When I heard about the latest 'runaway' Toyota, this time a Prius, my first thought was: What's with San Diego?
That was also the scene of the first big crash that got everyone's attention, the one where improperly installed floor mats in a dealer's 'courtesy' car which were not even designed for that model apparently got caught up in the accelerator pedal, the driver, a California police officer, couldn't bring the car back under control, it hit an SUV and crashed off the road, killing the driver and three members of his family.
Really - it's pretty hard to blame Toyota for THAT one.
But, 'if it bleeds it leads' (or in this case, 'if it catches on fire, people die and we have pics it leads') has always been the mantra for the popular media, they jumped all over this one, and it got the ball rolling.
My second thought about the latest Prius incident concerned the report that a police car chased down the car, and started - somehow - communicating with the driver. (Maybe using the loudspeaker system most US cops have on the fronts of their cruisers?).
Apparently the driver had the presence of mind to call 911 while his car was running away with him down the highway.
Wow. Not bad for someone in a panic.
I gather the cruiser was in the vicinity and somehow caught up with the Prius.
According to published reports, the officer told the frightened man to hit the brake pedal as hard as he could, and to pull on the emergency brake.
That second thought was: where did this cop learn about cars? If you are already hammering on the brake pedal, pulling on the e-brake isn't going to do any good.
Why didn't the cop tell the driver to put the car into Neutral? As we pointed out in our video blog a few weeks ago, that should be your first move if you sense any problems with your car's acceleration.
Don't worry about your engine revving too fast - most modern cars have rev limiters. It might get noisy in there, but even if the engine does blow up, that's better than running into a school bus.
Just a few minutes ago, I heard another report that the police officer DID tell the guy to shift into Neutral, but he refused because he was afraid it might make the car 'flip'.
Geez; Where do people get ridiculous notions like that? What more proof do we need that getting a driver's licence is WAY too easy? OK, maybe you don't need an engineering degree to be a driver (wouldn't hurt...) but you have to know more about simple physics than that. I mean, this guy could work a cell phone while his car was running away with him at, as I understand it, over 160 km/h. He wasn't completely technically illiterate.
Now in 99.9 percent of all cases, the brakes should always be strong enough to overcome the power of an engine, especially in a Prius which isn't very powerful to begin with.
So this scenario must have involved full-throttle acceleration, SIMULTANEOUS with near-complete failure of the braking system.
I dunno. Something sounds fishy to me.
Maybe subsequent investigation will get to the bottom of this.
My main point is: IF it happens to you, DON'T call anybody on your cell phone! You have much more important things to do:
1. Shift into Neutral.
2. DO NOT switch off the engine; that will kill power assist to both brakes and steering, which will make it much more difficult for you to bring the car back under control. Not to mention the possibility that you'll turn the key back far enough to lock the steering completely. Not good.
3. Flick on your four-ways, get on the brakes hard (making sure traffic around you permits) and start looking for a safe place to pull off the road. Once you're stopped, THEN you can switch off the engine, and call someone.
A reader suggests that you should actually practice this in your own car. In an empty parking lot with the car stopped, the e-brake firmly set, and the car in Neutral, rev the engine hard, just to experience what it sounds like. Then drive relatively slowly and practice slipping the car from Drive into Neutral (or from a gear into Neutral, while simultaneously stepping on the clutch in a manual) until it becomes second-nature to you.
This of course is also what you should do if your car starts to go into a skid, so it'll be good practice even if you never suffer from unintended acceleration.
No matter whose fault these various incidents might be, there is no reason why they have to end so badly.
Driving isn't rocket surgery, but it does require a bit of common sense.
Too bad sense is so UN-common.