Monday, March 15, 2010

Toyotas out of control? Not likely.

Sometime last year I wrote about the alleged "swine flu" epidemic that was supposed to be on its way, wiping out millions of us, and mentioned that it was really nothing new. We went through a swine flu scare back in the 70s, and it also amounted to nothing.

Now come reports of Toyotas zooming around out of control, the vehicles accelerating on their own. Again, it's nothing new.

Way back in 1986, 60 Minutes aired a story about a great little car called the Audi 5000. CBS claimed the Audi was haunted by "unintended acceleration," causing people to lose control of their Audis. Similar tales were told about Jeep Grand Cherokees.

Turns out it was all bogus. People were stepping the gas instead of the brake. Yes, if you happen to step on the gas pedal, your car will accelerate. It turned out that CBS has rigged their "demonstration," much like Dateline NBC did a few years later in an attempt to "prove" that Chevy trucks would blow up on impact.

Now comes similar accusations about Toyotas. We even had a hoaxster named James Sikes who claimed his Toyota Prius couldn't be stopped on a California freeway. As you can read here, Sikes is a veteran of phony insurance claims and a bit of a publicity hound. There's nothing about his story that holds up.

Gas pedals and brake pedals are, by necessity, close together. And it turns out that, as people get a little older and a little less nimble, they become more likely to confuse the two. That's why cars accelerate: People - mostly older people - stop on the gas pedal when they mean to step on the brake. (Read more about the excessive involvement of the elderly here.)

Of course, the media love to demonize large companies, and Toyota happens to be the current target. But when it's all said and done, we will find - just as we did in the case of the Audi 5000 - this was all driver error.

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