By on May 14, 2019

2018 Lexus LS 500 F SPORT Pedals, Image: Lexus

A decade after a well-publicized fatal crash involving a Lexus ES 350, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has withdrawn a proposal calling for mandatory brake-throttle override systems.

The NHTSA proposed the regulation after several incidents involving Toyota vehicles with jammed accelerator pedals, but now the federal agency says it’s no longer needed. Automakers responded in the absence of a hard rule, eventually equipping all vehicles with the feature. Problem solved?

Not so fast, say safety advocates.

Following the 2012 proposal, automakers equipped new vehicles with a system that allowed motorists to stop their car if the accelerator becomes jammed by a loose carpet or mismatched floor mat — the determined cause of those Toyota incidents. If both the throttle and brake are depressed at the same time, the system cuts power. On Monday, the NHTSA claimed that, as of 2018, all vehicles contained the feature.

The agency “does not find that there is presently a safety need for a BTO (brake-throttle override) requirement,” the NHTSA said in a statement.

In August 2009, a loaned Lexus ES 350 driven by an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer crashed after the vehicle’s floor mat pinned the accelerator, killing all four occupants. Toyota ultimately recalled over 10 million vehicles and paid a $1.2 billion fine for the “unintended acceleration” controversy.

News of the rule withdrawal was met with approval from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. Spokeswoman Gloria Bergquist told Reuters,“When the technology is in widespread use now, there is no need to continue a rulemaking.”

Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, counters Bergquist’s claim, saying a rule is needed to keep things this way. While the NHTSA says it doesn’t expect automakers to strip their vehicles of BTO systems, he wants assurance.

“With no requirement, the control system can disappear from future models or be sold as a luxury with no recourse for consumers,” Levine said.

Another drawback from the agency’s U-turn? There won’t be a requirement for specific braking distances with BTO systems. A proposed “return to idle” requirement, which would mandate that a vehicle do just that after a driver stops pressing on the accelerator, is also in limbo.

The NHTSA stated that a “broader understanding of safe design of vehicle electronic control systems is needed to make an informed decision on regulating return-to-idle,” adding that “substantial challenges” exist in designing tests for BTO systems.

[Sources: Reuters, The Associated Press] [Image: Toyota]

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53 Comments on “Feds Pull a U-turn on Mandatory Brake-Throttle Override...”


  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    All this drama because a cop couldn’t just think to reach down and give the floormat a yank, something I’ve done maybe 100 times.

    Am I really better trained to think in a high-pressure situation than a cop is? I wouldn’t have thought so………….

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      forget about yanking the mat. How about him securing the mat first. Then, using neutral and emergency brake? What kind cop is that. A phony cop. Just like most things in America

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      I always thought that case was ridiculous. Like a two-year-old stuck in a car with the doors locked. And these so-called “safety advocates”? Thumbsuckers.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Yyyyyep. I don’t like to speak ill of the dead, but the way that whole thing went down in the media, with all the nonsense afterwards about him being a highly trained/skill driver who forgot to do the most basic thing in a stuck throttle situation- push hard on the brake pedal ONCE and HOLD IT THERE UNTIL THE CAR IS STOPPED. But instead he tried the brakes for a bit, let go, tried them again, let go, and kept doing that until the things were glowing hot.

      This not an assault on the late gentleman’s character either- human beings make mistakes, and what an awful tragedy that was for what, by all accounts, was a good family of nice people.

      What made me mad was all of the irrational statements in the press as if there was nothing he could have done… followed by the shakedown by our own government acting more like a banana republic than a first world government using science and rational thought.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Or Toyota got out of redesigning and replacing all of their electrical systems from that era and the blue screen of death.

        https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/02/its-getting-hot-in-here-so-turn-off-all-your-motors-and-your-abs-too/

        http://www.safetyresearch.net/blog/articles/toyota-unintended-acceleration-and-big-bowl-“spaghetti”-code

      • 0 avatar
        rpn453

        With an old car, the most logical thing is to turn it off to save the engine. With a modern car – particularly one that doesn’t respond to frantic requests to the start button – the most logical thing is to put it in neutral.

        I don’t know that it’s reasonable to have expected the average person to know that there is a limited amount of vacuum assist and thermal capacity in the braking system. But I think it’s reasonable to expect that anyone with a license should understand the function of the neutral position.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      The Camry incidents occurred because of a manufacturing fault in the throttle pedal.

      The pedal is in two parts as it is designed to collapse in a front end accident. The moulding between the two parts stuck the throttle in full acceleration with the pedal on the floor.

      Shifting to neutral was impossible as the transmission fluid pressure was on maximum and the transmission would not shift gear.

