Why The Toyota Sudden Acceleration Scandal Was Massively Overblown

Back to news Published 6 months ago Written By Odometer Team
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In the year 2009, the accelerator pedals of Toyota vehicles supposedly started malfunctioning. The panicked drivers of the malfunctioning vehicles frequently met tragic ends. The question was whether the problem was real, and whether and fault was with the manufacturer, Toyota.

The beginning of the sticky pedal "scandal"

In 2009, a case of the Toyota sticky pedal went viral when a 911 call recording made its rounds on the Internet. A man by the name of Chris Lastrella called 911 from the back seat of his friend's loaner Lexus and informed the operator that the vehicle’s accelerator pedal was stuck and the driver, Mark Saylor, was unable to bring the car to a halt, even mentioning that that the brakes were not working. The gut-wrenching call ended with the car crashing. Everyone inside the vehicle was killed.

Toyota was accused by the media, and even the FBI, of concealing information about the sudden acceleration issue. Toyota took action by recalling vehicles, including a massive recall for floormats, which were blamed for slipping and trapping the accelerator. A Department of Transportation investigation from 2011 found that floor mats were likely responsible for only a very small percentage of the accidents.

What was actually happening?

There are two leading theories:

Sudden acceleration was caused by a software issue; and, Human error.

Software, and Toyota, isn't to blame

A software malfunction doesn't hold much weight on the facts. Not only had the software been thoroughly debugged and rewritten, the "black boxes" studied from the crashes suggested the vehicles were functioning as expected.

In nearly all vehicles, brakes are stronger than engines. Even if you are driving the fastest production car available (Hennessey Venom GT, in case you were wondering) at full-throttle and then simultaneously step on the brakes, your brakes will still stop you. That being said, many cars available today will cut the throttle when you step on both pedals, so there's little to no threat of a runaway car if the driver reacts appropriately.

Human error?

As mentioned earlier, the "black boxes" studied from the crashes suggested not only were the vehicles were functioning as expected, but the brakes were never applied in the majority of the sudden acceleration crashes.

It has been reported that drivers, in many cases, were unfamiliar with the vehicle (it was a rental, or a loaner, or a new vehicle in so many cases), and instead of standing on the brakes, they pressed the accelerators right to the floor. The brakes were never touched.

Most people also know that you can put the car into neutral, or carefully (so not to lock the steering) switch off the vehicle and both will stop the vehicle. Only if you aren't thinking clearly, will you fail to try either emergency measure.

It's also important to note that sudden acceleration crashes aren't just limited to Toyota vehicles. Sudden acceleration is simply not reported as widely and fervently if the incident doesn't fit the assumed formula.

We're so quick to blame the technology, because it's so complex and seemingly opaque. We rarely think to blame the driver, unfamiliar with the vehicle and not thinking clearly while in a state of panic.

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