Memo Reveals Tragic Details Of Stuck Pedal Lexus Crash (Pics)

Tragic details are revealed in NHTSA memo about the Lexus that crashed at almost 100 MPH after the gas pedal became stuck on the floormat, leading to the immolation and death of the four family-members inside, and Toyota’s 3.8 million vehicle recall.

1. “The Lexus eventually came to rest in a dry riverbed where it burned for an extended period of time.” Presumably, the family inside also burned for an extended period of time.
2. “No attempts to retrieve data from the EDR [Event Data Recorder] have yet been made.” Why not?
2. Why significant factor #5 blacked out?
3. As commenters noted, the 3 seconds to push the pushbutton ignition could have been a problem.
4. This picture does not even look like a car anymore. It looks like a Cthulhu abortion.
5. Note how the all-weather mat is bonded to the pedal.
6. The car was a loaner while the driver’s car was in the shop, which would explain why he wasn’t familiar with its every nook and cranny, or its unique “hold the start button for 3-seconds to shut off the engine while the car is moving” feature.

If you’re driving and your gas pedal gets stuck, put the car in neutral until you can slow and get off the road.

NHTSA report (PDF) [via CR Car Blog]
PREVIOUSLY: Toyota: 911 Call Of Family’s Fatal Lexus Crash Due To Gas Pedal Stuck On Floormats
Toyota Recalls 3.8 Mil Cars For Stuck Gas Pedal Danger


Edit Your Comment

  1. dionicios says:

    I’m gonna guess that significant factor #5 was blacked out because it had something to do with the people being burned inside of the car after the crash.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @dionicios: Nah, that portion contains the findings that the smoking remains taste almost like BBQ chicken. But are in dire need of a dipping sauce.

    • That's Consumer007 to you says:

      @dionicios: I’m going to guess it was something damning for which they should be sued and fined heavily and fined extra for covering it up.

      • Clumber says:

        @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: IMHO if there is anything even remotely true about “onboard computer has a lockout that won’t let you go into neutral if you’re going above 15 or 25 mph. ” then suing every involved party going back 20 generations into their ancestors will not be enough.

        Once, in one of my “other lives” I was driving an autistic client on the freeway. She was belted in the back seat. Without warning (which is how any of my stories from that career begin) she lunged forward and grabbed the parking brake with both hands and yanked back with every ounce of force in her soul. I was driving an automatic at the time (not my car) and discovered firsthand that one can, indeed, throw a car into neutral at freeway speed. Keeping from doing 60mph donuts, that was probably just a combo of luck and terror.

        grabs my PC and hugs all the pretty pretty zeros and ones of my current career…. sweet, sweet beautiful zeros and ones…. my precious….

  2. Hoss says:

    Such a sad case. I wondering if high healed shoes and boots could also get caught. I’m sure the driver would just pull the shoe out, but seems that the gas pedal is too close to the cab floor?

    • Hil-fish says:

      @Hoss: I don’t think proximity to the floor is the issue – the pedals have to be close to the floor, or else people wouldn’t be able to easily flex their ankles and knees to depress them. I think it’s more a matter of the floor mat shifting position and becoming wedged against the pedal, thus holding it down.

      I actually had the opposite problem once – the floor mat in my car got bunched up behind the pedal and made it difficult to depress. About scared me to death – I kept imagining what could have happened if it had gotten bunched up behind the brake instead of the gas.

      And come to think of it, that was a Toyota, too…

    • katstermonster says:

      @Hoss: Driving with heels can be dangerous, depending on how the gas pedals are configured. I have an ’07 Honda Civic (with automatic transmission), and I don’t feel comfortable driving it in anything over a 1″ heel, because I have to rest my heel on the floor met to depress the accelerator, which leaves me prone to slipping. It gives me very little control over the the force with which I push the pedals.

      On the other hand, I drove my mom’s ’05 Scion xB (standard transmission) in heels last weekend and was perfectly fine. The pedals are set up in such a way that I can place the balls of my feel on them without my heels hitting the floor. Plus, people tend to use a full-leg motion to drive stick, as opposed to the foot extension you might use on an automatic transmission.

      And floor mats only add to the problem – hells get stuck in them really easily, especially in my Civic. It’s just not a good time.

  3. Bathmat says:

    What a horrifying display of unintended consequences. Who would have expected that something as seemingly innocuous as a floor mat would be this large of an issue. That said, the lack of a way to disengage the engine in an emergency is also not so awesome.

