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Posted at 6:25 PM ET, 02/ 8/2011

Wait...Toyota might not be responsible for every accident ever?

By Stephen Stromberg

Remember when it couldn't just be sticky gas pedals that caused Toyotas to accelerate uncontrollably? After large Toyota recalls made national headlines, some argued, there were just too many examples of speeding Camrys and Lexuses for these events to be about anything but deep corporate negligence -- instead of, say, an elderly driver losing control of his car or a distracted motorist mistaking the gas pedal for the brake.

The problem was huge. The whole industry, some alleged, knew that its electronic systems were vulnerable to electromagnetic interference, among other defects. Lawyers encouraged the sense that corporate wrongdoing was responsible for "thousands of these accidents" that kept "killing and maiming" people, implicitly offering vindication to drivers. Even if you didn't have a floor mat problem or a sticky gas pedal, that horrendous accident you caused might not have been your fault. Perhaps it was your cellphone. Or some lousy code written in Asia.

All of this had a way of exaggerating the importance of an unexpected and therefore terrifying scenario -- in which the car does too much of the driving for you -- instead of reminding Americans that poor judgment among drivers is a much bigger problem.

But government investigators reported Tuesday that there are no electronic defects in the recalled Toyotas. Even after they bombarded them with electromagnetic radiation and sorted through thousands of lines of proprietary software code.

So that accident was the fault of your sticky pedal or your intrusive floor mat -- not some unseen, deranged, HAL-like computer -- or it probably really was your fault, after all. Suddenly, the problem doesn't seem quite as sprawling.

Of course, Toyota still messed up on the mechanical defects it did build into its cars, and it's probably responsible for an unacceptable number of accidents. It should have taken early warnings about sudden acceleration seriously and sooner.

But the big point is that the explanation for many puzzling or tragic phenomena is more often mundane than novel, more often boring than terrifying -- and rather less convenient for those who want someone else to blame. Americans would probably be a lot better off if they spent more time keeping their eyes on the road than worrying about whether their car's going to pull a Herbie on them.

By Stephen Stromberg  | February 8, 2011; 6:25 PM ET
Categories:  Stromberg  | Tags:  Stephen Stromberg  
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Comments

Well said Sir! And this following a week of articles attacking school boards, Apple, you name it. On careful consideration after very careful reading, the "bad guy" usually proves to be in the right, but of course all the emotional people write in this section, screaming for scalps.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 8, 2011 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Of course, Toyota still messed up on the mechanical defects it did build into its cars, and it's probably responsible for an unacceptable number of accidents. It should have taken early warnings about sudden acceleration seriously and sooner.

Of course GM, Chrysler, ford, Honda etc are not responsible for an unacceptable number of accidents and deaths on our highways every year.

One thing wrong with the American society today is "IT THE OTHER GUY FAULT, NOT MINE" mentality.

Posted by: frankn1 | February 9, 2011 7:53 AM | Report abuse

Whoa, is this a liberal/progressive columnist actually belittling those who shun personal responsibility?

Posted by: TexasPE | February 9, 2011 9:39 AM | Report abuse

So this denotes that Toyota is not responsible for any accidents ever? While the fact is the vast majority of Drivers are barely able to “control” an automobile in perfect working order under ideal conditions, and few are trained to properly handle anything outside that realm, this “Fact” should not be unknown to Toyota. Knowing this they still opted not to install a Brake over ride, as other manufactures had for their electronic accelerator systems. While this would do nothing for those who mistake the gas for the brake in cases of jamming by floor mat or breakdown of the accelerator mechanism it offers another line of defense against the unforeseen, and that was Toyota’s failure.

Posted by: notthatdum | February 9, 2011 12:16 PM | Report abuse

A lot of cars have a lot of problems, and accidents are usually the result of that. If you've been in an auto accident because of defective automobiles, defective automobile parts, or defective highways visit http://www.defectiveautomobile.com/ They can help you claim compensation.

Posted by: Gone_Fishing | February 9, 2011 3:12 PM | Report abuse

"But the big point is that the explanation for many puzzling or tragic phenomena is more often mundane than novel...."
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Maybe one day you can write a similar story on the media coverage and associated hysteria of global warming.

Posted by: gaultjw | February 10, 2011 3:30 PM | Report abuse

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