This is really bad news for Toyota but also for people with vehicles that also could potentially have this issue. Let's hope there are no more accidents before the cause and the vehicles that may be affected are discovered.
Once the lawyers smell the blood in the water it is open-season on deep pockets.
The ironic thing is that as much as I don't like fly-by-wire throttles, they are likely to be safer in the long run for any number of reasons, such as stability control, traction control, etc. I do recall many years ago, driving a cable actuated carburetor equipped car, I mashed the throttle to accelerate and lo and behold (unbeknownst to me at the time), a strand in the cable at the carburetor snapped right at the cable sheath ferrule and held the throttle virtually wide-open. Lifting the throttle pedal with my toe had no effect so my immediate reaction was to turn the ignition switch off. As long as you didn't pull the key out, the steering doesn't lock.
This is what people should be trained to do. But virtually nobody has any driver training for emergencies. Pilots do it all the time. I think we have a lot to learn from our airborne brethren.
After coasting to the side of the road, a quick look under the hood revealed the reason, and that errant strand of cable was quickly dispatched with a pair of wire cutters and I was able to continue on home. A few days later a shiny new throttle cable was installed.
J. Williams' point has come up before, and rightfully so--that pilots are well trained to deal with mechanical emergencies while flying, but drivers aren't trained to deal with mechanical emergencies while driving. OTOH, to do so, drivers would have to be not only mechanically minded, but also up on the latest stuff under the hood, and elsewhere in the car, since it keeps changing.
"But virtually nobody has any driver training for emergencies."
While there are some limitations as Ann suggests, we still fall far short in this area. My fifteen year old son is in a driver's education class and I have not heard them speak on the topic if driving emergencies in any detail. We were driving our Chevy Lumina on the highway when the dashboard lights started to dim. It was our first sign that our alternator was going out. Taking the first exit we could and pulling into a gas station on the service road saved us from being stuck on the highway at night - we barely made it into the parking lot when the car died. It was a good lesson for our son - encouraging observation of the car's gages and lights can go a long way - and how to respond if something seems wrong.
What to do if the accelerator seems stuck?
What to do if the brakes aren't responding?
What to do if the steering quits?
What to do if the car is skidding?
We can at least address these basic issues in training people to drive so that they have some idea of what to do when things like this happens...
You're right. I instantly bristle at the thought of drive by wire, because a mechanical system seems safer to me, but the mechanical system can fail as well. I sometimes forget that I had the return spring break on a carburetor, and that lead to a white-knuckled moment. Just the same, a drive by wire car really needs to have an obvious kill switch.
To Ann's point, pilots constantly train for equipment failures, study accidents and practice what-if scenarios. The training system works. I had an electrical fire in flight and in a knee jerk moment I turned off the Master Bus without even having the chance to spit out a colorful word. There is no way that automobile drivers will ever train the same way, or keep that training current.
How often do you see something as simple as a turn signal being used properly?
While it seems to everyone that the fly by wire systems should be safer, we have decades of data with the old mechanical systems and I do not recall any widespread unintended acceleration events in all that time. I am sure it can happen, but it did not seem to. Now, if I recall the Audi situation, the problem was that people thought they were stationary. It was not like the case that was just completed against Toyota where the car continued to accelerate off the highway causing the accident. In fact, the injuries were caused to people who wwent ahead of the car into the garage, at least in some cases. I always get nervous when my wife starts to move foeward when I am going ahead of her into the house. That is just one of the Audi scenarios.
Fly by wire has been used for a while in aircraft, of course, but I think there is always some sort of manual override. We need to do a better job of dealing with the design and programming of these systems.
J. Williams; I remember hearing a story about 4 people in a car with unintended acceleration who had been talking to 911 for several minutes brfore the car hit a dump truck and all 4 were killed. I wondered why none of them thought to turn off the ignition or put the transmission in neutral. Years ago my brother had an accelerator return spring break - he turned off the ignition. I don't like the idea of the bush button Start; I like the old fashioned key. I think I could put a transmission in neutral and possibly let the engine blow up if the ignition did not stop the car.
Glenn, you nailed it, exactly. I believe the problem is that some people (maybe most?) presented with an emergency, are only able to react in ways that were discussed, rehearsed, thought about, and/or trained PREVIOUSLY. To think clearly, critically, and in a logical manner during an emergency is very difficult. It is the main reason why training in the military is very repetitive. You want the reaction to be virtually automatic. Part of the reaction may be to stop, assess, then act. Other situations may require an immediate response.
I remember driver's ed classes at Hingham High 35 years ago, and the teacher discussing skid control, steering into the skid to regain control and so on. I think kids today still get these lessons. But like any other young, stupid, testosterone-laden red-blooded male, when the first big snowfall hit, I found myself a big empty parking lot with no poles or curbs, and had a hell of a time spinning donuts, whipping the wheel around, slamming on the brakes, grabbing the E-brake to put it into serious over-steer and all manner of vehicle mayhem. I also learned what it felt like to have a vehicle out of control, and I quickly learned how best to recover. (Pssst, I still enjoy a nicely controlled, smooth four-wheel drift on empty snow and ice packed roads. ;-)
I know cost considerations would prohibit it, but I wish all driver training included at least 15 minutes on a skid pad with a knowledgable instructor. I believe there would be far fewer weather related crashes on our roadways. How do people with 4WD, traction control, stability control, and ABS still manage to put their SUV into the median strip when we get a couple of inches of snow????? I don't get it.
My feeling is that many people don't realize that in some cases, judicious use of the throttle and steering wheel, and not the brake is how you get your rear out of a jam. But until you practice these skills, you won't know how to use them in an emergency.
We keep coming back to our pilot friends who get trained in all manner of "emergencies" (under the watchful eyes of instructors) so routinely that they don't even think about it when it happens for real. Captain Sully is the gold standard on this.
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