Walter Olson on the Toyota Scandal

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Over at National Review, Reason Contributing Editor and Overlawyered.com proprietor Walter Olson surveys the "tort-bar opportunism and media malfeasance" driving the Toyota recall scandal:

You know those unseen and undetectable gremlins that hide in Toyota's electronic throttle controls? Turns out they have it in for elderly drivers. The Los Angeles Times has compiled a list of 56 fatal incidents over 19 years purportedly involving unintended Toyota acceleration and…the age of the driver can be publicly ascertained in a little more than half the instances. That median age turns out to be 60 — that is to say, half the drivers were that old or older. By contrast, only 16 percent of general auto fatalities in 2008 occurred with a driver 60 or older behind the wheel. Whatever is causing Avalons, Highlanders, and Tundras to misbehave is largely bypassing drivers in their twenties and thirties and instead homing in on drivers old enough to remember the Eisenhower era.

Read the rest here.

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  1. I wonder how many of these accelerated “on their own” into a crowded farmer’s market?

    1. Or through a Chicago shopping mall?

      1. One of the truly great moments in film.

        1. I SO can’t wait to show the Blues Brothers to my kids.

          That’s quality family time I can get behind.

          1. The best musical ever.

  2. Overlawered needs to do some more work. Just because the people who were in these accidents are predominantly older, doesn’t mean that their age contributed to the accidents. It is possible that the owners of these models are on average older than the general population. I don’t know. But the relevant comparison is the average age of those involved in the accident compared to the average age of the owners of the particular vehicle, not to vehicle owners in general.

    Amazing the kind of half ass logic that gets put forth and then repeated. Do you people have editors?

    1. I agree that the data might be skewed by older-than-usual buyers, but that’s just one point of mildly interesting data. And the fact that it came from the LA Times makes me doubt it’s veracity.

      Olson’s larger point, that most of what we’ve been fed is ginned-up misinformation or just plain old legally-type mendacity, stands.

      1. True. I am very pedantic about statistical comparisons. And that one caught my eye.

        1. I am skeptical that the Toyotas in question, which represent a huge percentage of all car buyers and which appeal to young as well as older buyers, are skewed so disproportionately to older customers.

          1. Agree. Toyota’s demographics have swung (weirdly, IMO) to a higher avg age in the past couple years on a few models. But I don’t think it’s that much. “60” sounds more like Lincoln, not Toyota.

            Not sure about median age – automakers mostly track avg buyer age, not median so much.

    2. It’s not half-assed logic, especially when teams of engineers can’t find an obvious cause.. .a-la Audi in the 80’s which still sometimes gets reported as “unresolved”.

      Toyota has admitted that accelerators could get stuck under a couple of circumstances, but aside from wild speculation, I’ve heard no confirmed reports– ie an engineer, either Toyota or independent– confirming that the accelerator, the brakes, the driveline, the transmission and the ignition all fail at the exact same time.

      I’m imagining someone like say, my mom getting a ‘stuck accelerator’. She’d be the very type who if her engine throttle were to stick (mysteriously) she’d take both feet off the pedals and and stare blankly out the windshield, hoping for “god to intervene”. You know, just like that one lady did? Toyota caused her car to fail, but God caused it to stop. Mmmhmmm…

      1. As far as I know the only thing “unresolved” about the Audi fiasco is the class action lawsuit that Audi 5000 owners filed against Audi claiming that the Sudden Unintended Acceleration scandal lowered the resale value of their vehicles.

        The cause of the problem was pretty well resolved as “driver error”. (“Pedal misapplication” for those of us here in the states.)

      2. There is a good book about pseudo- science in the courtroom, it features the Audi case. It is called Galileo’s Revenge.

        I forgot I had read the book until the Toyota “scandal”. Then I thought of the general populace and that of millions of drivers of a specific car I’m sure a few are too stupid to work the pedals. Especially with all the doo-dads they are manipulating whilst driving. Maybe it’s old people trying to text on their jitterbug.

        “OMG, Frank’s going in for surgery gotta update facebook,LOL”

    3. “the average age of shoppers choosing a domestic vehicle was 49.4 years old in 2007 ? older than the average 42.5-year-old buyer of Asian cars but younger than the 50.6-year-olds choosing European nameplates.

