Consider these events:
- Reports begin to surface of “sudden acceleration” from one auto manufacturer, including heartbreaking video/audio of fatal incidents
- Media coverage of the situation is sometimes sensational, adding to public concerns about “runaway cars”
- Plaintiffs’ lawyers swarm and advertise to collect testimony of anyone involved in an accident in these cars
- “Experts” like the Center for Auto Safety weigh in on the situation, confirming the public’s fears about the safety of those cars
- Government officials get involved, publicly skewer the auto maker, and then order studies to determine the sources of the problem
- Months later, after reputational damage is done, fines are issued and legal verdicts and settlements are paid – studies begin to show that “driver error” is likely in most of the car accidents
- As the legal basis for “sudden acceleration” weakens, other owners and plaintiffs lawyers seek compensation for lost resale value
This is not to suggest the automobiles were perfect.
In Audi’s case, the gas pedal and brake may have been slightly closer than U.S. drivers were accustomed, leading to “pedal misapplication.” However, there was no fault found in the fuel injection system.
With Toyota, there may have been sticky gas pedals and floor mats that jammed those pedals. However, according to reports yesterday, no electronic defects have been found and, according to The Wall Street Journal, (subscription required) “driver error” was confirmed for 35 of the 58 vehicles that were tested. Key rip-quotes:
Five months into an investigation of safety issues involving Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles, U.S. safety officials have yet to identify any new defects beyond those reported by the car maker itself.
And in more than half of the crashes blamed on sudden acceleration analyzed by the government, data from the vehicles’ “black boxes” show the driver was not stepping on the brake at the time of the accident—indicating that driver error may have been at fault….
Experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examined 58 vehicles involved in sudden-acceleration reports and found data in 35 of them showed the brakes weren’t applied at the time of the crash. Data from nine other vehicles showed the brakes were used only in the last moment before impact.
The report doesn’t specify driver error as a cause of unintended acceleration, although people familiar with the investigation have said the findings point to pedal misapplication—mistakenly hitting the gas instead of the brakes—as a likely cause….
Although it does not appear in his works, Mark Twain is often attributed with the quote: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
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Aug. 11 update: Added WSJ rip quotes, to help those that don’t have an online subscription. Also, interesting story from The New York Post, and a related article that appeared in Forbes, which explain that the NHTSA database is really just a collection of anecdotes about accidents.