      Switching off the engine would immediately lock the steering wheel. There is no “ACC” position on the ignition lock.

      • 0 avatar
        HotPotato

        Holy crap, facts! Thank you for that.

        What is it with middle-aged guys insisting that everyone — except themselves, and maybe, MAYBE, their buddies — is an idiot?

  • avatar
    Rnaboz

    Now that’s what I call “Takin’ Care of Business” BTO

  • avatar
    Rasputin

    I lived for 30+ years north of Albany NY, in the Adirondacks. My footwell had the original carpet with a carpet mat on top. And from October through May I had a rubber mat on top of that to deal with 7 months of snow, slush, & mud. I never had even the hint of a problem with a mat interfering with any of my three pedals.

    I have sympathy for any unknowing passengers in one of these incidents, but not particularly for the driver – who in today’s cars with all the “assistance” is just another passenger who pays little attention to actual driving or making sure his car is prepared to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      That’s true. People just get in the car, belt up to stop the buzzer, and drive off. I was taught to check the tires before getting in the car, check the mirrors, check for loose junk that could fly around in the cabin, and look in all directions before putting the car in motion.

      It might be a good idea to require a refresher test before renewing a license. But I remember an article about the California DMV requiring a short test when a new picture was required, and people complaining when they flunked it. One was a teacher who called the test “foolishness”, and was quoted as saying, “Just give me my license so I can get out of here!”

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Yeah, I’m the guy sitting in the rental car lot for a couple minutes getting the seat and mirrors just the way I want them- usually the heater and a/c and the radio too, a few less things to mess with in a few minutes when I’m in traffic, driving this new-to-me car in an area and finding my way through an area with which I’m not too familiar.

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          Hell, I do that when picking up a service loaner from the dealer!

          Honda defaults to auto-locking, which drives me nuts! I’ve FINALLY learned to accept that, even though I turn that garbage off before a car in my name leaves the lot!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    ” If both the throttle and brake are depressed at the same time, the system cuts power.”

    I’m glad my car doesn’t have this, there’s a hill on my way to work that has a traffic light, if I didn’t keep one foot on the gas and one on the brake I would roll back and hit the car behind me

    • 0 avatar
      -Nate

      That Chippie was drunk or stupid, any properly trained LEO knows to simply push the shift lever _ONE_NOTCH_FORWARD_ to put the car into neutral, worst case scenario the engine blows instead of bumping the rev. limiter, no one gets hurt, no cars crashed .

      They were zooming along with four people in the car long enough to discuss the situation then call 911 and record the whole thing .

      I’ve had passengers jamb their (a her every time) heels into the passenger side floor mat and shove forward as hard as they could, jamming the throttle on my side wherever it was at the moment, once it was more than 1/2 way down and the car in second gear, we didn’t crash or anything, common sense prevailed .

      -Nate

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    How about just no BTO under 90 MPH? That’s a fair compromise. Like L2M said, you want the ability to power-brake or control the acceleration. First, no manual shift vehicle should have BTO.

    You want the ability to inch up to a stopping point, like for example when hitching up a trailer on uneven surfaces (or downhill) or loading a car on to ramps or a tow dolly without overshooting it.

    But learning what “Neutral” is should be required, and “its use” be of part of every damn driver’s test, written and behind the wheel.

    • 0 avatar
      dukeisduke

      It used to be (and maybe still is) that one of the things that happened during a private pilot’s license test was that the instructor reached over and turned off the magnetos, cutting the engine. The student pilot was supposed to reach over and turn them back on.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        Would that be called the freakout test? It sounds like a good way to separate the cool heads from the lunkheads.

        BTW comedian Bob Newhart recalled a flight in a small plane in which the pilot warned him that he was going to turn off the engine for a few seconds. He said he needed to do that to switch fuel tanks. Even with a warning and the ability of the plane to glide, Newhart said he had white knuckles when the plane lost a few hundred feet of altitude – over Lake Michigan.

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        Shutting off the mags and turning them back on is a great way to get a kickin’ backfire (technically an afterfire in the exhaust).

        • 0 avatar
          sgeffe

          You just flip the switch!

          Just don’t flip it the wrong way and cut the fuel off! THEN you’ve got a problem!

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Ummm, you do realized the prop keeps windmilling unless you’re going *really* slow. It’s the same thing as turning off the key when a car is in gear.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    My condolences to the dead, and I mean no disrespect, however that case demonstrates the woeful lack of training for Highway Patrol officers.

    All police officers should have well above average driving skills, plus the equivalent ability to react to ‘pressurized’ situations.

    No police officer should enter into their career without extensive driver training, including being able to operate a manual transmission vehicle.

