Big Runaway Toyota Surprise: Drivers, Not Electronics, at Fault

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Actually not at all surprising. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has now tested numerous allegedly runaway Toyotas. The result?

The U.S. Department of Transportation has … found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.

The results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota and Lexus vehicles surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes…

The findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involve a sample of reports in which a driver of a Toyota vehicle said the brakes were depressed but failed to stop the car from accelerating and ultimately crashing.

The data recorders analyzed by NHTSA were selected by the agency, not Toyota, based on complaints the drivers had filed with the government.

The findings are consistent with a 1989 government-sponsored study that blamed similar driver mistakes for a rash of sudden-acceleration reports involving Audi 5000 sedans.

The Toyota findings, which haven't been released by NHTSA, support Toyota's position that sudden-acceleration reports involving its vehicles weren't caused by electronic glitches in computer-controlled throttle systems, as some safety advocates and plaintiffs' attorneys have alleged. More than 100 people have sued the auto maker claiming crashes were the result of faulty electronics.

I told you so.

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  1. Here’s the first two paragraphs of the WSJ article, without ellipses:

    The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.

    The results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota and Lexus vehicles surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes. But the findings don’t exonerate Toyota from two known issues blamed for sudden acceleration in its vehicles: sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats that can trap accelerator pedals to the floor. [My italics]

    Did you tell us all of that, Ron? I’m sorry, dude, but too damn many ellipses for, you know, the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

    1. Alan, you’re like Erin Brockovich with your sleuthing abilities, but with bigger tits.

    2. You’re missing the point, which was that the reports skyrocketed ridiculously after the known problems were made public, as people looked for something other than their own errors to blame. We all know that Toyota had some design problems as well.

    3. yeah, “dozens of data recorders” and “don’t exonerate Toyota from two known issues” are kind of important. But he did tell us so that some of the incidents were probably just cases of lead feet. I guarantee you people following this story closely aren’t relying on H&R for their facts. Since attorneys and policymakers will be cherry picking facts to hurt the industry/consumers, the other side unfortunately has to do it too, if only for the microscopic attention spans of our politicians.

      1. …and H&R readers.

      2. Even if the floormat has jammed the accelerator, a functioning brake system will stop any commercial car at full throttle. The brakes are overwhelmingly more powerful than the engine.

        1. nevermind the emergency brake

          1. Also neutral.

            1. This.

              I could not understand why those people would not throw the car into neutral if they thought the brake system had failed.

              1. I suspect that for a lot of drivers Neutral is just an extra letter they shift through on the way between Drive and Reverse. They never think of it in daily driving, much less in an emergency.

      3. I guarantee you people following this story closely aren’t relying on H&R for their facts.

        No, but people who are just casually following it might. This is the same thing as happened with the Obamacare CBO numbers — the press reported the raw deficit reduction numbers from the CBO report without going into the details of why those numbers were essentially meaningless.

        And your contention that everyone else is lying and distorting so we have to as well makes me want to vomit. We should be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.

    4. Shouldn’t you be at home working on your next book of Langston Hughes poems?

    5. Anyone with a thimbleful of knowledge about automobiles knows that if you press as hard as you can on funtional brakes, floor mats, sticky accelerators or evil goddam gremlins in the electronics module notwithstabding, the car will fucking stop.

      What about that, Alan? Driver ineptitude every single time. If you can’t acknowledge that, hand your car keys to a responsible adult and take public transportation to get around.

      1. I would tell you to roll up the floormat and stick it under your brake pedal before the next time you drive, but I wouldn’t want to have you die and be deprived of your witty commentary.

        Elderly people in particular are not going to be able to press the brake pedal as hard as younger people can. Also, even assuming you can stop eventually, a sticky accelerator or a foreign object under the brake pedal is going to massively increase stopping distance, which is all it takes to cause a collision in high-traffic areas.

        1. “Elderly people in particular are not going to be able to press the brake pedal as hard as younger people can.”

          Thank the good Lord for power brakes. You of course know it requires no more effort to “slam on the brakes” than it does to just push the pedal down right?

          I also wonder what would happen if you:
          a. put the car in park
          b. turned off the ignition.

          Two excellent solutions to that pesky floor mat.

