Was Fatal Car Accident Caused By Stuck Toyota Accelerator?

Police in Southlake, Tex. are investigating whether a fatal automobile accident could have been caused by the same mechanical issue that led to the recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles and multiple fatal accidents in the U.S., including one involving a California Highway Patrol officer and his family. In the accident on Saturday morning, police say that the vehicle ran a stop sign, hit a tree and a fence, and drove into a pond. Two people were killed, and two were injured.

Just before 11:20 a.m. Saturday, the 2008 Toyota Avalon registered to Hardy ran through a stop sign at the intersection of Lonesome Dove Road and Burney Lane, then struck a fence and tree before landing in the pond on the grounds of a mansion.

Officer Roderick Page said traffic investigators couldn’t tell whether driver error or a vehicle malfunction could be to blame.

“We want to cover all angles,” he said. “We just don’t know.”

The 2008 Toyota Avalon was indeed one of the recall models. Some experts have speculated that the problem is not necessarily caused by floor mats, but an electronic issue in the affected car’s engines–an issue that modifying the floor mats or gas pedal will not change.

2 killed, 2 hurt after car plunges into pond in Southlake [Dallas Morning News] (Thanks, James!)
Toyota to fix ‘very dangerous’ gas pedal defects [Los Angeles Times]

PREVIOUSLY:
Toyota Recalls 3.8 Mil Cars For Stuck Gas Pedal Danger
Toyota: 911 Call Of Family’s Fatal Lexus Crash Due To Gas Pedal Stuck On Floormats
Testing Stuck Accelerator Survival Strategies
Memo Reveals Tragic Details Of Stuck Pedal Lexus Crash (Pics)
Non-Recalled Toyotas Could Still Have Dangerous Floor Mats

Comments

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  1. microcars says:

    We don’t really know what happened, but we will speculate to the best of our ability.

    • Cant_stop_the_rock says:

      Yeah, we know this is an issue with Toyota cars. This incident doesn’t add anything to our knowledge of that issue, it’s just speculation.

  2. mgbgtv8 says:

    I’m James and I sent in this tip. Update…. Sadly all four occupants are deceased. I live near the accident site and when I realized a Toyota Avalon was involved, I had a bad feeling in my gut. A full investigation is pending, but knowing this fairly rural intersection, it’s hard for me to rule out unintended acceleration. My heart goes out to the famlies.

  3. FooSchnickens - Full of SCAR says:

    The “electronic issue” they’re speaking of is the throttle by wire system. In the event of a malfunction most other systems are designed to default to a fully closed position. The same is true when the brake pedal is pressed. Toyota apparently has neither of these safeguards in place on their throttle systems and is likely the root cause of this whole debacle.

    One more reason why I’m for as little computer influence on my vehicle’s operation as possible. Sure, control the timing and fuel delivery, but leave everything else to me.

  4. Colonel Jack O'neill says:

    It sounds like all they are doing is blaming Toyota.
    It could have been drugs or alcohol related. No one knows. I know they probably testing for that, but the news always spin it to not state everything, and leave lots of stuff out of the story.

  5. rydel says:
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    Joseph W.: They can be bought in stores only.
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  7. PølάrβǽЯ says:

    When I was in Driver’s Ed on a drive with the instructor, the instructor would, without warning, reach his foot over and stop the accelerator. The student driver was required to shift the transmission into neutral, then shut of the ignition. It was a simple test, and every student in the class passed it.

    If your accelerator sticks and you cannot figure out how to either shift to neutral or shut of the engine, you should NOT have a driver’s license. Take the bus and leave that complicated stuff to the pros!

    • PølάrβǽЯ says:

      Stomp. STOMP THE ACCELERATOR.

      The Consumerist has a new site now, WHY NO EDIT BUTTON?!?

    • oloranya says:

      I’d blame that lack of knowledge more on poor driver education. Driver’s ed focuses way too much on not drinking and driving etc. and not enough on how the vehicle operates and what to do if it stops operating properly.

      • lesbiansayswhat says:

        Agreed, I’d also blame natural instinct to freeze up under duress. And this accident sounds like it happened VERY quickly and not over an extended period of time like in the police man case.

