By John A. Eldon, D.Env.
The well-publicized tragic death of the Saylor family in a runaway Lexus has focused on entrapment of the accelerator pedal by an overly thick floor mat. There have been several red herrings, such as the Baker dealership’s bogus self-serving claim of electronic system failure.
Often a crash such as this results from the unfortunate convergence of several causes, and Toyota’s vehicle design contributed materially in at least three ways:
1) Push to start with no obvious push to stop. This is inexcusable. On every machine shop floor, each green push-to-start button sits adjacent to an equally (usually more) prominent red push-to-stop button. An automobile is a piece of heavy machinery — why is the Federal government not demanding push-to-stop buttons? Oh, I forgot — the designers thought the Lexus was a personal computer, rather than a lethal piece of heavy machinery — how naive of me! At least on a Nissan repeated pushing of the start button will shut down the engine. On Toyota vehicles, the rules for push to stop change (push when stationary, hold 3 sec. when moving).
2) I already knew the shift gate is a disaster, and my recent experience with a rented 2010 Camry reinforced this view. The main shift gate is to the right, but the PRND label is to the left. Putting the lever as close as possible to N activates +, increasing the number of the highest gear the transmission is allowed to reach. Why is the manual up/down control not on the right side, as on all German cars, so that neutral is right next to the N label? In the voice recording of the 911 call, one can clearly hear that “it won’t go into neutral.” This is because Officer Saylor was telling the transmission to upshift, rather than to go into neutral.
3) On even a 10-year-old German car, depressing the brake and accelerator pedals simultaneously overrides the latter and forces the throttle body’s butterfly valve into idle, allowing the brakes to function properly at any speed. Why are only the very newest Toyotas so equipped?