On the heels of government hearings regarding unintended acceleration, all cars sold in the U.S. could face a new rule that would require a brake override system.
U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, made the comments after weeks of hearings into the 8.5-million vehicle recall of Toyota products, all of which centered around various forms of unintended acceleration and brake failure.
"We are looking at the possibility of recommending the brake override system to all manufacturers of automobiles," LaHood said in his testimony in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The committee is probing the recent Toyota recalls in Washington, D.C.
How It Would Work
The system under consideration allows the driver to override the accelerator by returning the engine to idle if both the gas and brake pedals are being pressed at the same time, thus preventing unintended acceleration.
In addition to Secretary LaHood, Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W. Va,), has stated that creating new laws to expand federal authority over automotive safety issues may be a necessary step to ensuring that another massive recall does not occur.
"I do intend to work on comprehensive legislation to get at all of these issues in a real way. We need to look at current law and ask if it is strong enough to prevent something like this from happening again," Rockefeller said. “I know my colleagues have much to contribute to this effort, and I welcome it.”
We spoke with our friend and technical expert Sam Abuelsamid of Autoblog.com about the potential change.
"Essentially there is a form of logic in the engine's computer. What it does is it looks for the driver applying the brake pedal. If the throttle is open and the brake pedal is being pressed, the throttle is disabled," said Abuelsamid.
"In terms of how this particular system would work, it would use a system of timers in the engine. The throttle would have to be open beyond a certain amount of time while the brake is being applied for a couple of seconds before the engine shuts off. It's not just going to be an instant engine shut off."
Abuelsamid said that while government regulation will not bring the end of automotive safety recalls, exercising the authority in a proper way could certainly help.
“Mistakes happen, unforeseen consequences happen," he said. "It's a fact of life. Regulators need to keep on top of complaints and have engineers on staff that understand the latest technology in order to do analysis.”
When Toyota executives come to Capitol Hill this week to testify before Congress, how they make their case could very well affect how every automotive company functions. If the Senate committee decides that an expansion of government authority is necessary, every new car in the U.S. will be required to have an installed brake override system, regardless of their past safety record.
Such an act seems warranted for Toyota, but is it really fair to impose regulations on auto companies that have not had problems with unintended acceleration?
“Yes. What happened with Toyota could happen to anyone,” Abuelsamid said. “Some automakers have already taken the actions to prevent this problem, but the next issue could and likely will pop up anywhere. The increasing dependence on electronics and software will make it some ways more difficult to reproduce and diagnose problems.”
It’s too soon to tell what the consequences of the government probe into Toyota will be, but there may very well be a government mandated brake override system included on your next new vehicle, Toyota or not.