    And anyone with any experience at all driving a MT would have just shifted that Lexus into neutral.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      “No police officer should enter into their career without extensive driver training, including being able to operate a manual transmission vehicle.”

      You made me think of the last time we dropped my wife’s old Vibe off for major service and the mechanic who hopped in it didn’t know to push the clutch in before the key would start it.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      I’ve posted before that as I was rolling up to a stop sign one day, the car started to accelerate as I depressed the brakes, and before I knew it, I had kicked it into Neutral! (The flip-flop on my right foot had shifted, and was “heel-and-toeing” the throttle and brakes!

      In my new Accord, I’ll have to practice finding the Neutral pushbutton without looking; this article serves as a good reminder for that piece of my OCD!

  • avatar
    285exp

    Any reasonably modern vehicle with a properly operating braking system will be able to stop even with the gas fully applied as long as you fully apply the brakes and keep them that way until you come to a stop, if you pump them they will fade.

    Back at the time of the Lexus crash, Car and Driver did a test on several vehicles. A V6 Camry, with the same drivetrain as the ES350, could stop 70-0 in 174 ft with the throttle closed and in 190 ft with it fully open. Even a 540 hp Mustang could stop with both the brake and accelerator fully applied, it just took longer.

    The way to stop in the shortest distance is still to shift into neutral, but the most important thing is to hammer down on the brake pedal first, and make sure you’re actually pressing the brake and not the accelerator. Most unintended acceleration incidents are caused by pedal misapplication, not a stuck throttle, so a BTO wouldn’t do any good.

    https://www.caranddriver.com/features/a16576573/how-to-deal-with-unintended-acceleration/

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      “with a properly operating braking system”

      In the case of the ES350, the previous renter complained of very weak brakes when he turned the vehicle in.

      • 0 avatar
        285exp

        A previous customer had complained about the pedal entrapment issue, not that the car had weak brakes, so the dealership was aware of the very problem that killed the family three days later. The previous driver put the car in neutral and stopped the car safely, which obviously shows that it was not impossible to shift into neutral at WOT like a previous poster claimed.

        The dealership should have addressed the floor mat problem, and the driver in the fatal accident should have been able to bring the car to a stop if he had reacted properly.

  • avatar
    someoldfool

    Just push the gear selector lever forward 1 notch. Easy enough, unless your new car doesn’t have a shift lever. How is that a good idea (no shift lever)? It was cool in my dad’s 61 Chrysler (best dashboard ever!), but in an emergency, or even just trying to rock out of some snow, it is less than ideal.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      How about those “joystick” style levers that always return to center after you let go?

      Those seem like an accident waiting to happen.

      • 0 avatar
        EGSE

        @PD, are you referring to a gear selector mechanism?

        For industrial equipment the “return-to-neutral position” mode of operation is a safety feature called a “dead-man control”. The control is spring-loaded and has to be moved and held into position by the user to operate, otherwise what it’s controlling stops upon release when the lever automatically returns to neutral, the premise being no motion is safer than unsupervised motion.

      • 0 avatar
        Wunsch

        I have one of those. You still push it forward for neutral.

    • 0 avatar
      Guitar man

      It won’t do anything.

      The engine is revving at maximum rpm and the spool valves in the transmission will therefore not shift.

  • avatar
    EGSE

    My long-gone ’96 Civic floor mat would bunch up around the gas pedal; I used a piece of “masons” line (bricklayer string) looped through a hole made with a Buck knife and tied to the seat frame. Honda later issued a recall when Toyotas became known for their advertising tag line, “Moving Forward” (bet they were sorry for that choice). Honda put a plastic post on the floor which poked through a grommet in the mat.

    WRT to the Toyota situation, there was speculation that CANBUS data corruption could be causing the drive-by-wire throttle to unexpectedly open. That led to one of the most detailed code reviews in commercial product history, performed by a neutral party. Nothing was found. It’s still a topic of discussion in the engineering community today.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Oh geez, and there was also the TV exposé when they featured the quack who poked through the insulation on the gas pedal wires and shorted them with a jumper them to “prove” that he could rev the engine- and somehow this would make the car runway. Okeeee…

      Great technical journalism, pulitzer quality stuff just like the pyro charges on the C/K pickup truck side saddle tanks. Think of the children!

      Say what you will about the man in the Whitehouse (actually please don’t on here, let’s talk about cars instead of politics), but that kind of journalism is why the pejorative phrase “fake news” strikes a chord with so many people!

