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How safe is safe enough?

Toyota has been in the news of late in a manner they'd just as soon not. Unintended acceleration has joined undocumented immigrant in our lexicon as a clever obfuscation of the underlying issue. It stands to reason that the majority of people who plow into a crowded pedestrian mall under full power don't intend to do so. What remains unanswered is why it might have happened.

The AP informs us the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced unintended acceleration in Toyotas "may have been involved in 89 deaths over the past decade."

Gov't: 89 deaths tied to Toyota acceleration

By KEN THOMAS (AP) - 1 hour ago

WASHINGTON -- Unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles may have been involved in the deaths of 89 people over the past decade, upgrading the number of deaths possibly linked to the massive recalls, the government said Tuesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that from 2000 to mid-May, it had received more than 6,200 complaints involving sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The reports include 89 deaths and 57 injuries over the same period. Previously, 52 deaths had been suspected of being connected to the problem.

...

The automaker said "many complaints in the NHTSA database, for any manufacturer, lack sufficient detail that could help identify the cause of an accident. We will continue to work in close partnership with law enforcement agencies and federal regulators with jurisdiction over accident scenes whenever requested."

In the aftermath of the recalls, Congress is considering upgrading auto safety laws to stiffen potential penalties against automakers, give the government more powers to demand a recall and push car companies to meet new safety standards.

Never let a "crisis" go to waste, better step in and impose a vast new regulatory burden on automakers.

As I mentioned before, very few people are going to admit they were standing on the wrong pedal as they careened into a crowd. Heck no, they were pressing the brake as hard as they could but the car just kept accelerating! Who wouldn't willingly accept the sympathetic explanation of a factory defect rather than driver error?

Toyota has recalled ~8 million of the 20+ million cars they've sold over the past decade due to an issue with floor mats possibly interfering with the gas pedal, so the accelerator could theoretically become lodged behind a mat. They've also looked at cars with "sticky pedals." Of the 6,200 incidents of "unintended acceleration" some may have indeed been the result of a mechanical issue.

But up to now the NHTSA has assured us the vast majority of sudden acceleration cases were the result of driver error. What's changed - other than the ownership of GM and Chrylser - that has them singing a different tune now?

Try a little experiment in your own car. Find a nice stretch of open road, depress the gas pedal all the way with your right foot, then apply panic braking force to the brake pedal with your left foot. You will stop.

Perhaps the only upside to this kerfuffle will be the added expense to car buyers of an automotive "black box" installed in all new vehicles. Assuming trial lawyer lobby doesn't kill that particular regulation with a tooth and nail assault. It's a whole lot easier to villainize a multi-billion dollar auto manufacturer than poor old Widow Henderson after she misapplied what she thought was the brakes. As more and older drivers chose to buy Toyotas, these sudden acceleration claims were bound to increase.

Fatalities per vehicle mile traveled has fallen by 300% since 1971. Cars have never been safer. Perhaps federal regulations have played a part, but even the greediest CEO of a car company knows the dead make lousy repeat customers. Just how much safer can cars be made? And how many research dollars that could have gone to vehicle safety went to meeting arbitrary and ever-increasing federally mandated fuel mileage standards?

The National Academy of Sciences has linked mileage standards with about 2,000 deaths per year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that every 100-pound reduction in the weight of small cars increases annual traffic fatalities by as much as 715.

Compare that to 89 fatalities in a decade. Who's the real villain?


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Comments (14)

If people are so bent out o... (Below threshold)
Mike:

If people are so bent out of shape maybe car companies should just make cars all manuals. A person gets unintended acceleration just jam the gearshift into neutral or push in the clutch- problem solved

"Perhaps the only upside to... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"Perhaps the only upside to this kerfuffle will be the added expense to car buyers of an automotive "black box" installed in all new vehicles."

American Trial Lawyers Association will probably fight that tooth and nail. Seeing as the lawyers usually take cases on a contingency basis for 33% of any award, 'there ain't no percentage' in allowing black boxes.

On another note, did anyone call Audi and see how they "fixed" their problem? Same problem, it was in all the papers at the time. And one of their 'high end' cars.

With all the 'computerized' stuff going on in cars today it's a wonder they can 'track' anything that's gone wrong. After all, NO ONE has ever had their computer suddenly freeze up or crash on them, right?

In the 24 states that raised their speed limits in late 1995 and in 1996, fatalities on Interstate highways increased 15 percent. Deaths on other roadways where speed limits were not raised were unchanged.

The forces acting on you in a crash at 50mph, double at 60 (x2), and double again at 70 (x4).
So there are "trade-offs" YOU make when you drive. The faster you go, the more fuel you use as well. Another "trade-off". But no one appears concerned about that.

Automatics have neutral too... (Below threshold)
P. Bunyan:

Automatics have neutral too. Just no clutch, but as Baron pointed out, they all have brakes.

And if you forget those two things (why do you have a driver's license?) you can always call 911 -LOL

If people are so b... (Below threshold)
Stan:
If people are so bent out of shape maybe car companies should just make cars all manuals. A person gets unintended acceleration just jam the gearshift into neutral or push in the clutch- problem solved

The sad part about manual transmissions is that people are too lazy to use them. They don't teach kids how to use manual transmissions in driver's ed anymore. Make Junior and Juniorette work too hard. Can't have the little darlings use any muscles or brain power. Might impair the self esteem process. I personally have logged over 100,000 miles using a manual transmission

"The AP informs us the Nati... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

"The AP informs us the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced unintended acceleration in Toyotas 'may have been involved in 89 deaths over the past decade.'"

