Toyota Says Crashes Caused By Humans Not Electronics

Can't Find Evidence of Problems in Electronic Throttle Systems

2 min read
Toyota Says Crashes Caused By Humans Not Electronics

There was a nice, new little firestorm this week concerning Toyota, unintended sudden acceleration, and the potential cause being problems in Toyota vehicles’ electronic throttles.

On Tuesday of this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) initial analysis of dozens of car data event recorders in Toyota vehicles involved in accidents discovered that the cars’ throttles were wide open and their brakes not engaged. This has led, the WSJ says, to an early conclusion by the NHTSA, that driver error was the cause for the accidents rather than a problem with cars’ the electronic throttle.

Almost immediately after the WSJ story came out, Toyota announced that its own analysis of some 2,000 accidents since March of this year had uncovered no cases of electronic throttle malfunctions. In this Bloomberg Businessweekstory, Toyota claimed that in “virtually all” the accidents were caused by driver hitting the accelerator when they thought they were hitting the brakes.

NHTSA, now put into a uncomfortable spot by the spate of stories, in turn stated that it had not reached any conclusions about unintended acceleration and electronic throttles being its cause or not. NHTSA has two on-going investigations into the issue, one by NASA and the other by the National Academy of Science (NAS). According to this AP story, a NHTSA official told the NAS panel last month that NHTSA investigators only could find were sticking pedals and floor mat entrapment issues, however.

The New York Times then published a story yesterday in which Toyota seemed to soften its position a bit, and conceded that sticking pedals and floor mats had caused sudden acceleration in cars, but that those incidents had not led to many accidents.

Toyota also put itself into a bit of bind with its claims earlier this week about driver error being the cause of sudden acceleration, since it has long argued in court cases that its data event recorders were not reliable sources of information, yet now it was claiming exoneration based on those very same data event recorders. In addition, Toyota data event recorders usually activate only when a car’s airbags are deployed, so any sudden acceleration occuring during normal driving that doesn't lead to accidents is not usually available for analysis.

Furthermore, critics of Toyota point out that the number of driver complaints of sudden acceleration increased four-fold since Toyota introduced its electronic throttles.

The NHTSA investigation is scheduled to conclude at the end of next year. I suspect several more little firestorms will erupt before then.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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