      The oldest average shoppers industry-wide were looking at Ford or its Mercury and Lincoln brands, at 54.3 years. GM shoppers averaged 48 years old, while Chrysler shoppers came in at 44.

      On the foreign-manufacturer front, an interesting auto rivalry also had interesting statistics: The average age of Toyota shoppers was 46.6 years old, while the average age for Honda shoppers was 51.2.

      And while Buick is typically the butt of jokes about buyers who are somewhere between retired and deceased, the average age of a Buick shopper last year was 55.2 years old, considerably younger than the average 63.6-year-old Mercedes-Benz shopper.”

    4. Editors? It’s a fuckin’ blog, y’know.

  3. John they discuss the age distribution of the buyers in the comments. An implicit assumption is that Toy drivers tend to be young.

  4. I don’t know for sure, but I rather doubt that Toyota drivers skew particularly old. Now your typical Lexus driver is probably a little older, just due to the cost of the car, but even that likely doesn’t trend into senior citizen dominance.

    It’s looking likely that this is a problem that is being exaggerated for political reasons and for legal opportunism.

    Sometimes, I think robot overlords aren’t such a bad idea.

    1. Toyota drivers writ large probably don’t skew old, but I’ll betcha all the way up to .50 cents that the drivers caught in “sudden acceleration syndrom” skew old.

      1. No doubt.

      2. You need to do better than half a cent.

        1. Nope, that’s all I’m going.

    2. 20-somethings buying Toyotas are going to be typically buying Corolla, Yaris, Prius, 4Runner — the cheaper, smaller models not as associated with the acceleration problem as Avalon (big sedan) and Highlander (station wagon). Tundra could go either way.

      1. My wife drives a Matrix (which is known by Toyota as the Toyota Corolla Matrix because it’s a shared platform). She got her recall notice.

        The point being that many of the Toyota platforms share the same possible stuck accelerator pedal issue- however, no evidence has been shown that they suffer a simultaneous accelerator/brake/transmission/ignition switch failure.

        And the accelerator issue is a “possible corrosion/clearance issue with the pedal rod”, not some etherial software issue where the car goes all HAL9000 on you and responds with “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that” when you try to counter the problem.

  5. Others include drivers who are short in stature, who are unfamiliar with the vehicle…and who are taking off from a stopped position or backing up.

    Every day here in South Florida an octogenarian cotton-top backs his car into a canal or drives through the wall of a pharmacy, claiming afterward that of course he was pushing the brake pedal and not the accelerator.

    1. I’ve never seen more remnants of accidents along a highway per mile anywhere than I’ve seen in South Florida. (I have not spent much time in undeveloped nations.)

      1. Yeah, driving in Boca Raton is like being in an old 80’s video game…. You have to dodge these slow, randomly directed “enemies” to get to your destination. Don’t even get me started on the Albertson’s parking lot.

  6. Toooold you… It’s Audi in the 80’s all over again. Geezers driving their cars through 15 aisles of the Fred Meyer, telling the cops “The accelerator stuck!”

    1. It’s your fault for shopping at Fred Meyer, you cheap bastard. This doesn’t happen to me at Metropolitan or Whole Foods, or at Pike Place.

      Just kidding, I would never shop at Pike Place. That’s for fleecing tourists.

      1. You should rent a Toyota and lose control of it, plowing through that fish-throwing nonsense. Don’t injure anyone, just destroy the property.

        Oh, and you don’t know what happened. The car just drove on its own.

        1. I don’t do the dirty work myself, ProL. I hire people to do my dirty work for me.

          “Mex-?Mexicans! They’ll do it! They’ll do anything! Who here knows Spanish?”

          1. Fair enough. I recommend an old Mexican or, perhaps Asian. Really, any ethnicity will do if the contractor is old.

  7. It’s starting to look like we have a re-run of the Audi sudden accelerations of the early 1980s. At the end of that mess, P. J. O’Rourke wrote in Car and Driver magazine that the cause of these mysterious accelerations turned out to be Betty Boatfoot and Harold Hammertoes: ie., the driver.

  8. What you mean the government would lie about Toyota to benefit GM and Chrysler? And the legacy media would help them? I am shocked.