    • floraposte says:

      @Bathmat: There is, as the article and CR tests indicate–you can put it in neutral. Don’t mess around with the keys, just put it in neutral.

      I hope I never need to remember this under driving conditions, but I think I’m likelier to now with this sobering reminder.

    • pullapint says:

      @Bathmat: There is. Under “other significant factors” #3 states holding down the start button for 3 seconds shuts down the engine, but that it was not posted on the dash. It was probably in the manual but how often do we look at that when getting a loaner or renting a car.

    • webweazel says:

      @Bathmat: All of this emergency info was drilled into to me in driver’s ed class. Going to neutral would have been my first thing. I do NOT like this push-button crapola, and won’t buy a car with it. I also will NOT buy a car that I cannot unlock and open the door just by using the handle. In an emergency, the handle is the first thing you aim for. If I’ve got to fumble with the lock, probably in a panic, before getting out, the car stays on the lot. I know, loaners and rentals are different, but I check the handles/locks anyway, so they are somewhat familiar.

  4. zarex42 says:

    Maybe #5 was about them being able to shift into neutral within a split second, but for some mysterious reason didn’t realize it or attempt it.

    • 1kamaz says:


      Like most other things in that car, the transmission is electronically controlled. You should have no problem shifting into neutral in motion, but I guess it’s possible that it won’t allow you to do it under hard accelleration. I’ve never driven that car or any new Toyota for that matter, so it’s just a guess.

      • soloudinhere says:

        @1kamaz: Let’s reiterate, FEDERAL LAW DOES NOT ALLOW THERE TO BE ANY GATES BETWEEN ANY FORWARD GEAR AND NEUTRAL. EVER. You could be driving an SL65 280mph on a track and shift it into neutral. Regardless of whether you’re flooring it or not.

  5. yzerman says:

    I was discussing this with my dad the other day as he is a car nut. His suggestion wasn’t to put the car into Neutral as it would cause the RPMs to cause the engine to blow but to just cut power to the engine.

    At a high rate of speed if you lose power steering your able to still turn the car fairly easily until you slow down which at that point your safe and you didn’t destroy your car engine.

  6. Overheal says:

    @Ben Popkin: I recall once downloading a disclosed government document with similar blackouts within it.

    Unfortunately the doofus (THIS WAS AN FBI DOCUMENT) who published the PDF did not for see that I would use my mouse to select the text – all of the classified items were quite visible after the fact.

    Of course it was some boring internal memo that made no sense to me so I cant remember what it said. Said day.

  7. yungjerry703 says:

    immediately this made me think of ed norton’s day job in the movie fight club. i guess in this case the recall was cheaper than the law suits. this was such a terrible way to die. i once had a rubber house caught in the intake manifold that kept the rpm’s at 2 grand. no where near as scary as full throttle would be.

  8. NJDave says:

    Seems important too, and I don’t remember reading it elsewhere: the floor mat in this case was for a different vehicle, a Lexus SUV. Presumably it didn’t mate with the clips in the carpet, which is probably why it hadn’t been attached. Note too that the car had no physical ignition switch that could be turned off, leaving one less option for the driver to stop the vehicle, and probably adding to his panic. The car was a loaner, and the driver may have been unfamiliar with this feature.

    I know, a lot of surmising. I’m not trying to absolve Toyota, just noting that the circumstances in this case helped create a “perfect storm” for an accident. And though Toyota knew about the problem, we can’t assume the dealership did when they put in the wrong mat.

    • docrice says:

      @NJDave: word. There are a lot of things here that contributed to the crash, not just the “killer floormats”:

      -wrong floormat installed in car (dealer’s fault)
      -driver not familiar with the vehicle (even in a loaner car, you *should* read the operator manual)
      -floormat jammed under accelerator
      -driver did not take all steps to stop vehicle**

      **-I would think a CHP veteran would know that if the car could not be shut off, it should be put in neutral. He had time to think about what to do here, but this didn’t happen. Also, 911 operators should have instructed him similarly if they were on the phone long enough.

      • econobiker says:

        @docrice: An issue with police is that they often think that they alway “know and control” the situation and don’t think outside of the box especially if his guard was down by being off duty with family…

  9. Rachacha says:

    With regards to the inspection of the Event Data recorder, this report is dated approximately 1 month after the accident, and was based on an inspection of the vehicle 4 business days (6 calendar days) after the accident. The inspector likely prepared the report the following week, circulated the report for internal clearance, review and signatures, and it was date stamped on the day that Mr Saul signed the document.