    • MJ Dick says:

      My 12 year old cousin asked me why he didn’t just turn the car off. My 14 year old neice asked why couldn’t he put the car in park? Either the kids are genius’, or the driver was an idiot.

      What happens if a tire blew out while driving? Would this driver have been smart enough to pull over or just fight the wheel to keep driving? Yes, this may have been a defect with the car that the manufacture should have dealt with, but also a defect with the driver for not thinking.

  8. Kragma says:

    Even if the accelerator could, theoretically, lock itself into wide open throttle, thus robbing the brakes of vacuum assist, standing on the brake pedal is still going to completely overpower the engine. Try this yourself on a nice empty stretch of road. Stopping distance will increase dramatically, but the car will stop. This of course says nothing of your ability to simply turn the key off or place the car in neutral.

    These stories have struck me as utter nonsense right from the beginning, coming out of the same fear of electronic assists that, to this day, has my mother refusing to use cruise control and leaning her seat back so the airbag’s deployment doesn’t kill her. No amount of reasoning will dissuade people from thinking this way, even when driver error (likely pedal misidentification) is the only plausible answer.

    • awer25 says:

      If what you say is true, those four in the Lexus wouldn’t have died. During the investigation, they found that the pads were practically melted to the rotor from intense brake pressure for a prolonged period of time.

    • chris_d says:

      Stopping a car at WOT requires a hell of a lot of pressure. Yeah it’s possible, but dependent on several factors. See this video on uncontrolled acceleration in Fords for more info:
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95Q9q6dJZUo&feature=related
      Relevant part is at 3:00.
      Also, they did it from a low speed. If this starts when the vehicle is going 70 mph, things are going to be a lot worse. You’ll probably burn up your brakes in no time.

      Turning it off or switching to neutral is the only realistic way to deal with this. It should be mandatory in driver training. They only taught worthless stuff when I took driver’s ed — you know, the “right way” to straighten the wheel after you’ve made a turn (WTF???)

  9. awer25 says:

    Please people – if your accelerator ever gets stuck, PUT THE SHIFT LEVER IN THE NEUTRAL (N) POSITION!!

    No matter how fast your engine revs, disconnect it from the drive wheels and use the brake to come to a stop in a safe place, then turn off the engine.

  10. There's room to move as a fry cook says:
  11. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    With all these new wacky electronic shifts and pushbutton ignitions, I think carmakers should incorporate an emergency kill switch into their design. Race cars and motorcycles have had them for years.

    With a straight mechanical linkage it was easy enough to shift into neutral or shut the key off, it seems like that’s no longer the case.

    It also sounds like Toyota needs to incorporate a brake-override routine into all of its models so that application of the brakes cancels any throttle input (every car already does this with cruise control, so it can’t be that major of a modification).

  12. verdegrrl says:

    Much to the annoyance of performance drivers who like to left foot brake or heel and toe, first Audi, and then other European car makers who use fly-by-wire throttles, switched to a throttle cut-out whenever the brake pedal was depressed. That started in the mid-90s as cars switched over to electronic throttles.

    Surprised that Toyota has not done this, since their cars are not sporty enough to be targets of left foot braking, nor do most come with stickshifts.

    • treimel says:

      How the heck can you properly match revs when downshifting for a corner if I can’t increase the revs while braking? That’s insane.

      • katstermonster says:

        Wait, they’re doing this on standard transmissions as well? That’s…absurd. I like to assume anyone willing (and able) to drive stick is smart enough to know what the hell to do with a stuck accelerator. Or similar.

        In the 70′s, my mom had her clog slip off and wedge itself under her brake pedal. She just downshifted and grabbed it. I’m NOT trying to say that these people died of their own hand. What happened is horrible, and Toyota and Lexus need to fix the issue. But I’m a strong believer in the idea that driving a stick gives you a much better understanding of a transmission, which can come in handy in a bad situation.

