• Feb 22, 2011
It took ten months. It involved the best brains in the nation. They conducted exhaustive tests. And Lord knows what it all cost. But when it was over, the results were totally predictable. The U.S. Department of Transportation could find nothing wrong with Toyota vehicles that would cause them to suddenly accelerate out of control.

The results were predictable because the country went through the same thing nearly a quarter of a century ago. Only then, it involved Audi. And in both of these cases, each car company was accused of having some sort of mysterious gremlin that would cause its cars to suddenly accelerate out of control.

But there is a significant difference between both investigations. Back then the Department of Transportation blamed it on driver error. Officially, they called it "pedal misapplication." But this time around, the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, wouldn't do that. He said it was caused by mechanical problems, i.e., sticky pedals and piled up floormats.

Too bad the Secretary didn't have the courage to call it like it is. By failing to identify the root cause of the problem, more people are going to lose their lives.

Continue reading...

[Image: Chip Somodevilla/Getty]

In the Audi case, when DOT investigators finally concluded that driver error was the root cause of the problem, they were able to identify a fix. They mandated installation of the shift-lock mechanism that is installed on all vehicles today. It forced drivers to put their foot on the brake before they could shift an automatic transmission into Drive. That eliminated almost every case of sudden unintended acceleration, but not all of them.

That's one of the dirty little secrets of this sudden unintended acceleration problem. It's been around for decades and it involves every single one of the major car companies. While Toyota is being vilified today, Ford is actually number two on the list of reported incidents.

There are several simple fixes that could greatly mitigate the problem.
It's unfortunate that the Secretary is unwilling to blame driver error and do something about it. There are several simple fixes that could greatly mitigate the problem. First off, many cars today have the brake pedal too close to the gas pedal. It's easy to hit both pedals, especially if you have wide feet or are wearing boots. Also, many older people, especially those with diabetes, have largely lost the feeling in their feet. They literally can't feel which pedal their foot is on. By providing greater separation in the plane between the pedals, that would give them better feedback. In other words, if the brake pedal is on a higher plane and they have to bend their knee to put their foot on it, then they know their foot is on the brake.

Of course, so-called "safety advocates" say that the National Academy of Sciences and the scientists from NASA simply missed the electronic gremlins that are causing the problem. They accuse them of not doing a thorough enough investigation and refuse to accept that this could be caused by driver error. And they promise they are going to sue the living daylights out of Toyota. Maybe the Secretary is afraid to take on the safety advocates and the plaintiff attorneys who largely support their cause.

That's why I have five questions I would love to see the Secretary answer.
  1. Why are there no reports of Toyotas with manual transmissions involved in sudden unintended acceleration?
  2. Why is this a problem only found in North America? Why are there no reports of electronic gremlins causing Toyotas to run out of control elsewhere in the world?
  3. Why, if this affects all major automakers, is Toyota being singled out for investigation?
  4. Why does this problem mostly involve older drivers, especially older women?
  5. Why won't the Secretary even consider driver error in cases where sticky pedals and piled up floormats were not the cause?
Ray LaHood would clearly like to leave a legacy as a Secretary of Transportation who truly improved public safety. Here's an opportunity for him to tackle a problem that could show very quick results.




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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 44 Comments
      • 3 Years Ago
      The government owns and has vested interest in Toyota's competitors, GM, and Chrysler, and their Unions.

      That is the core answer for all of the questions.

      This is exactly why Government is not supposed to have vested interest in private enterprise. Corruption, and un-due influence over those enterprises, and bringing the force of government against competitors.

      Toyota is not great. But the government has no grounds to go after them now, if the due diligence has shown that the state of manufacturing those cars did not demonstrably cause the accidents. The burden of proof is on the claimant, not the defendant.

      Wishful thinking is not a prosecution strategy, there has to be just cause that can be shown.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I have the feeling this whole thing is being done by Ray himself to boost their budget. Cars for the most part are pretty safe now and instead of shrinking the department they just continually make cars fatter with new testing every few years. They also jump at the chance to investigate any problems with a car, even if they are 12 years old.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I'll play your game, you rogue.

      1. Why are there no reports of Toyotas with manual transmissions involved in sudden unintended acceleration?

      This one is easy. Vehicles with manual transmissions actually require that the driver pay attention to what they're doing, and tend to be piloted by drivers who actually enjoy driving, and know a bit more about how a car works.

      2. Why is this a problem only found in North America? Why are there no reports of electronic gremlins causing Toyotas to run out of control elsewhere in the world?

      Another easy one that points right back at the drivers. I'm largely thinking of Europe and Australia here, but is there anywhere else in the world that is as easy to get a license as the United States? North America probably houses the largest percentage of uneducated drivers of the modern world.

      3. Why, if this affects all major automakers, is Toyota being singled out for investigation?

      Probably just because they had the most initial reports. I'd also put it back to the drivers - if there is a less engaging auto manufacturer, I haven't found it. Beige bites back.

      4. Why does this problem mostly involve older drivers, especially older women?

      No offense to older women, but can you think of a demographic that is more likely to be flustered if they hit the wrong pedal, or the floormat squishes up around the pedal? Can you also think of a demographic that's more likely to have their floormats installed incorrectly?

      5. Why won't the Secretary even consider driver error in cases where sticky pedals and piled up floormats were not the cause?

      This one I can't answer, because I'm not the Secretary.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Toyota had problems, has problems, hid problems, people died. The NHTSA cannot find things that Toyota hid for years, get real AB, Toyota's ass is raw from all the ass kissing now.
      • 3 Years Ago
      "But when it was over, the results were totally predictable. The U.S. Department of Transportation could find nothing wrong with Toyota vehicles that would cause them to suddenly accelerate out of control."