          1. a. You’d hurt the transmission a lot more than if you just put it in neutral and let it bang away at the rev limiter. The parking pawl would just shear off if it even engaged at all. If you put it in neutral you could use the handbrake to slow the car to a stop – who cares if the handbrake is toast when you’re done. But if you have one of those electronic parking brakes, you probably can’t do that.

            b. Works fine. But it’s way too complicated on cars with a push-button ignition. Basically you have to press and hold the button for three seconds, which is an eternity if you’re accelerating out of control.

            Personally I will never buy a car without an actual twist and turn key (jesus h. christ, are people *that* lazy these days) and a real handbrake. Then again, I don’t think I’d buy anything Toyota currently makes either, so people who think like me obviously aren’t the problem.

        2. Talk out your ass much, Tulpa?

    6. The whole anti-Toyota panic was based on claims that, despite the application of brakes, the cars were running away and killing people. The floormats and sticky pedals were legitimate defects, but were not sufficient to account for the continued acceleration after braking. Remember runaway Prius guy, or the Camry that launched off a cliff? There was a ghost in the machine, supposedly.

      But there has not been a single instance that either Toyota or the NHTSA have found where the accident circumstances and/or data recorder support anything other than “oops wrong pedal”.

      But don’t let that get in the way of the hysteria…

    7. Looks like Bailey went to the same quotation school as Moynihan.

    8. AV: I must learn to be more deceptive. e.g., not link to the actual article so that readers will have google themselves to find out what I left out. 🙂

  2. I told you so.

    You heartless bastard.

  3. Drivers, Not Electronics, at Fault

    That’s not what Government Motors, er, I mean, the Department of Transportation told me when I was shopping around for a new car earlier this year.

  4. at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged

    A “sticky” throttle pedal (or one trapped under the floor mat) does not prevent the driver from applying the brakes.

    1. I’m no mechanic, but after driving for nearly 40 years, it has always been my experience that the brake will overcome the accelerator. In any event, there would be some serious smoke coming from those breaks in that kind of situation. I am a skeptic on this.

    2. A floormat rolled up under the brake pedal will make it much more difficult to apply the brakes. The recorder box will not be able to tell that the driver was trying to engage the brakes in that situation.

      1. Yeah it will. WTF? Unless the brake pedal did not move at all, which would be impossible with any floormat, it would have registered.

      2. Tulpa, you’re misunderstanding the reports. The issue is not a floor mat getting bunched up under the brake pedal; the issue was the floor mat causing the ACCELERATOR to stick, making the car accelerate unintentionally.

        Even if a floor mat is jamming the accelerator, tromping the brakes would slow and stop the car.

        And even if the mat were bunched up under the brake pedal, making it impossible to fully apply the brakes, it takes only a slight movement to trip the brake switch, which the recorder would have, er, recorded.

      3. Stop posting on this topic, Tulpa. You’re embarrassing yourself.

        1. No shit.

          “But… but… what if a can of creamed corn got wedged under the brake pedal?”

      4. isn’t the brake pedal much higher from the floor than the accelerator? i’m too lazy to look

        i think what was learned from the lexus crash is that if you put in the wrong floor mat and do not secure it, then you may have to switch into neutral if the accelerator sticks

  5. no shit. too bad the msm won’t discuss this. we’ll be hearing about the “shitty cars from toyota” for years. are audis safe yet?

  6. So if I keep pushing the gas pedal to the floor, the car will keep going fast?

    Why didn’t anyone warn me about this?

  7. There’s a guy in the Twin Cities that’s in prison for this. He was driving his family home from church when it happened:

    The story of Koua Fong Lee, the way his car hit and killed three people, his eight-year prison sentence, the time away from his family, the feeling that “this could have happened to me” ? these were among the reasons more than 30 people protested Monday afternoon outside the Ramsey County attorney’s office.

    Lee, 32, is serving time at Lino Lakes state prison after his 2007 conviction for vehicular homicide. He was driving a Toyota Camry in June 2006 when it rear-ended another car at a high speed in St. Paul.