    Accident investigations are very procedural in nature. You want to find out as much information as possible without destroying the evidence. It is possible that the EDR is somewhere in the engine or passenger compartment and to get to it would require taking a torch to the vehicle.

    There is no conspiracy here that I can see.

    • A Pimp Named DaveR says:

      @Rachacha: I just assumed that since the cause of the crash is clear and unquestioned from the other data available, there was no need to examine the EDR.

      • SagarikaLumos says:

        @A Pimp Named DaveR: The EDR will contain such data as throttle position and engine RPM. That is useful as it tells how hard the engine was fighting against the brakes/how far down the accelerator was jammed.

        The big question is whether it still contains any data at all after sitting for a month and having some fire damage.

  10. CaptainKidd says:

    #2 is interesting, a floor mat that doesn’t belong to the vehicle model in question. I’m now a little bit puzzled about the necessity for a recall. I’ll assume that it’s been confirmed that floor mats meant for the models in the recall also jammed the accelerator.

    I use after market floor mats after the original tears up and they occasionally slide around. The worse situation I’ve had was having one curl up under the brake pedal, inhibiting its full range of motion. Thankfully I’m a cautious driver and had enough time to pull it back out of the way in time. I also downshifted to get compression braking.

    • thereij says:

      @CaptainKidd: This is interesting. Perhaps the wrong floormat did indeed cause the crash, but to err on the side of safety, this change was applied to all of the floormats on this particular model (or all models involved in the recall).

      Some good changes will come to this, it’s a shame that the family had to perish to make this happen. The sad fact is that sometimes, things like this just happen. The Titanic had to sink with most of the crew/guests aboard dying to get safety regs changed on ships, the same things happen with air travel and train travel. It sucks so much, but from our mistakes and tragedies, knowledge is gained and applied. There are only so many scenarios a business can foresee and test out.

  11. swfc says:

    I wonder if this can happen with other cars and similar rubber mats?

    Tragic for the family as its was a loaner- they probably didnt know about the 3 second shuttoff for the engine.

  12. SarcasticDwarf says:

    Interesting point that the floor mat was not the correct one for that vehicle. Lawsuit against the dealer in 3…2…1…

  13. Blb3303 says:

    I listened to the 911 call. I was shaken.

    • SybilDisobedience says:

      @Blb3303: Yeah. I got tears in my eyes. What an awful thing to go through. I couldn’t believe the caller was as calm as he was – I’d be screaming incoherently. What an avoidable catastrophe.

    • trujunglist says:


      Yeah me too when Consumerist posted the last article on this… It definitely messed me up for a while. So incredibly sad. You can really hear the terror in their voices.

  14. cmdrsass says:

    I live in a very cold climate. I was driving down the highway in mid-winter with the cruise control set on a very cold day. It froze and I could not disengage it. Scariest two minutes of my life.

    • partofme says:

      @cmdrsass: Cold can cause all kinds of problems. I had the throttle valve stick on one particularly cold day. Pulling up on the pedal doesn’t help. I was in a small town, so thankfully it broke loose again less than 20 seconds later. Still, quite frightening.

  15. subtlefrog says:

    This was covered last time, but I’m not clear, still. The electronic shifters don’t shift to N in real time. In my car, (Toyota) after this, I did some playing and realized I had to hold the shifter to N for a few seconds if I was in D to get it to shift. I don’t know what this car had, but if it was similar, the guy may not have known how to shift to N.

    Also, and slightly off topic, I mentioned that my car, if shut down, goes to Park. Others responded that automatics have safeties to protect against dropping the transmission from this – but I’ve got a Prius, which isn’t automatic. It’s a continuous variable transmission. I wonder how it would respond. No, I am not going to try it just for giggles. But there are a lot of Prii out there, and it would be interesting to know. Anyone with a knowledge of cars?

    • spazztastic says:

      @subtlefrog: A CVT is an automatic transmission. ‘Park’ works similarly to putting a broomstick in the spokes of a bicycle wheel.

      • NJDave says:

        @spazztastic: Actually, I’ve put a moving vehicle into Park (for a second, by accident). In my case, anyway, it was a flexible “broomstick”; it made a loud ratcheting sound but didn’t stop the car nor cause a loss of control. Not good for the transmission, obviously, but given the priorities involved with a stuck accelerator, probably an OK choice.