And here I thought the Toyota 'problem' only went back to the 2006 models. I've got a 2000 and a 2005. Combined mileage on both about 175,000. Neither my wife or I have ever had a 'sudden acceleration' incident.

Toyota could fix all of its... (Below threshold)
Tsar Nicholas II:

Toyota could fix all of its problems in an instant: simply unionize its entire workforce under the UAW umbrella, fire its entire executive team, and then give the Obama administration a controlling equity stake in the business. In the very next nanosecond those complaints and 'incidents' and NHTSA investigations would vanish into thin air.

If people are so bent ou... (Below threshold)
James Cloninger:

If people are so bent out of shape maybe car companies should just make cars all manuals. A person gets unintended acceleration just jam the gearshift into neutral or push in the clutch- problem solved

All you have to do is push the shifter into neutral and coast to the side and shut the engine off. It happened to me before in an old Datsun. The throttle cable got stuck, I shifted into neutral, hit the hazard lights, moved to the side and stopped. Easy.

Was it a Datsun 510 station... (Below threshold)
JLawson:

Was it a Datsun 510 station wagon, by any chance? Had one in the '70s that would occasionally stick like that...

Not that I want to start an... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Not that I want to start any 'conspiracy theories', but just maybe - since this appears to be only happening in the US - just maybe the Japanese are getting even for 1945.

"Perhaps the only upsid... (Below threshold)
Marc:

"Perhaps the only upside to this kerfuffle will be the added expense to car buyers of an automotive "black box" installed in all new vehicles."

Late-model GM cars have what is is known as a Sensing & Diagnostic Module (SDM), a simple version of which was first installed in the 1994 model year.

Other car makers call this thingy the Event Data Recorder (EDR).

It's purpose is to record informational data, such as: engine/vehicle speed (5 seconds before impact), brake status (5 seconds before impact), throttle position(s), and even the state of the driver's seat belt switch (on/off).

So ya see Baron... the "upside" is already here.

Not to pick nits, but how c... (Below threshold)
Joe Miller:

Not to pick nits, but how can anything decline by more than 100% without getting into theoretical mathematics?

Baron, the public is unwill... (Below threshold)
GarandFan:

Baron, the public is unwilling to accept "trade-offs" when it comes time to pay the bill.

The local paper is once again filled with angry letters because a cop shot and killed a mentally ill individual.

Synopsis: Bi-polar, off his meds. Gets into fight with roommate. Fight moves into street. Plain-clothes cop tires to separate. Bi-polar turns on cop. Cop retreats to car, gets baton. Bi-polar takes baton and starts using on cop. Cop shoots and kills Bi-polar.

Off course the 'experts' weight in with "why didn't the cop give Bi-polar space". Space for what, to continue beating his roommate?
Space to continue to attack the cop when he first tried to separate them? And of course the obligatory, "Why didn't they call for a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team?". And wait how long while the fight continued?

PERT teams are nice. But they are not in every patrol car 24/7/365. And you never know when/where something like this will happen. Most cities now supply officers with less-lethal weapons. But even they can turn lethal.

Years ago, Kalifornia and other states became "enlightened". We were no longer going to 'warehouse' the mentally ill. We were no longer going to 'force' medication on them. If they could find shelter (freeway underpass), if they could find food (McDonald's dumpster), if they could find clothing (Goodwill bin) - then they were good to go. As for medication - Hey! They got rights too!

So now we have a good percentage of 'homeless' mentally ill wandering the streets - and often victims of crime themselves. And every so often a shooting occurs. And while everyone wants to blame the cops - no one, certainly not the "experts", wants to admit, this is the result of a 'trade-off'.

If people make decisions, and they don't like the results, maybe, just maybe, when casting about to blame someone; THEY MIGHT WANT TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR.

Sometimes a real problem is... (Below threshold)
Paul Hooson:

Sometimes a real problem is just how fast a new car line is brought to the marketplace. The 1970 AMC Hornet models for example were the end result of a three year project that started with the AMC Cavalier prototypes. That was plenty of time to work out most bugs in the design, which was largely a reskinned Rambler in many ways with much the same suspension system, steering, etc.

But it was the quickly launched subcompact AMC Gremlin, which had some interesting issues. The car had a huge 21 gallon fuel tank located right behind the bumper and the shortened leaf springs suspension which could break and catch fire in a serious accident. The huge fuel tank was also needed because the Gremlins used a large 6 cylinder engine, and later a 304 V8, compared to VWs, Pintos and Vegas, which were all 4 cylinder cars. Gremlins had a huge performance advantage over other small cars of the era, and were like little hot rods compared to other small cars. But they took more gas, and the placement of the large fuel tank did present some fire safety issues in the event of a hard rear crash. AMC did have at least lawsuit due to a fire from a crash because of this issue.

With as much as 210 stock horsepower, Gremlins made a great hot rod base to work with. But the gas tank issue was one compromise made because the cars were quickly brought to market when AMC wanted to be the first American brand to field a modern small car.

The rush to market sometimes compromises safety.

The National Highway Tra... (Below threshold)
skh.pcola:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that from 2000 to mid-May, it had received more than 6,200 complaints involving sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

That means nothing without the context of how other auto companies fared in the "complaints involving sudden acceleration" department. GM/Ford/Dodge might have had multiples of that number.




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