    1. Right outta the gate.

      1. Hmm, I always figured Gobby as more of an “out of the closet” guy than “out of the gate” guy…

        1. MNG: How was that 3-way with Pelosi and Stupak?

          https://reason.com/blog/2010/03…..nt_1610182

          1. Oh Gobby, you rascal…

            *Musses Gobs hair as he walks from Gob’s mom’s room on his way out of gobbys house…*

    2. John, y’damn right we’ll lie about Toyota. It’s all part of My Plan.

    3. They need to destroy the reputations of about 30 or so more car companies before people who have a choice will even consider GM or Chrysler.

  9. It’s at times like this that I think omniscience would be useful.

  10. If ya haven’t already, check out the link posted in the piece above (“Read the rest here”) and notice the potential unraveling of that 94 mph story…

    By the way, apropos of nothing, I remember the Eisenhower era.

    1. Hmph, James Sikes, faker AND geezer.

  11. http://media.gm.com/content/me…..302_recall

    1.3 million cars recalled by GM. But Toyota’s catching all the hell.

    Hmm… GM, union… Toyota, non-union… it’s making sense now.

    1. Ummm, I think the comparison should be “GM, UAW and government-run … Toyota, not either”

      Toyota has a union, just not the “run the company into the ground” kind of union GM has.

      1. I would think this is a strange point for you anti-union guys to bring up as Toyota, the non-union company, is catching hell for a shoddy product…

        1. The product’s not shoddy. That’s the point.

          Try this google search for fun: http://www.google.com/#hl=en&a…..f867dbecea

          Amazing how many random cars you pick are reported to have incidents of ‘sudden acceleration syndrome’.

        2. Better anti-union than wanting everyone with a job to be forced to join one.

          And don’t tell me that hasn’t crossed a few minds in DC.

          1. How are people being forced to join a union?

            1. Not now, perhaps, but will we have the ability to say “no, thanks, I don’t want to join” in the future?

              1. Of course. What are you talking about? Even under the libertarian boogey-man, card check, all you need do is not sign the card when asked. And even if a majority sign the card and the location is unionized, you would be totally free to seek employment at another location.

                1. Some “freedom”. Either sign the card, or don’t, and possibly suffer the wrath of union thugs threatening either limb or property damage.

                  Or just find a job that isn’t union. Again, where does the freedom of choice come in?

                  I wouldn’t put it past Democrats to tie union membership to health care somehow.

                  1. MNG and his ilk think that it’s wrong to leave it up to the owner of the business to decide whom to hire, when it comes to union shops. And possibly otherwise.

                    1. Obama needs to step it up on buying businesses – that way, anyone who works for said business, must join a union, as they would then be government employees.

                      Fuck the private sector, eh, Barry.

                    2. I think you are ignorant of what a union shop is. It’s when an employer and a union agree, contractually via a CBA, that only union members will be employed.

                      What you really have a beef with is the NLRA making the employer “bargain” with the union. But if, in bargaining, he agrees to a union shop, then it’s his workplace y’know? Shouldn’t he be able to make such a contract?

                  2. Oh good lord surely the big rugged libertarian individualist can say “no” to someone! There are many laws against any actual threats or use of force in place. It’s just the “social pressure” that libertarians usually pooh-pooh that card check might trigger. Man up dude! Liberty is not for pussies.

                    1. There may be laws in place, but in many union towns, the police turn a blind eye toward violence and intimidation by unions.

                    2. And “card check” is not for liberty.

                2. Then when you get home guys with baseball bats break your knees. Thats the “force” part.

                  1. Already laws against that bro. Are you saying that we have to have preventative laws against facially legal activity because of the possibility that said activity could lead to illegal activity? Because that is the exact same reasoning gun control advocates put forth.

                    1. I mean, really. If the argument against card check is “well the unions might use force to make people sign” then shit, they might use force to make people vote for unions (they could simply tell workers “if the union cert election goes the wrong way, we’ll be breaking knee-caps…”). And by that logic we shouldn’t put it to a vote, cuz, y’know, that might trigger threats.

                      Jesus, I realize some folks want to suck right wing media outlets cocks, but no need to swallow folks! Use your head and don’t let them make your freaking conclusions…The reasoning I hear from libertarians on card check is a 180 from their usual reasoning on analogous issues. It’s just they’ve bought into the “union-hate” that the folks who fund the right wing think tanks and media outlets share…

                    2. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to “sell” libertarians on current labor law. From my years of reading Reason and participating here I think there is a fundamental aspect of the NLRA which any honest libertarian cannot endorce: the compelling of employers to recognize and bargain with union cert winners. That’s straight out coercion, backed by legal sanctions, and there’s no way a libertarian can approve.