    His attorneys have petitioned the court for a new trial, saying his car experienced sudden unintended acceleration. County Attorney Susan Gaertner has said he shouldn’t get another chance in court.

    http://www.twincities.com/ci_1…..ck_check=1

    1. As I understand it, his car was not one of the ones that supposedly had the sudden acceleration problem. Then add this news to it, and there is a lot of cold water thrown on his supporters.

      My favorite part of the protesters outside the courthouse was the one woman who told the local news crew that Lee speaks five languages and “is intelligent,” so it isn’t possible that he hit the wrong pedal.

    2. in that case i don’t think it was a mechanical fault, it was more likely the mistake many people have made: they really do think they are pressing on the brake pedal but instead are pressing on the accelerator

      in the panic of the moment they don’t realize they have made a mistake

      1. Which, absent other evidence makes me question criminal charges. A mistake, even one with horrific consequences, shouldn’t result in jail time. A crime would require an intentional act or such an utter disregard for human life that the accident was quite likely. I guess the prosecution felt that “high speed” was his criminal act. The prosecution’s theory just doesn’t hold water in that he was driving with his family in the car and blasted through two stop signs and into a car (resulting in death). Arguing that he did so intentionally makes little sense. That the jury bought this argument also makes little sense – unless what they heard was vastly different from what we’ve heard.

  8. Here lies clumsy Jake
    He hit the gas, not the brake

  9. I seem to recall after all was said and done in the Audi investigation the NHTSA couldn’t find a single example that wasn’t due to driver error. So when this Toyota crap started up, I was more than willing to believe this would be the inevitable outcome.

    Plus, you rarely go wrong if you take the side of “people are idiots”.

    1. One of the worst stories I heard about the Audi 5000 case was the CBS report that played the tearful statement of one of the drivers involved after they edited out the part where she had stated to the police investigating report that she had pressed the accelerator when she had meant to press the brake.

      Between that and NBC doctoring the Chevy trucks, I pretty much discount anything remotely automotive from the TV networks. I mean, even more than I already discount everything else, that is.

  10. To believe the drivers, you must believe the brakes failed simultaneous along with the accelerator AND the brakes repaired themselves afterward. In the Air Force we called this phenomenom FM, or Fucking Magic.

    1. In modern vehicles, all those systems are controlled by a single computer, so it’s plausible that they could all malfunction simultaneously without leaving any physical evidence.

      1. No, it’s possible, but not plausible. The chances of this occurring are probably more remote than the chances of winning the lottery.

      2. What the fuck are you talking about? There is not “a single computer” that controls both the accelerator and brakes “in modern vehicles.”

        I have at least one modern vehicle, and the brakes are not controlled by computer. They are hydromechanical, exactly as brakes have been for a couple generations now (except, of course, with the addition of ABS). And the majority of brand new cars continue to use that system.

        And the throttle is controlled by a cable going from the pedal.

        Very few car models today have true brake-by-wire or throttle-by-wire. More cars are going to throttle-by-wire, however, than those going to brake-by-wire.

      3. Just keeps getting worse here, Tulpa. Pull the ripcord!

      4. First, Tulpa’s comment is utterly wrong. As noted, those systems are not all controlled by the same computer. Further, all cars must have a mechanical (e.g. hydraulic) connection between brake pedal and brakes.

        But beyond that, the pure logical failure is striking. What are the odds that a single computer system, even if it did control all those (which is doesn’t) would fail in a way that exactly mimicked a long-known problem of people pressing the wrong pedal? For decades these reports have come in sporadically to the NHTSA (sometimes when word gets out in a national news reports they come in a flood — see Audi) in cars with no computers and it’s always been determined to be driver error. Yet now that we have computers, oh wait, this might suddenly be a real problem! The computers have sinisterly figured out exactly how to re-create, this time for real, what people have been claiming for 30 or 40 years!

        If there was ever a time to apply Occam’s Razor this is it. Your explanation would be absurdly complex (even more so with the multiple independent systems that actually control throttle and brake) compared to the simple cause of identical problems we’ve seen for years.

  11. Also, why didn’t they just turn the engines off?

    1. Apparently many of the incidents involved cars with keyless ignition, and the drivers did not know holding down the ignition button for several seconds cuts off the engine.