      • 0 avatar
        EGSE

        Your post reminds me of the unintended acceleration controversy with the Audi 5000 about 35 years ago. They did find that a device in the throttle mechanism could open the throttle by some amount if it became defective (and a small number were found to be when they looked). But the “60 Minutes” program modified an Audi to reliably malfunction and showed the result in a broadcast as “confirmation” the car was defective. Audi sales dropped partly due to that broadcast. Wasn’t a good day for the truth or the reputation of CBS.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Nothing was found as there was no fail safe working and there was no way to record the incident.

      http://www.safetyresearch.net/blog/articles/toyota-unintended-acceleration-and-big-bowl-“spaghetti”-code

      • 0 avatar
        EGSE

        Anyone who thinks spaghetti-code is rare hasn’t gone through code reviews. I’ve seen crap where the execution thread was so convoluted we were literally guessing…on code that has worked flawlessly for years. I’m not defending sloppy code architecture but it is a reality. No one has been able, to my knowledge, to substantiate that it caused any of the unintended acceleration incidents alleged to occur.

        We have performance data on hundreds of millions of drivers collected over 100+ years and the mean time between failure (operator error resulting in a “mishap”) is many orders of magnitude worse than all other vehicle systems combined. I’m going with Occam’s Razor on this one.

  • avatar
    Garak

    If I remember correctly, the cop tried to put the car in neutral, but had managed to activate manual gear selection mode. Pushing the stick forward just put a higher gear on, getting to neutral required moving the stick to the right, then forward.

    Sure, the driver was incompetent, negligent, incapable of basic operation of a motor vehicle, and shouldn’t ever have gotten a licence, but the shifter design is also unintuitive and dumb. Pushing the shift lever forward should in no case enable the car to go faster.

    BMW has it correctly: even if you manage the bungle the shifter into the manual position, pushing forward just shifts down. With a gear selector like that, the incompetent cop would have just slowed the car to a crawl and perhaps even managed to stop the vehicle without burning up the brakes, and we wouldn’t be having this stupid discussion.

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      He also hit the Kill Switch but didn’t hold it down ‘long enough’. Do a poll of the drivers you know, especially if they can’t drive a stick shift, if they’re willing to ever shift an automatic into N while driving and you’ll be amazed (sickened!).

    • 0 avatar
      brn

      There’s a lot of victim blaming going on in the comment section.

      • 0 avatar
        DenverMike

        Yeah it’s a tragedy and whatnot, but didn’t anything “good” result from it?

        Except if it had been anyone but a highway patrol officer, it’d just be another mysterious crash and one more complaint of “Unintended Acceleration” to the NHTSA.

        It obviously would’ve been swept under the rug by Toyota, like the other UA complaints that came before. Although all OEMs received similar complaints to some degree.

        If Toyota/Lexus received the bulk of UA complaints, it speaks more of their owners.

  • avatar

    Stig Blomqvist would never have had a career if he couldn’t hit the brake and gas at the same time.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    Cars are too reliable and too automated these days.

    Making things easy to use had the effect of allowing people to do things that they fundamentally aren’t prepared for. For example, letting grandma get on Facebook is all fine and good until she managed to get spyware, adware and malware installed within the first 15 minutes.

    We really should have tiered licensing. If that means that some people are confined to surface street driving, that might not be a bad thing.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Confining to surface streets..hmmmm!

      Got on the freeway today coming to work, and today was the first time in a couple weeks that I could actually get on the freeway at or slightly above the traffic speed! (The one driver in front of me actually ACCELERATED in the acceleration lane of the on-ramp!

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        “The one driver in front of me actually ACCELERATED in the acceleration lane of the on-ramp!”

        Fantasy! Impossible! Crazy talk! Pffffff…..

        Next thing you’ll tell us you saw somebody in the left lane smartly passed some slower traffic and then moved back to the right once they got by.

        • 0 avatar
          PrincipalDan

          Next thing you’ll tell us you saw somebody in the left lane smartly passed some slower traffic and then moved back to the right once they got by.

          I consistently do that but only for the shock value.

          ;-)

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Is he using his turn signal?? (rubs eyes in disbelief)

          • 0 avatar
            -Nate

            You’re ether lying or not in Southern California ~

            I’m pretty sure you’re supposed to accelerate up the On Ramp until you *just* reach the point of no return and _then_ stamp on the brakes and look at the other cars whizzing by while half of Los Angeles backs up behind you and lays on the horn .

            -Nate

  • avatar
    Pete Zaitcev

    The “safety advocates” have completely beclowned themselves on this, while trying to ride the publicity crest. And it’s not like we don’t have real safety issues to address.

  • avatar
    Lawyer Applegate

    NOOOOOOOOOOOO…

    <>

    TRALLLLLLLLLL!!!


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