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Feds: Brakes were not applied on runaway N.Y. Prius

Funny how a little research can change things.

Last week, there were two runaway Prius incidents within a few days of each other. Feverish headlines swirled around both, and it was starting to look like Toyota had an epidemic on its hands.

Earlier this week, Toyota rolled out exhaustive testing of the California incident, saying it showed "significant inconsistencies" with the driver's story.

Today, federal investigators gave a preliminary report on the second incident, this one in New York, that led to the 2005 Prius crashing into a stone wall and causing minor injuries to the driver.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that the vehicle's on-board computer records show that the brakes were never applied and the throttle was wide open at the time of the crash.

In other words, the driver -- for whatever reason -- sped directly into the stone wall without braking.

What is not known is whether the throttle was wide open because the driver had the gas pedal mashed to the floor or whether it stuck wide open on its own and, for whatever reason, the driver failed to apply the brakes.

NHTSA said the investigation is ongoing but the New York police chief investigating the crash was not impressed.

"For any agency to release data and to draw conclusions without consulting with the law enforcement agency that brought this to light could be self-serving," Capt. Anthony Marraccini of the Harrison, N.Y., force, told the Associated Press.

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By Frank Ahrens  |  March 18, 2010; 3:52 PM ET
Categories:  Autos , Corporations , The Ticker  | Tags: Runaway acceleration, Toyota Prius, Toyota problems, prius hoax, runaway prius, toyota  
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Comments

The title is a little misleading. The computer did not record the brakes being pressed. That does not mean the brakes were not pressed. On the other hand I am sure that some will take advantage of the situation for publicity or other reasons.

Posted by: HockeyMike351 | March 18, 2010 7:12 PM | Report abuse

Housekeeper, employer’s car…that is a quite a burst of energy to crash a car like that. If I am a housekeeper and crashing my boss’s car so that I can claim some money from Toyota, it is not a bad idea. We’ll see.

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Posted by: maidishoes11 | March 18, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

If investigators believe that there's even a hint of fraud involved with these cases, then these people need to be thrown in jail immediately, and go to prison for a long time.

Posted by: liberalsareblind | March 18, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

These reports leave significant questions. Particularly the California one is less consistent than the story of the driver. As best I can tell, the story in California goes as follows. The driver drove for an extended period in control of the steering of his car but without any control over its speed. He had the presence of mind to call the police and with the help of the police was able to stop the car by shutting off the ignition and using the emergency brake. The model of car he was driving is not supposed to be subject to the stuck accelerator problem. That scenario is hard to explain in terms of driver error. Nor has Toyota or anyone else offered an explanation of why the speed of the car could not be controlled.
In the New York case, it sounds like the accident happened quickly and possibly because the wrong pedal was stepped on by the driver. That kind of user error is certainly possible. But it is not clear that the computer report can really distinguish between that scenario and one where the throttle was wide open because of some reason beyond the driver's control.
The fact remains that there have been at least two complaints about Toyota's out of control for many minutes while drivers talked on the telephone with people about what to do. That scenario just does not add up to a user problem unless you have pathological liars. Nothing the safety investigators or Toyota have had to offer provides any convincing evidence that these cases were user problems. Certainly in any case where a user has to deal with a car out of control at ninty miles an hour, you can expect that their report is probably not going to be exactly accurate.

Posted by: dnjake | March 18, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

If investigators believe that there's even a hint of fraud involved with these cases, then these people need to be thrown in jail immediately, and go to prison for a long time.

Posted by: liberalsareblind | March 18, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

----------------------------------------

I take your point, but if Toyota is involved in covering up or otherwise defrauding the public by claiming their cars are safe, when they are not, shouldn't they face similar penalties? In fact, as Toyota is in the business of selling cars, has lawyers, engineers and other professionals shouldn't we expect them to behave far better than the average joe (not the plumber) citizen?

Posted by: atidwell | March 18, 2010 8:06 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, that's pretty Liberal of you, liveralsareblind... In fact, the very DEFINITION of Liberal, in a political context is derived from the liberal application of laws enumerated in the US Constitution.

Seems you want to do the old Liberal-Conservative trick of suspending Habeas Corpus and throw people in jail based on "even a hint" of evidence.

That's how it goes in China, too, by the way. You sure you're not a Commie?

Posted by: Thinker_ | March 18, 2010 8:31 PM | Report abuse

By the way, this report means squat.

I guess it was worth the headline, though. Got everyone jumping to conclusions.

It actually means absolutely nothing about what happened in the case of the runaway Toyotas.

NOTHING.

Does anyone have any critical thinking skills anymore, or should we all just jump to whatever conclusion is presented in bold print?

I'm just asking because seems I'm always the one out of touch with the paranoia and hype. Maybe I missed a memo where we're all supposed to be sheep now. Which would make sense and be much easier.

I'll just wait for my instructions in the next headline... something like: "Toyotas perfectly safe after all - Meaningless Test proves drivers should be jailed for life"

Posted by: Thinker_ | March 18, 2010 8:35 PM | Report abuse

What interested me was the statement by the police captain saying that NHTSA's statement might be "self-serving". I was wondering how NHTSA might serve its own agenda by claiming that the Prius' are OK after all. ???
Wouldn't their agenda be to get bad cars off the road?

Posted by: bikinibottom | March 18, 2010 8:51 PM | Report abuse

This is America. You sue all the time, everyone, for everything.

You are driving a Toyota. You play with your cellphone/MP3 player/etc. You look up : there's another vehicle ahead of you VERY close. You step on the brakes, but it is too late. Slammed into the car ahead of you.
You turn around and sue Toyota for "runaway car"

That is how come suddenly there are so many "runaway" Toyotas.