    2. Or shift into neutral.

      1. At least in the case of the Jeep Cherokee’s sudden unintended acceleration woes, shifting to neutral didn’t help, as the transmission controls were disengaged by the computer during SUA events. The only thing that could stop the vehicle would be pulling the key out of the ignition or hitting something that didn’t move (people don’t count).

        1. Um, yeah so? Get back to me when they can reproduce it in a Toyota. So far, floormats are all that anyone has been able to come up with.

        2. Even the slightest comparison of a Jeep to a Toyota in terms of performance or reliability is a slap in the face to Toyota. Every Jeep/Chrysler I’ve ever driven has had issues of multiple kinds. The first year of the Jeep Grand Cherokee redesign (was it ’98?) being the absolute freaking worst. The car switched gears and changed radio stations involuntarily, it was freaky.

  12. Unfortunately, under our current tort system, even if you can prove that every single person suing Toyota did not apply the brakes, Toyota will still have to pay hefty damages because of the sticky floor mat.

    This is why we need to get back to ye olde doctrine of contributory negligence. Regardless of whether the product you are using when injured was perfectly designed and built, if your own fuck-ups cause your injury, they shouldn’t have to pay.

    1. Regardless of whether the product you are using when injured was perfectly designed and built, if your own fuck-ups cause your injury, they shouldn’t have to pay.

      RC, I am going to refer this comment to your local Bar association. I am certain they will be interested in how one of their members is denigrating their business. Of course, for a certain financial consideration we could all forget this ever happened.

    2. Virginia has never adopted comparative fault. We are still a contributory negligence state.

    3. That would make it pretty difficult to sue for failure of safety systems intended to hedge against fuckups…

  13. The best thing I ever did for my driving education was take a Skip Barber Advanced Driving Course. Any adanced driving school will do. You get so used to over and under steering and skidding and whatnot that when you finally get into a bad situation you won’t PANIC. That is what happened in these cases. The world model that these people were operating under broke and they panicked. Panic kills. Plus those schools are fun as hell.

    1. I’m fairly certain not panicking and correctly handling a skid saved my life and my wife’s when we were t-boned on I-395. that and my totaled jetta.

  14. This is a big problem with elderly drivers. I saw so many of these accidents during college when working at the state police. Often the driver would say “I hit the brake but I just went faster”

  15. 1) Contrary to some of the posts above, I don’t think there’s any evidence that the floor mat interfered with the brake, just that it held down the gas pedal. To explain the data so far, the floor mat would have to be wedged under the brake so securely that you couldn’t get the brake down far enough to register on the black box. Surely the police would notice that in at least some of the on-scene investigations . . .

    2) Best quote from the WSJ article:

    “The car maker also has tested its vehicles’ responses to strong electromagnetic radiation, such as the waves generated by cellphones and radio towers, which some critics have said could be causing a malfunction. The only interference engineers have encountered after bombarding cars with electromagnetic waves is static on the car radio.”

    1. The EMI argument has got to be the lamest accusation I have ever seen.

    2. also a key reminder that there is far more FM/AM/Police/Amb/Taxi RF energy out there than cellular. its FM cancer from non stop classic rock you get, not lol txts……

  16. I hate to add on to this shit-storm, but I know for a fact that it is possible to override the brakes. It’s happened to me more than once.

    The most dramatic was in my 68 442 and I have the bent steering wheel and rims to prove it. (Long story short: The carb butterfly stuck open and two hands pulling up on the steering wheel and both feet on the brakes only slowed the acceleration. I attempted to put it neutral but hit reverse instead causing the car to spin into the curb. Result: two bent rims and a bent steering wheel)

    What I’m trying to say is that brake fade does exist and these people may have a real complaint. So without knowing all the facts, all these statements of brakes can always stop the car are crap.

    1. Yes, older cars have shit brakes.

      However, all modern cars have brakes that are way stronger than the engines. This is why it takes your typical family sedan 7 or 8 seconds to get to 60, but only 3 or 4 to get back to 0.

      OEM brakes don’t have much heat capacity (for a variety of very good reasons) so it’s not too hard to overheat them to the point of uselessness in extreme situations. But they’re good enough to overpower the engine and bring the car to a stop at least once as long as you get on them hard and stay on them.

