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.
Don't think so. Except for auto pilot. But then the computer is flying the aircraft. There are multiple control surfaces and a lost of or errant one is not such a big deal. Pilot error however continues to be a big deal both for airplanes and especially cars. It is an error to ignore the law and paint on the road. Gee, what a change from being a teenager and pushing the limits.
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.
J. Williams, all good points. I would also add that todays drivers seem more interested in texting, putting make-up on, or yapping on the phone than driving and paying attention to their vehicle!
I had a white knuckle experience stoplight racing my 1970 GTO in my younger days. I pressed the brakes to stop for the next light and the pedal went to the floor. I quickly checked cross traffic and applied the emergency brake. I think people forget why it is called an emergency brake, and it saved me and my car that day!
GlennA, if you are referring to the 2009 Lexus/Trooper Saylor accident, the driver was not familiar with the car because it was a loaner. Turning off the ignition and shifting to neutral in this car are a little different than in most cars. It had the wrong floormats in it, which authorities think interfered with the pedals.
Sadly, in this case the driver had plenty of time to figure things out, but still didn't. He apparently rode the brakes for a long time, rather than pulling over and stopping immediately.
Elizabeth, not only a headache for Toyota, but consumers can bet that auto manufacturers will raise their prices to cover the liabilitiy cases. Ultimately it is consumers who will pay for these lawsuits, not the manufacturers!
True Elizabeth, this kind of things will affect the brand for sure. Sometimes it will lead to the same situation like Fonterra milk brand facing in Asian market, here the market leader reduce the market share less than 20% within a couple of weeks due to way protean issue.
You're right, Pubudu, about how this sort of thing affects a brand. But Toyota's brand is so strong I'm unsure if this would have a major effect, unless the problem really drags on. And I am not sure how many people except perhaps Toyota owners would know about it. I personally wouldn't know about this issue if I wasn't a reader of and writer for Design News. While I'm sure there is a fair bit of public attention about it, many people may not be aware of it. But you're right, prolonged negative attention and impact like this can sink even a strong brand.
You're right, Liz. The attention hasn't hurt Toyota in a significant way yet. In fact, Toyota has kept doing quite well in Consumer Reports' annual reliability studies. For Audi, however, it was different. U.S. sales of Audis dropped from 75,000 annually to 10,000 annually in the late '80s. The brand name was badly damaged.
That's interesting, Chuck. I wonder why it affected Audi and not Toyota. Maybe because the perception of the Toyota brand in the U.S. is more stable, and the cars generally are more affordable. Audi is better known (even if it's not an entirely fair perception) as a luxury or "foreign" brand, I think. Yes, Toyota is foreign as well, but people seem to be more comfortable with the brand. I guess time will tell if Toyota will be affected in the future.
I think you've nailed it, Liz. It's a matter of comfort. Many Americans don't worry about whether a carmaker in based in the U.S. today. But back in the '80s, there was still some distrust of foreign cars, even with a brand of Audi's reputation.
Yes, it's funny how people's perception affects brands and the success of them so much. You could have the best, most reliable product ever, but if people don't trust your brand, it doesn't matter. We must remember people--people with opinions and emotions--drive markets.
"Sudden acceleration incidents" (SAI) are defined for the purpose of this report as unintended, unexpected, high-power accelerations from a stationary position or a very low initial speed accompanied by an apparent loss of braking effectiveness. In a typical scenario, the incident begins at the moment of shifting to "Drive" or "Reverse" from "Park".
The report is taken from a study, begun in 1986, in which the NHTSA examined ten vehicles suffering from an "above average" number of incident reports and concluded that those incidents must have resulted from driver error. In the lab tests, throttles were positioned to wide open prior to brake application in an attempt to replicate the circumstances of the incidents under study. However, it is important to note that the newest vehicle involved in the study was a 1986 model and that no test vehicles were equipped with manual transmissions or the electronic control (drive by wire) systems common in 2010.
These tests were meant to simulate reports of the time suggesting that the vehicles were at a standstill and accelerated uncontrollably when shifted from park. With modern drive by wire fuel controls, problems are believed to occur exclusively while the vehicle is under way.
