Thursday, March 4, 2010

Unintended Acceleration

By now everyone is probably familiar with Toyota's ongoing problems. But as this NPR report points out, so-called "unintended acceleration" has been an issue across brands for decades. Since 1990 there have been around 15,000 complaints with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. Naturally big government types think this issue calls for even more government regulation and interference. What doesn't? But there's something else to consider.

If you look at the report's analysis, you will note that overall this is a pretty small problem, with complaints fluctuating between car brands for no apparent reason. Whenever this issue arises, there is almost never a clear answer about what is causing the problem. In the current Toyota situation, first it was the floor mats, then the gas pedals. Some have suggested electronic problems. Rarely is there a clear and obvious fix that stops the the complaints for good.

I have no data to back this up, but I suspect that a significant number of unintended acceleration claims are simply false. I doubt it's an accident that claims rise whenever the issue gains a great deal of publicity. Since it is not clear what causes the problem, what happens when someone's foot slips and he slams into the car in front of him? Will he accept responsibility for the damages, or might it be easier to claim the car just suddenly accelerated? Do you go home and tell your wife, "hey, I screwed up and wrecked the car. Sorry, our insurance is about to go through the roof." Or does you say that the car suddenly sped up. There was nothing you could do. I'm not arguing that unintended acceleration is a myth. But I'd be willing to bet that among the claims are many using it as an excuse for operator error. 


  1. For once ;-) I agree with everything you say, and although I've ranted on this topic quite a bit, you bring up an angle I hadn't considered. No way would I take that bet in your last sentence.

    As my dad used to say, "it's not the ____ , it's the nut that holds the wheel". Back in the USA, before it became Der Homeland, I've had pedals stick, throttles stick, (open and closed)and a million other things go wrong, but it never occurred to me to go crying to the manufacturer, or the guy who sold it to me. I fixed it. I drive a car made in 1962, and there is nothing in it that nobody can fix. Somewhere along the way people made the decision someone else should fix things for them ... well, you know the rest.

  2. Yeah, I just think right now if a person is driving a Toyota, and rear-ends someone, it would be awfully tempting to claim unintended acceleration. Anyone that has ever had a car accident, especially if it's your fault, knows that horrible feeling of screwing up really bad. Having the option to shift that burden onto the manufacturer has got to be just too attractive for some.