Refusing to accept the explanation of Toyota and the federal government, hundreds of Toyota owners are in rebellion after a series of accidents
caused by what they call "runaway cars."
Safety analysts found an estimated 2000 cases in which owners of Toyota cars including Camry, Prius and Lexus, reported that their cars surged without
warning up to speeds of 100 miles per hour.
Toyota says the incidents are caused by floor mats becoming stuck under gas pedals, but owners say that's not what happened to them.
I don't know what is causing this phenomenon, but I do know that loose floor mats can be dangerous. My Hondas have had little hooks under the
driver's seat to keep the floor mats in place and I've taken to making sure that the folks at the car wash rehook the mats before I drive away,
because I've learned the hard way what a problem loose mats can be.
However, if the problem is loose mats and Toyota doesn't have any means to secure the mats, the problem is just as much their fault as it would be if
the problem were mechanical or electronic.
The 2009 Lexus ES 350 shot through suburban San Diego like a runaway missile, weaving at 120 mph through rush-hour freeway traffic as flames
flashed from under the car.
At the wheel, veteran California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor desperately tried to control the 272-horsepower engine that was roaring at full
throttle as his wife, teenage daughter and brother-in-law were gripped by fear.
"We're in trouble. ... There's no brakes," Saylor's brother-in-law, Chris Lastrella, told a police dispatcher over a cell phone. Moments later,
frantic shrieks filled the car as it slammed into another vehicle and then careened into a dirt embankment, killing all four aboard.
I can hardly imagine a more horrifying situation or one more tragic than four people dying so needlessly.
Why didn't the driver turn off the engine?
Well, in the car in question, that's not necessarily an easy thing to do.
One obvious line of defense is to simply shut off the engine, a step that may not be intuitive on the ES 350. The car has a push-button start
system, activated by the combination of a wireless electronic fob carried by the driver and a button on the dashboard.
But once the vehicle is moving, the engine will not shut off unless the button is held down for a full three seconds — a period of time in which
Saylor's car would have traveled 528 feet. A driver may push the button repeatedly, not knowing it requires a three-second hold.
Why didn't he shift into neutral? No one really knows what happened in this incident, but it seems that automatic transmissions have "dumbed-down"
the public such that one expert says that many drivers don't know what neutral is for, even if they could effectively maneuver through the
shift-gates in an emergency.
"I think it's possible to get the shifter confused, but I can't be sure that's what happened" in San Diego, [Toyota spokesman Brian] Lyons
said. "You'd be surprised how many people around here [Toyota] don't know what the neutral position is for."
And what about the brakes? Why didn't they work?
The ES 350 and most other modern vehicles are equipped with power-assisted brakes, which operate by drawing vacuum power from the engine. But when
an engine opens to full throttle, the vacuum drops, and after one or two pumps of the brake pedal the power assist feature disappears.
"I don't think you can stop a car going 120 mph and an engine at full throttle without power assist," said [Clarence] Ditlow, the safety center
Based on all these factors and others listed in the cited articles, it seems that all this new whiz-bang technology being put into cars to make them
easier and more luxurious to drive has really created vehicles that take full control of the vehicle away from the driver and moreover, has created a
generation of drivers who have never had to learn how to manually operate their cars in order to putter around town. When a real emergency arises,
they are left wondering what to do next, when time is too short for wondering.
However, in the tragic accident listed above, the driver being a State Trooper and trained to deal with emergencies was left helpless because of
features that were not intuitive.
Whatever is going on here, it is more complex than floor mats and driver error and I think it's time that the industry and the public got their
priorities more clearly organized.
For a video on how to stop your car in one of these emergencies, see the video at this link:
[edit on 2009/11/3 by GradyPhilpott]