Unintended Acceleration… Again

There had been something nagging me for the past few weeks.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but something was turning me into a grumpy old man every time I read or saw something on TV about Toyota’s problems with unintended acceleration in its vehicles.  If I had a cane I would wave it every time a Toyota recall story came on the air.

It started with the floor mats.  Floor mats were implicated in crashes and one could see how that would happen.  A loose floor mat slides over the gas pedal, and a hapless driver is left to try to kick it off the pedal while the car is accelerating.  A tragedy yes, but a design flaw?  Maybe, but it seems like an obvious problem; easily correctable.

Then it was the gas pedal.  Toyota came up with a specific mechanical fix described this way; “a precision-cut steel reinforcement bar will be installed into the accelerator pedal assembly, thereby eliminating the excess friction that has caused pedals to stick in rare instances.”  I don’t know how rare it could be since Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood initially told Toyota owners to park their cars and not drive them until they could be repaired.  OK, well finally, a mechanical solution found to the problem right?

Not so fast – unless you are driving a Toyota, then you may not be able to help yourself!

Now it’s the electronic throttle control.  OK, at this point I’m thinking to myself, “Come on, really?”  Three totally unrelated problems in a few months causing unintended acceleration in a several different Toyota models?  You have to really drink at the sippy cup of the main stream media to not see this as odd.  Did Toyota start hiring laid off GM quality control techs?

This seemed to finally waken Toyota from it’s stupor as well.  After months of bowing and scraping in front of the press and Congressional committees, it started disputing some of the accusations.  Toyota issued a statement rebutting the latest accusations from Professor David Gilbert of Southern Illinois University that he had discovered a design flaw in the vehicle electronic systems that prevents unintended acceleration.  That’s a strategy that usually goes against the public relations grain, so Toyota must either think it’s in dire enough straits to think outside the box or they really think Professor Gilbert is full of shit.  And there is a lot of reason to think Gilbert is full of shit, since as Toyota responds, electronics don’t rewire themselves.

I’m thinking the latter, since Toyota still doesn’t seem to have even a good phony story that there is light at the end of the tunnel, otherwise they would never have admitted this:

“The president of Toyota’s U.S. operations acknowledged to skeptical lawmakers on Tuesday that the company’s recalls of millions of its cars may “not totally” solve the problem of sudden and dangerous acceleration.

“We are vigilant and we continue to look for potential causes,” Toyota’s James Lentz told a congressional panel.”

So in other words, they’re clueless.

That strains credulity.

That almost lends one to think there is some conspiracy afoot.  After this long, could Toyota really not know what is causing unintended acceleration after several recalls?

And then, finally, last week there was this:

Stupid Old People

That did it.

An 80 year old woman, who just had her vehicle repaired under the recall, had a sudden hiccup of “unintended acceleration.”  And then the memories finally flooded back.

It was the 1980’s, the age of Reagan.  Izod shirts were worn with their collars up and everyone was told to “go for it.”

OK actually it was the early 1990’s and the memories that returned were of a book I read, not polo shirts with upturned collars.  The book?  Parliament of Whores, by P.J. O’Rourke.

O’Rourke recounts in his chapter Protectors of a Blameless Citizen: The Bureaucracy, how the National Highways Traffic Safety Administration had been investigating unintended accelerations throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s.

By 1987 six thousand SAI’s [Sudden-Acceleration Incidents] had been reported, and the cars leaving without permission had supposedly caused three thousand accidents, two thousand injuries, and fifty-six deaths.

So surely the NHTSA finally got to the bottom if right?  Yes it did.  The results?

WASHINGTON, March 7 /PRNewswire/ — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today announced that an exhaustive, independent study of the “sudden acceleration” phenomenon in cars concluded that pedal misapplications that may be aggravated by vehicle design are the most probable explanation for most reports of sudden acceleration.

That’s right.  “Pedal misapplications.”  A nice euphemism for stupid drivers.

Like now, there was media hysteria during the 1980’s sudden acceleration craze.  60 Minutes even fraudulently rigged the gas pedal of an Audi 5000 to press down, seemingly of its on accord.  In fact, the producers of that venerable news organization set up a device to give the appearance of a gas pedal magically accelerating on its own.

Think the news is above that now?  Ask ABC News.  They rigged a news report on unintended acceleration to show a Toyota Avalon wildly accelerating, even though the doors were open and parking brake was on.

1980’s Knight Rider had better production values.

My conclusion from all this?  Simple.  “Unintended Acceleration” is bullshit.

Usually when I write about my opinions; its opinion supported by facts.  In this case, I freely admit that I don’t have facts to prove that there is no mechanical or electronic reason for unintended acceleration incidents.  I’m basing my opinion, that it is primarily the fault of stupid drivers, not failed automobiles, on both a hunch, and the experience that comes from seeing almost exactly the same thing happen before.  Hysterical news reports and fraudulent reporting, hard to diagnosis mechanics, crying victims in front of Congressional committees, and of course, old people who swear it wasn’t their fault.

And this time we have the added bonus of a government that actually owns a competing auto company.  They get to regulate their competition.  Neat.  If I see Honda start having a batch of mysterious acceleration cases that will really seal the deal.

So I can’t swear that we are being swindled by mass hysteria once again, and if some factual mechanical or electronic reason does show up, I will be happy to change my opinion, but right now, I’m calling shenanigans on unintended acceleration.

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