                      But card check and the union shop really should be no problem to any libertarian thinking about their philosophy…Everyone is still free to say no or go to another place of employment under those two, in the same way that if I don’t like an employer’s drug testing policy or such I am free to go elsewhere…

                    3. No, MNG, you’re skipping a step – people should be able to apply for/keep a job DESPITE union presence. Your “everyone is still free to… go to another place of employment” leaves out the freedom to have any job that is freely offered by an employer.

                      Not the goddamned unions… the employers.

                      “It’s when an employer and a union agree, contractually via a CBA, that only union members will be employed.” Where’s the choice and freedom you supposedly espouse, MNG?

                      And if you think unions don’t engage in intimidation, you’re a fool.

                    4. “And if you think unions don’t engage in intimidation, you’re a fool.”

                      And we already have laws against that. What we don’t need is a law against facially legal ativity because of fear that may be followed by illegal activity.

                      Take gun control. If you don’t think some gun owners wrongly use their firearms, you’re a fool. So many people think facially non-wrong activity, like concealed carry, must be restricted because gun owners might follow up such activity with illegal activity. But we already have laws against the illegal activity!

                      Same with card check. All it legalizes is that unions can ask employees to join. Might that be foollowed with intimidation? I guess, but we already have laws against that…

                      “Where’s the choice and freedom you supposedly espouse, MNG?”

                      Dude, YOU’RE the “libertarian guy.” If an employer and a union contract such that the employer agrees to only hire union labor, then why should an prospective employee be able to bust up that contractual agreement? Does he have some “right” to a job with that employer on his terms?

                    5. And I say a business should be able to hire whom they wish – or not hire, if they so choose.

                      You’re arguing for hiring discrimination based on union membership – forcing someone to join a union in order to gain employment. Not cool, dude.

                    6. Except that, with a secret ballot, they don’t know whose knees need breaking, and even they aren’t stupid enough to break everyone’s knees just to be sure they catch the right ones.

                    7. Stupid like a fox!

                    8. No, I think I actually agree with your main point here: Closed shops should be 100% legal.

                      Firing everybody who joins the union should be legal too though. (Also, closed shops for government jobs shouldn’t be allowed, which probably dings some teachers unions).

                    9. I’m not a libertarian, and I never pretend to be one here (folks should give me some credit for that). So I disagree with you. However, from what I know about libertarian thought I think you are 100% right as a libertarian. An honest libertarian should endorse both of your positions. I have no interest in “tricking” professed libertarians otherwise, against their avowed philosophy. But I do feel the need to point out when libertarians are being “played” by the right…

                    10. Didn’t watch the clips Mr. FIFY provided, didja, MNG?

                      Oh, the horror, you’d have to cut’n’paste them. Such work. Maybe you could get a union guy to do it for… say… thirty bucks an hour?

        3. Only union employees are worthy to have jobs.

        4. You’re joking, of course. The sole reason I own a Toyota is the brand’s excellent reputation for quality. The other car is a Honda–same motivation.

          To be honest, until this whole mess started, I wasn’t really aware that the unions hadn’t invaded the Toyota plants here. I’d probably heard it before, but I didn’t remember.

          1. I heard Schultz making the case (via his biased opinion) that only union TSA screeners would have the ability to do a good job.

            Government union apes pawing through our luggage and maybe grabbing a free grope on female (hell, even male) airline passengers, without fear of retribution – who’s gonna fire a union employee with a fucking TSA badge?

            Plus, virtually-guaranteed Democrat votes. Cuz, y’know, wouldn’t wanna lose that sweeeet government paycheck.

            Next thing you know, they’ll be getting tenure like school teachers.

            1. “overnment union apes pawing through our luggage and maybe grabbing a free grope on female (hell, even male) airline passengers, without fear of retribution – who’s gonna fire a union employee with a fucking TSA badge?”

              I actually experienced this at Atlanta-Hartsfield. She was in her 60’s, but she got a good feel of my package. It kinda cracked me up at the time -the dirty old broad, but I could see having a very different reaction were it to happen again.