  13. Bean Town Guy says:

    I am one of those crazy people that has had a acceleration problem with a Toyota Camry even though I have removed the floor mat. I have been driving for over 30 years and never experienced anything like this. It has happen twice to me in the last month. The problem I had both times was, when applying the BRAKES the car would accelerate faster. The first time I was trying to slow down while going down a hill. I applied the brakes and the car started to go faster. I released the brake and applied it again and then the brakes worked. I thought this was some kind of fluke thing and tried to figure out how this could of happened. There was no way my foot was touching the gas pedal. I tried moving my foot into all different positions and could replicate the problem. The second time this happen was in a parking lot and I was coming an intersection and applied the brakes and the car start to accelerate. I removed my foot from the brake and reapplied it and the car stopped normal. Today I bought the car to the dealer to look at and they found nothing. So it cost $110 to tell me there is nothing wrong with the car. Years ago cars were all mechanical and there is no way this could happen but today there are many computers control everything the car. I am guessing one of these computers has a wrong code programed in it or it is just faulty. Has anyone else experienced something like this? Or am I just one of the crazy people?

  14. MJ Dick says:

    I’m sorry to see this happen, but at the same time I really feel that this was driver error. Unless I don’t know about some special features on the Toyota Avalon, the driver was just NOT thinking, or just not really prepared for anything to ever go wrong, and in which case, not a safe driver to be on the road.
    When I was 17, I built my first car from parts. I was testing it and a spring on the carb broke and jammed under the hood. I turned off the key, put the transmission into neutral, coasted to slow down and used breaks to stop myself. I was 17, and knew what to do, so like I said, unless the Toyota Avalon would not let you do this, this is driver error in my mind.

  15. lesbiansayswhat says:

    Every time Consumerist posts one of these stories there’s so many people around to talk about how the driver should’ve put the car in neutral and to a lesser extent but nonetheless present, blaming the driver for making the original error based on no evidence and then call these drivers unsafe and not worthy of having a license. The fact that the drivers of these Toyota cars all end up dead makes me think it wasn’t some error common to people who are attracted to Toyota cars, and even though there may be a manual fix I know this is not taught in many driver’s ed courses. In addition to that, thinking quickly is easier said than done.

    • MJ Dick says:

      but it wasn’t even a “quickly thinking” thing, the guy had time to call 911, and the #1 rule of thumb when driving, “Be prepared for something to happen”.

  16. xi says:

    I just want to clear some things up and make a few comments.

    The Lexus involved in the fatal accident was going 70+ when it suddenly accelerated. Almost all toyota cars, regardless of having awd or not, operate in FWD mode. The driver applied all the braking he could before he MELTED the brake pads trying to fight both the engine directly through the front wheel and the momentum of a 2 ton piece of metal going 70+. It would be a different for a RWD where hitting the brakes will most likely unweigh the tires that are driving the car, thus making it easier to stop.

    Slotting the car in neutral is not as easy as it seems. There is no physical “neutral” in the shifter in certain cars. Putting the stick in neutral merely suggests to the electronic control system to neutral the tranny but if it malfunctions, it will not neutral itself. Neutral can also be locked out for certain cars (maybe not the toyota, I haven’t tried that in one while moving).

    Turning the motor off in a car equipped with push button ignition involves holding down on the button for 3-4 seconds, something that might not be so easy when you’re flying out of control. I’m not even sure if there’s a safe guard in their either or should the electronics decide to malfunction, the motor would keep running anyway.

    As for the floor mats, I don’t think that a mat is capable of jumping up and grabbing the accelerator when you’re cruising down the highway with the pedal at 20%. It’s not like anyone’s flooring it and the thing gets stuck underneath the mat.

    I know on the new camaro, even if it’s a manual transmission, certain gears have their gates locked out (IIRC, you have to go directly from 1st to 4th) unless you’re going WOT. God only knows if they were dumb enough to have some kind of “safeguard” for either neutral or the clutch.

  17. Met1 says:

    I used to think that the allegations about Toyota car accelerator pedals becoming stuck were wrong until it recently happened to me. I was driving a 2010 RX350 Lexus. The accelerator pedal became stuck and my wife and I careened down a busy street narrowly missing cars, people and lamp posts. I finally brought the car to a halt by slapping on the emergency brake. Fortunately, no one was hurt and no property damage occurred. Fearful of driving the car again, particularly with our grandchildren, I brought my concerns to owner of my car dealership who did not express any concern for our well-being but rather blamed us and accused us of “fear-mongering.” After we hired a lawyer, the dealer agreed to terminate our lease but kept our $4500 security deposit. I will not buy another Toyota made vehicle again because I believe its cars have deadly defects and my dealership’s conduct was unacceptable.