March 15, 2010
I've been struck by the similarities between the recent panic over Toyotas running away, and a similar panic in the early 90s or so, then featuring Audis. You can read all about that little event in P.J. O'Rourke's book Parliament of Whores.
Anyway, some links about the current frooh-frah. Megan McArdle has some nice graphs about the reports of runaway vehicles, with the key takeaway being the skewed age of drivers, mostly being the elderly. Car and Driver did a test of the "accelerator versus brake" issue and found that brakes win with multiple models of cars and multiple situations. (The only time the brakes didn't win was with a starting speed of 120mph; in that case the breaks caught fire and couldn't get the car slower than 10mph, which is close enough to stopped for my book.) And finally a columnist at Forbes.com points out the many holes in the most publicized story of a Prius driver, in that he claimed to be doing improbable stuff (e.g. grabbing the gas pedal with one hand while holding the wheel with his other hand and holding his cell phone with his third hand) and that the driver was unwilling to obey the 911 operator advising him to shift gears or turn the car off; once a police car arrived and was watching what the driver did, the car stopped with alacrity.
So, my opinion is, this is one of those stupid media-driven panics that appear every so often, being fueled by people looking to get fifteen minutes of fame or to sue somebody with big pockets, and starring a bunch of grandstanding politicians.
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