setup better than the controls on any other car that I’ve owned or driven.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, it’s utterly mind boggling to think that somebody can’t figure out the difference between a fat signal stalk and a skinny little cc stalk. And what about the voice control stalk on the other side? Is that an issue for the brain dead, too? I may not have been a Mercedes enthusiast since I was a toddler but I had zero issues with the very first Mercedes I ever owned. And still have no issues when going back and forth between different marques.

      It just shows that people are driving only by rote and not actually conscious of what they’re doing when they push buttons, pull stalks, or depress pedals.

      I suppose there are also people who can’t start their new 997.2 quickly enough and complain because the ignition switch is on the “wrong side” of the steering column. Porsche better fix that glaring automotive anomaly.

  • avatar

    some people are just stupid they get pedals confused switches confused really they shouldnt be on the road at all Idiots of this scale would have problems walking

  • avatar

    On my parents’ ’04 Mercedes, I can’t say I’ve ever hit the cruise control stalk by accident.

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