In the 1950s, General Motors automobiles with automatic transmissions placed the R for reverse at the furthest clockwise position in the rotation of the column-mounted shift lever. L for low position was just adjacent as one would move the lever one notch counterclockwise. Because it was very easy to select L, a forward position when desiring R, to reverse, there were many unintended lurches forward while the driver was watching toward the rear, expecting to reverse the automobile. By the 1960s, gear selection arrangements became standardized in the familiar PRNDL, with reverse well away from the forward positions and between the Park and Neutral selections. The elimination of 'push-button' drive control on all Chrysler products began after 1965 to eliminate the ease of selecting an unintended direction.
I honestly don't know if this could ultimately end up as an across-the-board problem, ttemple. On Monday, we'll tell you about some of the testimony in the most recent trial, and the software-related issues that were involved.
Please know how to do this, and practice it in a dual-control car with an expert in the other seat if you are dumb. Brakes, ignition, neutral. If your car accelerates unexpectedly, get on the brakes and STOP the car immediately. Do NOT continue to drive with your foot on the brakes. Pull over and STOP. While you are slowing down, turn off the ignition. Yes, you might lose power steering and a few other power accesories. Sorry for the inconvenience, but you might not be able to use your entertainment system during this incident. You will still be able to steer. While you are coasting to a stop, shift to neutral, just in case your car is possessed and tries to restart itself. It is possible in some cases that the ignition switch might not shut off the engine. If this happens, shift to neutral anyway. No, the engine won't immediately blow up. Modern engine controllers include rev limiting.
This has nothing to do with technology or engineering. This is about the old lawyers' motto "follow the money".
If the US can't restrain it's unfettered litigation everytime someone gets hurt - even if it is their own fault - manufacturers' will stop placing new technology on the market. Theres' no sense making 1M$ profit on a bandsaw if I have to give it all to some idiot who puts his hand through it.
@Thinking_J: In some cars it is possible to hit both pedals at once. I know as I have two Ford products in which I can and have accidently pushed the accelerator down when I was braking. My first instinct is to push harder on the brake which in turn further depresses the gas pedal. The first time it happened I was at a loss for what was going on, but when I realized I just slid my foot over and the problem was gone. This has occured in both my Ranger and Expedition and now that i know this I am extra careful. Seriously, I have big feet and quite often wear boots. My wife has never had this happen to her, but she has little feet. Is it operator error? Of course and I have to watch what I am doing, but it is possible to hit them both at once.
In 1979 I bought a Ford Fiesta. The car was so small (how small was it) that I had to take my shoes off to drive it because my left shoe covered the brake and clutch. Also true, once I left a gas station and couldn't remember if I had put the gas cap back on. I rolled down the window and reached around to the back of the car with my left hand, openen up the filler door and verified that the cap was on.
In 2004 I worked for one of the "majors" in the appliance industry. Our director of quality control owned a late model Toyota used in driving back and forth to work. It was a good "ride" and he enjoyed driving it. He was definitely a stickler on maintenance and had the car serviced every 4,000 miles. One sunny summer day his accelerator "stuck" pushing the car forward to speeds exceeding 80 MPH. Fortunately, he was on I-75 and not on one of Georgia's famous two lane back roads. He knew exactly what to do: 1.) apply brakes, 2.) pull to the shoulder of the road and 3.) cut engine. He did just that. He then restarted the car and eased back onto the interstate thinking the problem was temporary. It was--for about 10 minutes then the very same situation occurred. This time, he parked the car and called AAA for a tow. I do not know the end of the story of even if Toyota solved his problem. I do know he traded cars fairly quickly after that.
When a gasoline engine goes to full throttle, manifold vacuum drops to nearly zero, thus no vacuum assist to the disc brakes. When disc brakes were first introduced it was determined that a reasonably healthy human can generally be relied upon to apply a minimum of 60 lbs to the brake pedal. With 4 wheel discs and no vacuum assist this 60 lbs reduced braking effectiveness by 50% or more; thus a gas engine at full throttle MAY produce enough power to prevent the vehicle from slowing appreciably, especially if the brakes were hot from applying them lightly for a mile or so. Many modern vehicles have a vacuum pump because the fuel injection systems and engine timing generate relatively little vacuum, but even so - once the brakes are hot, braking effectiveness may not be enough to stop the car. A prudent driver might consider practicing key off-neutral-brake at lower speeds in a parking lot lest they become another statistic.
Fifty-six-year-old Pasquale Russo has been doing metalwork for more than 30 years in a tiny southern Italy village. Many craftsmen like him brought with them fabrication skills when they came from the Old World to America.
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