Toyota Cars: Not As Bad As You Think

| Tue Jul. 13, 2010 4:57 PM EDT

Toyota cars really do suffer from sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats that can trap accelerator pedals to the floor. But those of you who remember the great Audi 5000 debacle of the late 80s will be unsurprised to learn that the bulk of recent reports of runaway acceleration in Toyota vehicles were likely the result of [drumroll please] driver error:

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said. The results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota and Lexus vehicles surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.

....NHTSA has received more than 3,000 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, including some dating to early last decade, according to a report the agency compiled in March. The incidents include 75 fatal crashes involving 93 deaths.

However, NHTSA has been able to verify only one of those fatal crashes was caused by a problem with the vehicle, according to information the agency provided to the National Academy of Sciences. That accident last Aug. 28, which killed a California highway patrolman and three passengers in a Lexus, was traced to a floor mat that trapped the gas pedal in the depressed position.

I'm not sure what can be done about this. A brake override only works if there's a genuine throttle problem and you really do have your foot on the brake. But what would stop people from mistakenly jamming the accelerator to the floor and then panicking? There are just too many legitimate occasions for flooring the accelerator to put in place a system that stops it. Any ideas beyond the ones carmakers have already adopted?

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