Friday, March 12, 2010

A revisionist take on Prius acceleration problems

James Sikes, who made a dramatic 911 call from his Prius on Interstate 8 in San Diego earlier this week, is effectively claiming he had an electrical problem that affected his throttle, his brake, and his power system, because it took him over 20 minutes to stop his car.

Somehow no one in the press has asked Sikes how it is he could stop the car once it had slowed to 50 mph, but not when it was going 90 mph.  Have Balloon Boy and the finger-in-the-chili taught us nothing? ...

We went through this a generation ago with the Audi 5000 and other autos accused of sudden acceleration, and, again, mysterious unknowable car components were supposedly at fault. ...

Back then, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) spent millions studying the issue.  They found that sudden acceleration was several times more likely among elderly drivers than young drivers, and much more frequent among the very short or someone who had just gotten into a vehicle.

Electromagnetic rays don’t discriminate by age and height, which suggests very much that human factors were at play: in other words, pedal misapplication.  A driver would step on the wrong pedal, panic when the car did not perform as expected, continue to mistake the accelerator for the brake, and press down on the accelerator even harder. ...

The Los Angeles Times recently did a story detailing all of the NHTSA reports of Toyota “sudden acceleration” fatalities, and, though the Times did not mention it, the ages of the drivers involved were striking.

In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89—and I’m leaving out the son whose age wasn’t identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.

These “electronic defects” apparently discriminate against the elderly, just as the sudden acceleration of Audis and GM autos did before them.  (If computers are going to discriminate against anyone, they should be picking on the young, who are more likely to take up arms against the rise of the machines and future Terminators).
--Theodore Frank, Washington Post, on why the Toyota problems may be bioelectrical malfunctions. HT: Marginal Revolution

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