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New US DOT rule to end unintended acceleration crashes

The Us Department of Transportation is proposing a new rule that will force automakers to modify cars so that the brakes over-ride the throttle to help reduce unintended acceleration, but many automakers already do this


Unintended acceleration has hurt automakers from all parts of the world. Each time someone in the press is able to pull together some statistics and touch a nerve with the public, the story goes viral and the automotive universe goes through another witch hunt looking for ghosts in the machine. The first goose-chase was Audi, and then most recently Toyota. Now the target is Ford. In order to take action to fix a problem that has no proof of existing, the US Department of Transportation is recommending that the automakers provide all vehicles with a system that disables throttle when the brake is applied.

Unlike with previous mandates, expect the automakers to jump at the chance to support this. It will cost them almost nothing to implement, and Nissan and other automakers are already doing it anyway. The humor in this is that the automakers will use exactly the technology that was blamed in the case of Toyota, electronic throttle systems, to enable the override system. In older vehicles the throttle was connected mechanically, using both linkages and a cable to the fuel-air induction system, otherwise known as the carburetor or fuel injection system. Audi went through the issue when this was the technology. Although no official cause was ever determined, and although other auto-makers were proven to have statistically equal number of unintended crashes as Audi did, the automaker moved the pedals farther apart to provide conspiracy theorists with a change. Toyota and government agencies recently cooperated to see if any cause related to the electronic throttles (used universally now by all automakers on almost all vehicles). None was found. To their credit Toyota took the blame and admitted fault in one high profile Lexus crash caused by an aftermarket floor mat installed against its policies. Toyota fought the cases it believed to be bogus and won in most cases.

Auto enthusiasts frequently point out that eye witness of such crashes saw that the brake lights were not on in cars that crashed where the driver blamed the car for speeding off while “they had their foot firmly on the brake.” Ray LaHood, US Transportation Secretary, spoke on behalf of the mandate proposed by DT saying “"By updating our safety standards, we're helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake." Mr. LaHood did not point out that in all but the most extreme performance cars, braking strongly while the accelerator is fully to the floor already does result in the car coming to a stop. According to Mr. LaHood’s Wikipedia page, he has no education in the area of engineering or auto mechanics.

One bright side of this evolution of passenger car systems is that “two-footers” who can be easily identified ahead of us in traffic with brake lights flickering as they accelerate, will no longer be able to ride both pedals. Their cars won’t move ahead if they do. Also, when we all get to the point that we have an accident by mistaking the pedals we won’t be able to emerge from the car and claim ”I had the brake on, the car did it by itself!” Mr. LaHood is helping us by taking away that excuse.

Unintended acceleration has been addressed by the automakers, but the US DOT will lend its approval by mandating a change already being implemented by automakers on their own.