      Except a poor design that causes the accelerator to get trapped under floor mats, and sticking mechanicals that they had to do a recall for......but yeah, other than that.....nothing.
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have a question for Ray:

      "Why do you look so damn grumpy all the time?"

      With a cushy useless government job you should be pretty happy.
        Msky6Line9
        • 3 Years Ago
        @ Gruv

        I think the pedal placement idea was for automatic transmissions. If your shifting, you are not as apt to have such human errors.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I read that story too but I don't have the link anymore. There were a number of Japanese drivers interviewed who reported problems that sounded exactly like the ones reported here. But the government did want to touch and Toyota refused to acknowledge there was a problem.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Pull my finger !
        • 3 Years Ago
        For some reason he reminds me of Yoda in that picture.

        Also, I seem to remember reading an article about a woman in Tokyo claiming her Toyota had SUA but the police tried to bully her into keeping quiet about it. I'm sure caddy-v will come along and provide us with the link soon enough.
        • 3 Years Ago
        because they're paid to act... paid to act like these issues really mean something to them, that they're very important issues and that they're really doing so much to help the people of america. can anyone name one president of the US that wasn't corrupt in any way? it's just assumed that you're going to have a president that ends up being corrupt in some way. you know you're not gonna get everything that the future president says he/she will do. I hope people realize that the president doesn't really control america... the wealthy control it. "He Who Has the Gold Makes the Rules"
        • 3 Years Ago
        "pedals are too close together"

        What? No they aren't. That allows me to hit the brakes while blipping the throttle on corners so when I let the clutch out I transition seamlessly into the next gear.

        "Put them on different planes"

        Same issue. It would make rev matching a lot harder.

        The real solution? DRIVER'S TESTS. With the majority of these "incidents" coming from old senile farts, I think it's time that the DMV started testing these deaf, blind bastards. There is no way to engineer out the stupidity of everyone human being... so instead mandate yearly testing on drivers over 65mph.
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Gruv

        I was with you until you got to "old senile farts". If you continue to rev match par excellence, you too, will live to become an old senile fart one day.

        Instead of denying them driving rights prematurely, let's hope car manufacturers make senior friendly cars. They need cars with easy access, seat heights that are not too low, gauges with big dials, and as the article suggests, brakes separated on a different plane from the accelerator.

        And for those of us who like to drive stick, let's hope car manufacturers continue to make cars for us too!

      • 3 Years Ago
      Why not go for a paradigm shift then and have some hand-control things developed, if the 'solution' is once again a chg in the vehicle and not the poor drivers? Of course, the real answer is to totally revamp driver ed/licensing so poor drivers are not allowed to actually be driving (or are upgraded in skills so they no longer are poor drivers).
      • 3 Years Ago
      Very good questions.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Here's the bottom line...American's like a boogieman. This time it was Toyota. When it was Audi, oh so many years ago, Piëch had the balls to call out drivers for being idiots.

      This time round, no one had the balls to step up and say "Do you people really have so little understanding of cars that you think you can't stop one by stepping on the brakes?"

      I used to believe that people were generally good and sensible. Life has shown me that, instead, they're generally stupid and gullible.
      • 3 Years Ago
      It might just be me, but I notice that even though the article states that the "problem" (I can't believe I just used that term to describe gross pedal misapplication) is apparently not with manual-equipped vehicles, many of these comments harp on the fact that you wouldn't be able to perform clutch-based operations with the suggested fixes. Just a thought, to maybe, y'know, read? Or think? We'll start small: just do *something* before you react, please?
      • 3 Years Ago
      You`re a mean one! Mr. Grinch
      • 3 Years Ago
      LOL, that dude jsut looks corrupt as the day is long.

      www.privacy-resources.at.tc
      • 3 Years Ago
      In a country where "people are innocent until proven guilty", it sure doesn't seem like it here, particularly if you are brought in front of a U.S. Congressional hearing.

      Do you have any idea how much business and customer loyalty Toyota lost as a result of the U.S. Congressional Hearing unintended acceleration fiasco and its overzealous Congressman who racketed up the hype, made wild accusations in an effort to bolster their own personal brands?

      Talk about good timing, right when the American auto industry needed help most.
      The year prior, Toyota has taken over GM as the #1 manufacturer in the world. Not to mention that at the time of the hearings, GM was majority owned by the U.S. gov't who had invested some $60 billion+ of American taxpayers' money, which really turned people off. Plus, GM and Chrysler product quality was at the bottom of the list (see Consumers' Reports for 2009). And last, the American economy was at an all time low.

      And now, after extensive investigation and who knows how many millions, "the U.S. Department of Transportation could find nothing wrong with Toyota vehicles that would cause them to suddenly accelerate out of control."

      I can not believe folks are not seeing the obvious...

      ...10 months later, where are we? In 2010, Ford has their best sales year ever and GM is well on the rebound and paying down their debt fast. And where is Toyota? Sales were way down in 2010, although they are coming back, but more important and ever-lasting, their brand perception of quality, durability and reliability (QDR) has taken serious damage with American consumers, which will affect them for at least a generation, and that I believe was the real intention of this fiasco.

      And to find out in this article that Ford holds the #2 spot for unintended acceleration cases????!!! How come that was never even mentioned in any of the Congressional hearings?

      In a country where "people are innocent until proven guilty", I think Toyota almost has a right to sue the U.S. Congress for libel and subsequent damage as a result of the U.S. Congressional hearings.

      I for one thought Toyota had indeed overlooked quality in lieu of achieving their global #1 in the world sales goal, but to find out "the U.S. Department of Transportation could find nothing wrong with Toyota vehicles that would cause them to suddenly accelerate out of control" really surprised me. Especially when you go back and see what damaging words Congress and even Ray "Grumpy" LaHood said about Toyota.
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