    2. yeah, I can see that happening, but there’s a much wider gap between braking/acceleration capabilities comparing a 60’s big block V-8 muscle car with a modern Camry.

      My 1978 Trans Am I had in high school with the 6.6 litre, I’m pretty sure I could mash the gas and brake to the floor at same time and that car would move! Do that today in my 2003 Altima and the brakes win.

  17. Didn’t something almost EXACTLY the same happen years ago? Some runaway car problems were reported and then it turned out the drivers were the cause of the accidents, hitting the wrong pedals and blaming it on the car.

    1. The Audi 5000 and GM trucks, thats it.

      1. My comment, repeated from above:

        Isaac Bartram|7.13.10 @ 4:15PM|#

        One of the worst stories I heard about the Audi 5000 case was the CBS report that played the tearful statement of one of the drivers involved after they edited out the part where she had stated to the police investigating report that she had pressed the accelerator when she had meant to press the brake.

        Between that and NBC doctoring the Chevy trucks, I pretty much discount anything remotely automotive from the TV networks. I mean, even more than I already discount everything else, that is.

        1. Didn’t see that, but the one that I remembered was the GM trucks. I think there was another one that happened in the mid 90s.

  18. “some”, not all. In the new Toyota cars the brake pedal isn’t connected to the brakes, but the computer. The ignition switch isn’t connected to the ignition but the computer. The “gear shift” isn’t connected to the transmission but the computer. The gas pedal isn’t connected to the fueling system but the computer. Any of you geniuses ever had a computer problem?

    Gas pedal instead of brake? According to multiple witnesses who saw the trained driver/police officer (and his three passengers) crash and die at 120 mph in California, smoke and flames were shooting from all four brakes/wheel wells before they crashed and died.

    1. Any of you geniuses ever had a computer problem?

      Not one where 4 systems failed spectacularly (and unsafely) simultaneously. Even shitty programmers can’t accomplish something like that.

  19. One word. NEUTRAL!! Every car has it! It is the spot between Reverse and Drive. Yep, you passed it when you backed out of your driveway on the way to the grocery store. There is no excuse for not being able to stop your car.

    A bit of nostalgia. I drove my Grandparent’s mid 90’s Ford station wagon (simulated woodgrain!!) for a while. It had a tendency to “surge” while stopped at a light and a good press on the brakes always kept it under control. In addition it was always fun to press on both the brake and gas pedal at a drive-thru. The back wheels would spin, the front wheels would not and the whole place would fill with tire smoke.

    Paul

  20. holy hell, are americans stupid. I am a complete and utter slob,…..i have shit piled up in my p/up truck…..when i get in to drive somewhere, i pick it all up and dump it on passenger floor board,….SO THAT IT DOESNT INTERFERE WITH THE PEDALS!!!!……….damn, buy some velcro,affix it to the mats ,then the mats wont ride up under the pedals!!!!

    its not toyotas fault you cant master common sense auto ownership……
    Whats next???…..”every time i use 2 hands to pick up the coffee pot, i burn myself….ITS MR. COFFEES FAULT!!!!”………..THE MASSES ARE DUMB ASSES!!!!!

    1. Yes, the coffee pot incident IS a true story….ex gf claimed 6 cup coffee pot to heavy to p/up with 1 hand….after replacing said [shattered on floor]pot 3 times, i switched ex gf to “instant coffee”……

  21. The data recorders analyzed by NHTSA were selected by the agency, not Toyota, based on complaints the drivers had filed with the government.
    So how long before cars are required to have external data ports for cops to access the data recorders.

    “Do you know how fast you were going?”

    “No”

    “Well it says right here that you were going 38 in a 35 yesterday. Here’s you ticket and have a nice day.”

  22. Your car tend to loose control even the slightest turn of the steering wheel. normal cars are meant for normal driving. Racing cars are meant for racing? so? know the right situation?

  23. Keep on believing and buying this Japanese crap. You try to tell me that an off duty policeman trained in high speed driving had his foot on the gas instead of the brake?!!! Give me a brake! The runaway Lexus crash that killed off-duty CHP officer Mark Saylor, his wife Cleofe, daughter Mahala and brother-in-law Christopher Lastrella was a trajedy caused by Japanese engineering not human error!!!

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