              1. Coulda been worse – imagine having your package groped by a TSA-badge-wielding Andy Dick.

        5. “Toyota, the non-union company, is catching hell for a shoddy product”

          Translation: Non-union employees are substandard and produce shoddy results.

  12. Toyota bugs are doing God’s work. By which I mean my work.

  13. Somebody referred to this upthread, but one of my fav writers P.J. O’Rourke has written some excellent stuff about how a previous accelerator moral panic was determined to be driver error. I have to wonder if when the dust is cleared the same thing will be the case here…

    1. Aside from what Toyota has openly admitted, yes, the ‘unexplained’ incidents will forever remain unexplained. As I pointed out above, some news outlets still refer to the Audi case in the 80’s as “unresolved”.

      1. I just did this other day. My brain said “brake”, but my foot and leg said “Fuck you, brain, we’re gonna accelerate”. Cue me going “Oh, Shit” and quickly switching the offending leg and foot to the brake.

  14. Speaking of the Toyota nonsense, turns out that California guy’s claim of a stuck accelerator in his Prius is bogus too. Imagine that.

  15. If I pop my ’93 Paseo out of gear while the cruise control is on, the engine revs out of control.

    I think I’ll sue Toyota for, say, three trillion dollars. Party’s on me if I win, folks!

    No, seriously, I don’t file frivolous lawsuits.

  16. While I think it likely that this may be the same thing as what O’Rourke wrote on, we should all remember that manufacturers DO sometimes negligently make shoddy products that injure people. When that occurs people should be able to sue. If the price to pay for that is “frivolous lawsuits” then so be it imo…

    1. No problem.

      Loser pays.

      1. I’m not against such a reform…

  17. It’s not that companies can do no wrong. No one here has ever said that to my knowledge. What was odd was that a company with such a good reputation for quality over such an extended period could possibly be guilty of the kind of things it has been accused of.

    And, of course, it’s natural to suspect impure motives of the accusers. Let’s not forget the Secretary of Transportation made a ridiculous statement about how Toyota owners should stop driving immediately, right off the bat.

    Combine that with the self-interest of the current government in trashing the Japanese companies, and a little skepticism is in order. Particularly on the litigation side, where it is every plaintiffs’ lawyer’s dream to find a big class action. Any person having an accident with a Toyota is going to think lawsuit, unless they are honest. Not everyone is.

    It’s obvious that there is a problem of some sort–Toyota has admitted as much–but it appears to be very little compared to the flames the government is fanning. I doubt it’s any big conspiracy, either–most likely biases just running amok.

    1. “What was odd was that a company with such a good reputation for quality over such an extended period could possibly be guilty of the kind of things it has been accused of.”

      I see, they’ve earned your love and devotion ;). Well, plenty of folks have had their hearts, or worse, broke via such reliance Pro…

      1. As a loyal Toyota customer, I’ve gotta say they have earned some love and devotion from me. We’re shopping for a new Toyota right now.

      2. MNG,

        Let’s be reasonable about this. The company has a great track record for quality, and would probably be willing to go to great lengths to protect its reputation. It’s in Toyota’s self-interest to preserve that reputation and brand integrity.

        Given how long they’ve been committed to quality manufacturing, I certainly trust them on this issue more than I do most others, the most vocal of which have a clear bias to exaggerate the problem.

        I don’t think there’s nothing here, but I do think the real problem is much less serious than the one being blasted across the media and the floors of Congress.

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  19. $100 that the Jim Sikes Toyota case in Ca. is a complete hoax.

    Another $100 that he claims he was “only trying to call attention to the problem”.

    And a further $100 that half of the MSM pundits decry his “greed”, and the other half makes him out to be a modern-day William Wallace, and excuses his scam because his “intentions were good”.

    Any takers? I promise I’ll use the money wisely.

    1. I’ll take that bet. Will you accept a post-dated check?

  20. List of union intimidation videos for MNG:

    http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=858060912E0E9FCA

    But you’re okay with this, right?

  21. Toyota is no doubt suffering in the court of public opinion. Their perceived lack of concern for their customers will have lasting affects. But Ford Motors comes in 2nd with over 50+ “Sudden Unintended Acceleration” cases. My Pontiac Car had a bad anti lock brake control unit so GM has also had serious recalls this year. I looked on http://www.carpedalrecall.com and found the recall info and local dealership listing; my co Worker had a pedal recall on his ford truck so just look out .

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