Can we please leave Toyota alone now?
;The NHTSA’s results are in… and guess who caused those runaway Toyotas? Yep, the same evil people who caused the runaway Audi 5000s. Was it Satan worshipers? Hexes? Voodoo dolls? Possessed computers?
No. It was the driver. Quelle surprise.
;I hate to say “I told you so,” but I did. The second the violence erupted over the accusations of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, I called BS. And that was before I heard the outrageous and totally impossible testimony from Mrs. Rhonda Smith.
(If you’ve forgotten about that hair-raising testimony, search for “rhonda smith testifies” on YouTube. Mrs. Smith recounts a deeply horrifying story about her Lexus accelerating out of control to over 100 mph. It sounds scary, but what she described is, from an engineering standpoint, not even possible*. And worse, even if it was accelerating out of control, she called her husband to say hi instead of trying to turn the damn car off. Perhaps she called her friends, too? Her pastor? Her hairdresser? Who knows. Next time, she needs to call me. I’ll say “um, turn the car off, okay?”)
* For various reasons. The most damning of them is: Mrs. Smith insists that she shifted her “possessed” ES350 into all possible gears, including neutral and reverse. Toyota’s non-hybrid vehicles use a physical connection between the shifter and the transmission. Even if the cars’ computers were hell-bent on killing its passengers, engaging neutral or park would open a valve that dumps the hydraulic pressure in the transmission, immediately releasing the gear–regardless of what the computer is telling it to do. The dump valve neuters the computer and immediately severs the connection between engine and wheels. I’ve tried it. It’s instantaneous. My guess is that, in her panic, Mrs. Smith inadvertently threw the shifter into the manual gate, so pressing up and down meant she was asking for gearchanges, not engaging neutral, reverse, or park. Regardless, she sold the ’07 ES350 to some poor unsuspecting couple, who thankfully had no problems with it. In fact, they got Big Time lucky, as NHTSA bought it from them (to test) at the full price of a new one. And to date, no problems have been found with it.
Anyway, I extend my full condolences to the families and friends of anyone hurt in any automobile accident. But we need to recognize that sometimes, it’s the driver at fault.
Today, I read that NHTSA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, examined the computers in 58 Toyota cars accused of unintended acceleration. The results are in:
35 cars: the driver didn’t apply the brakes at all
14 cars: the driver applied “partial” brakes
; 8 cars: the driver applied the brakes, but only at the “last second” before impact.
35 + 14 + 8 = 58 cars total. Wait! So that means in every case, the driver is at fault for not stopping the car. Wow.
I’ve had a throttle stick wide open on me… at age 20, in a car with a big ol’ 6.9-liter V-8 screaming under the hood. It was horrifying. But I threw the car in neutral, turned off the ignition, and breathed deep. Start to finish? Maybe a second. I’ve also had my fair share of experience being told I was imagining things by a Toyota dealer. That was frustrating as hell, and I solved that problem by filing a Lemon Law claim and eventually proving I was right.
Now, 6 months into this Toyota PR disaster, we still have no proof. The only evidence we’re seeing is that the drivers are at fault. (Remember the lady in Westchester, NY, who said her boss’ Prius took off out of control while she was driving it? Yeah, NHTSA read her computer too: the poor dear had her foot on the floor. Too bad it was the gas pedal she was pressing on.)
Back to the point: learn how to operate your machinery, folks. If someone bought a chainsaw, didn’t read the instruction manual, and cut their hand off, should the manufacturer be liable? I sure hope not. We all treat cars like they’re toys, but they’re heavy, powerful, and potentially dangerous pieces of equipment–and we should know how to operate them. And by that I don’t mean differentiating between hitting the gas and the brake–we all make mistakes. I’m talking about knowing what to do in case something like that does happen. Mechanical failures are always a possibility. Know how to put your vehicle in neutral; know how to turn it off. Know how to apply the brakes properly. Know how to use your emergency brake (whether it’s a hand lever, foot lever, or – and here’s the next lawsuit waiting to happen – just a button.)
I literally almost cried when I heard the audio recording of the 911 call from the runaway Lexus with off-duty officer Saylor at the wheel. Seriously. Chills and everything. I never want to hear another call like that. I hope another call like that never happens. But whose fault was it?
Sorry to say, it’s the responsibility of the driver to know how to operate his machinery. I once got a ticket for speeding in a car I borrowed. The speedometer was inaccurate due to its owner putting the wrong size tires (by a country mile, mind you) on it. The speedo said 69, I was doing; 77. I proved this by going to a state-run speedometer testing facility. The judge found me guilty anyway – she said it’s the responsibility of the driver to ensure that the vehicle is in good working order – even if it’s a borrowed car that you’ve been in for 10 seconds. Same applies to burned out bulbs – as the driver, it’s your responsibility to make sure they work. And the same applies to that horrible, horrible crash. Not even the police officer knew how to put the car into neutral or switch it off. And that’s even more upsetting than that hair-raising phone call.
Apparently, the witch hunt against the Audi 5000 didn’t teach us a lesson. It’s easy to blame other people, but sometimes it’s your own fault. Sure, Toyota made some big PR mistakes here. But it appears that the biggest mistakes were made by the drivers of its cars.
So will everyone please leave Toyota alone now? Instead of watching videos of implausible testimonies and cursing the Big Evil Toyota, go and read your car’s owner’s manual and educate yourself on how to operate your car. Then, go somewhere safe and practice emergency ABS stops. See what happens if you throw your car in neutral under full throttle. Or press both pedals at the same time. Or turn it off while you’re driving.
Just don’t come back here and blame me if you crash the thing while trying. If you crash, it’s your own damn fault.