Posted by: observer31 | March 18, 2010 8:52 PM | Report abuse

I kind of figured the idiot woman could not drive. Its been said many times over that the worst drivers in the world drive Toyotas.

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Posted by: leiweiniliu | March 18, 2010 9:54 PM | Report abuse

It's either fraud or natural selection! LOL

Posted by: facts-please | March 18, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

There was hardly time for the driver to apply brakes. The car was leaving a driveway, suddenly accelerated, and crashed into a stone wall across the road. How much time elapsed? People associated with Toyota should admit that there is a problem and quit blaming the drivers.

Posted by: FredinVicksburg | March 18, 2010 10:01 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone else find it amusing that it took the Cali driver a cell phone call and consultation to decide to try turning off the ignition?

Posted by: scientist1 | March 18, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

The California episode was blatant fraud by a known huckster:

http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/fox-is-sikes-a-balloon-boy/

Posted by: steve1231 | March 18, 2010 10:34 PM | Report abuse

"The title is a little misleading. The computer did not record the brakes being pressed. That does not mean the brakes were not pressed. On the other hand I am sure that some will take advantage of the situation for publicity or other reasons.
Posted by: HockeyMike351"

Sorry, looks like another American liar or scammer. No skid marks, as well. No road sign that the driver tried turning. No marks on brake pads showing that they had been full engaged as they hit said stone wall.

=====================
"There was hardly time for the driver to apply brakes. The car was leaving a driveway, suddenly accelerated, and crashed into a stone wall across the road. How much time elapsed? People associated with Toyota should admit that there is a problem and quit blaming the drivers.
Posted by: FredinVicksburg"

Braking is instinctual. It is done by reflex in any seasoned driver. Reaction time is between 1/10th and 1/3rd of a second outside the mentally impaired or very elderly.
Sounds like a liar or scammer.

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Posted by: ChrisFord1 | March 18, 2010 10:45 PM | Report abuse

Housekeeper, employer’s car ... The employer is withholding the housekeeper's name. Wonder why. An illegal immigrant with little driving experience?

Posted by: ares_XX | March 19, 2010 1:20 AM | Report abuse

If investigators believe that there's even a hint of fraud involved with these cases, then these people need to be thrown in jail immediately, and go to prison for a long time.

Posted by: liberalsareblind | March 18, 2010 8:02 PM | Report abuse

----------------------------------------

I take your point, but if Toyota is involved in covering up or otherwise defrauding the public by claiming their cars are safe, when they are not, shouldn't they face similar penalties? In fact, as Toyota is in the business of selling cars, has lawyers, engineers and other professionals shouldn't we expect them to behave far better than the average joe (not the plumber) citizen?

Posted by: atidwell

-------------------------

Fair enough, but in this case and in others, it's not Toyota finding that there is no problem with the cars in subsequent testing. The NHTSA is.

The reality is that sudden acceleration is not an uncommon problem. It happens all the time, and in almost every case it is driver error. A driver accidentally hits the gas instead of the break, and then slams into something. In a panicked split second, many drivers honestly think that they hit the brake, but in reality the foot was on the gas. It happens with alarming frequency.

On the other hand, a car speeding down the freeway for miles suggests something else, either something wrong with the car or else fraud on the part of the driver. The latter seems somewhat possible in the wake of the recent media frenzy, but it does little to explain the instances before the media caught hold of this story, so something in the cars is probably causing a problem in a few rare, isolated cases.

This said, if Toyota and the NHSTA alike are unable to reproduce the flaw in testing, then what is anyone to do? The best that a company can do at that point is to call in a new team of engineers to build a new acceleration and braking system from scratch, and then to hope that the new design doesn't fall victim to the same unknown problem that the old system did. Toyota is only guilty of fraud or negligence if they had an identifiable problem in front of them, and so far no such problem has surfaced. The problem, if there is one, is still very rare, and it has yet to show up in any testing, including that done by independent agencies.

Posted by: blert | March 19, 2010 2:04 AM | Report abuse

I was doing a black op once and the bozos mixed the wrong chemicals and rubberized the coating. I suggested painting a room with it instead of a tank and putting them in it. Make the Blood Mary cocktails with brake fluid and say bottoms up. I just want to go faster baby and make you scream.

Posted by: tossnokia | March 19, 2010 4:25 AM | Report abuse

ChrisFord: it is physiologically impossible to respond within 1/10th of a second (neural conductance time and such). Human performance researchers typically throw out data of less than 150-200 msec as "fast-guess" anticipation errors -- and that's for the simplest responses that don't require complex decisions (detecting a simple light vs. deciding what to do when a boy runs into the road). Furthermore, 'Seasoned veterans', such as NHRA drag racers, don't have reaction times that fast (for hitting the gas at the Christmas tree).

Posted by: steve1231 | March 19, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

Assuming the CA guy's incident was legit, many people have suggested that all he had to do was shut off the car or put it into neutral and let the engine blow. In a car like this it is not that simple. The ignition is computer controlled, so if the computer was having an issue, as has been suggested, it might not recognize the command to turn off the engine. Second assuming that it had, or using the later method of using neutral to get the engine to blow. There is one dangerous factor to consider. You lose the engine, you lose your power steering. At 90mph on a winding section of the highway, no power steering spells disaster. All but the most experienced drivers would lose control of the vehicle.

Posted by: akmzrazor | March 19, 2010 7:36 AM | Report abuse

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Anyway, doesn't anyone from WaPo ever look these comments over and take action when someone uses a blog for advertising ?

Posted by: observer31 | March 19, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Well does this mean the NHTSA and Toyota are sleeping together again, oh, they never stopped, I see. Toyota, get you some new software before more people die.

Posted by: Kudzu1 | March 20, 2010 6:05 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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