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Electronics & Test

Could Toyota Engineers Have Anticipated Floor Mat Issues?

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Nancy Golden
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Platinum
Coffee is hot
Nancy Golden   7/13/2012 12:57:16 AM
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"It's impossible to test for everything, but if you make your design more robust for the 50 things you can think of, then it's likely to be robust for the 20 things you didn't think of" is not necessarily an accurate maxim, since the things you didn't think of may be totally unrelated to those you did...I think it comes down to accepting responsibility - something that our society used to advocate when we were kids, but no longer. If I buy a cup of coffee, I am going to expect it to be hot and therefore have the potential to burn me. I expect the cup to be manufactured in such a way as to be able to contain the coffee. That is the responsibility of the paper cup engineer. But if I try to drink it while driving and brake suddenly, resulting in spilling the coffe because I had lifted the flap so I could drink out of it and I burn myself - is my poor choice of timing the paper cup engineer's fault? Or the retail outlet that I purchased it from?

Tragedies sometimes happen not because of a poorly engineered product, but due to people making poor choices and no amount of engineering can stop people from making them. The best we can do is place reasonable safe guards, but where does "reasonable" end - who defines it? Is it reasonable to assume that the consumer understands coffee is hot and has the potential to burn if spilled?

I have had a floor mat flip over onto my accelerator (I'll never forget it - I was driving my used 1970s vintage Plymouth Fury in 1980) and I didn't know what was going on at first when I continued to accelerate when I braked. Yes, it was scary and I was blessed not to get into an accident. I can't remember where the floor mats came from but did it ever enter my mind that it was the car manufacturer's fault? No. I didn't regard it as anyone's fault, it was an unexpected occurrence - I just went and got different floor mats. If an aftermarket mat says it is designed for a specific car and it happened, I could see a case against the floor mat manufacturer, not the car manufacturer.

Charles Murray
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Re: Common sense
Charles Murray   7/12/2012 10:03:49 PM
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A letter would seem to be the sensible thing to do, doesn't it Rob? Unfortunately, this is apparently a legal matter, which doesn't always have sensible criteria.

Jennifer Campbell
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Gold
Re: Common sense
Jennifer Campbell   7/12/2012 4:20:56 PM
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I fully agree with you, Rob, though I think it's a good business practice for Toyota to offer the recall to try to "fix" anticipated problems caused by owners.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Common sense
Rob Spiegel   7/12/2012 2:05:56 PM
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I'm surprise Toyota would offer a recall for problems caused by owners. Wouldn't a letter to owners explaining that improper floor mats might cause problems be sufficient?

Bunter
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Platinum
Re: Common sense
Bunter   7/12/2012 1:53:12 PM
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I think a short review of some of the absurd lawsuites that have won in court would explain this very well.  There is no reasoning so stupid that some jury will not accept it.

My thoughts anyway.

Take care.

Dennis

Bunter
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Platinum
Re: Skeptical
Bunter   7/12/2012 1:50:07 PM
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Thanks for your kind words.  Been a while since I saw those graphs, they were on some auto websites at the height of the hysteria.

I do remember that Toy had very similar incidents per xxx number of cars with Ford and GM.  I also recall a long period graph of their UA complaints, little up a little down over many years, couple of humps and then it hit the news and it went up several orders of magnitude.

I recall my grandfather telling us, after he had ended up in the ditch on an icy road, how his car had accelerated after he hit the brakes.  I remember even as a kid thinking that sounded wrong.  Having since experienced loss of control on icy roads (Minnesota, duh) many times I realize that the sensation during the skid feels like things are happening very fast (Ooooooooooh noooooooo!).

Sensation is not physics.  Nor can we replay the tape of the event and see that we really hit the gas pedal and ran into the hedge.  So we believe that what we intended to do is what we did.

Cheerio,

Dennis

NadineJ
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Re: Skeptical
NadineJ   7/12/2012 12:30:54 PM
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I think Bunter says it best.  I'm skeptical too.  It is impossible for designers and engineers to anticipate every way consumers will use or modify a product.  This story, from the beginning, sounds more like user error.  Not to add to the conspiracy theories here but there's more going on than we all know.

Bunter-Can you share a link with the graphs you mentioned.  It sounds a lot like the research I've seen on alien encounters before and after the first Sci Fi movies.  Interesting how there were no little green men until after Hollywood put a face on them.

Jennifer Campbell
User Rank
Gold
Common sense
Jennifer Campbell   7/12/2012 10:10:55 AM
While I applaud Toyota for taking the step to announce this recall before an accident occurs, I can't help but wonder how necessary it actually is. If the floor mats in the cars are being made and installed correctly, why should they be responsible for the car owner's stupidity?

This is akin to the warning on the bottle of lemon dishwashing liquid - do not drink! Well, duh.

TJ McDermott
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Design for misuse a principle design tenent
TJ McDermott   7/12/2012 10:06:10 AM
Just once, I'd like to see a judicial ruling tell the plaintive "YOU'RE AN IDIOT".  As in, "You're an idiot for stacking 8 pieces of carpet remnant in the floor of your car. Your claim is rejected; case dismissed."

There is never going to be a hard line defining misuse.  Putting another piece of carpet or a second mat on top of the first can probably be foreseen.  But is adding a second and third foreseeable?  Eight is not foreseeable.  Where is the dividing line?  It's going to be blurry for each and every design decision.

When will law require the user to take responsibility for his or her own actions?  Can the engineer be expected to plan for an idiot stacking eight mats?  Or even one that is too large for the footwell?  Or one that is sized perfectly, but does not have friction nits on the bottom?

If this is the route society expects engineers to take to make a design "safe", then maybe engineers should require a 100-page consent document which describes the conditions for use of the product we design?  Lawsuits can only proceed if you signed the document.

Bunter
User Rank
Platinum
Skeptical
Bunter   7/12/2012 9:42:54 AM
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I've seen a few graphs presenting the rate of complaints on Toyota "unintended acceleration before and after it hit the media.

Their rates appear to have been typical of the industry overall beofre the media circus. After...well of course a lot of people who just made a mistake saw a way for someone else to take the blame.  And frankly in a panic situation very few people can accurately remember and assess what happened-it probably would not be tough to convince yourself it wasn't you.

IIRC the big splash case in the media, 4 dead in a Lexus ES, there were 3 floor mats stacked.

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