  16. duffman13 says:

    I don’t know why he didn’t shift into neutral. My wife probably wouldn’t think to either, she just knows drive, park and reverse. Neutral could have saved this guy’s life.

    I feel like people these days have a deficiency in car knowledge, knowing how power got fron the engine to the wheels should be elementary knowledge. I have had a stuck pedal before due to flip-flop operator error, and pooping the car from gear into neutral is exactly what I did, since I knew cutting the mechanical link between the engine and the wheels would let me brake and remove my flip-flop.

    What exactly is the problem with the floor mats? My last 4 cars have all had a hook/slot in them to prevent them from moving around. Does toyota not do this? because nissan, acura, honda and audi all certainly do.

    • NJDave says:

      @duffman13: Toyota definitely hooks the mat to the carpet (the mat in my Matrix has two hooks, which I assume is typical). The problem, I guess, is that in some situations the hooks can, and have, come loose. (In this case, though, the mat was just lying loose on the floor.)

      @duffman13: The eleven-year old in me had to point out that you said “pooping.” ;)

  17. segfault, registered cat offender says:

    I’m guessing #5 dealt with the driver not shifting into neutral, or the catastrophic failure of the fuel system (which I presume caused the fire). I’m curious as to why it was blacked out.

  18. DefineStatutory says:

    At some point, as the front seat passenger, wouldn’t you reach over and attempt to free the pedal? I know if I were in the passenger seat, and the driver said the gas was stuck down, I’d be down there yanking on the pedal to at least attempt to free it.

    (not placing blame, this story has just always seemed really weird to me all the way around)

    • Nidoking says:

      @DefineStatutory: That would probably require quite a reach. The driver’s legs and the gearshift would probably get in the way. Not to mention that, when the crash does occur, you probably want to be in your seat, with the seatbelt fastened, where the airbag will soften the impact, rather than lying across the driver’s knees with the seatbelt crossing your stomach.

    • sburnap42 says:

      @DefineStatutory: Yeah, when my car is hurtling down the road at 130 mph, I really want to be taking my eyes off the road to reach down to the gas peddle.

  19. nsv says:

    To anyone who has listened to the 911 call (I won’t do it, thanks,) how many seconds would you estimate the conversation took?

  20. CaffiendCA says:

    Same thing happened to me, well without the burning to death or the pedal stuck to the floormat. But I picked up the car from the dealer, and they screwed up the accelerator cable, and it stuck when first accelerating. I killed the engine with the key, but not before nearly hitting the car in front of me. Thankfully I was able to prevent an accident, and the shop fixed it. But I didn’t read them the riot act, like I should have.

  21. G.O.B.: Come on! says:

    As it was a loaner car, the dealer probably put in the all-weather mats because he doesn’t want the loaner to get filthy. People may abuse a loaner car just like people don’t much care about taking care of a rental. That explains why the incorrect mats would have been there.

  22. Muthafodder says:


    I’m guessing this is where it happened at.

  23. Crabby Cakes says:

    I see a lot of “blame the victim” here and I find it really perplexing. This man was in a panic situation; from a Human Factors/Psychological perspective, all normal logical response is thrown out the window. The mix of increased heart-rate and adrenaline often focuses you brain on one thing and filters out other options. In this case, it’s not unreasonable that in the driver’s mind, the solution to “car going at high rate of speed” was “braking.” Here’s another example: Say you’re in a burning house and you’re on the 2nd floor. Under normal circumstances, you know that jumping out the window is not a good idea. Faced with the panic of a burning house, your brain tells you to “get out! NOW!” and so you make the choice to jump. Were there other means of escape you could have explored? Maybe, but forcing your brain to sort through that takes time- and time is usually something you do not have.
    It’s extremely difficult to gauge how people will react in panic situations, because it defies logic to an outside, logical observer. To say, “this guy should have known to throw the car in neutral!” is really over-simplifying a complex psychological situation.

  24. VA_White says:

    I would have known to shift to neutral but I think that’s because I learned to drive on a stick shift where you use neutral on a regular basis. They also covered that in my driver’s ed class in high school.

  25. Covertghost says:

    This happened to me before, floor mat caused my gas pedal to get stuck, in a frenzy I was ripping at the floor mat with my feet, and finally got it loose, then stomped my foot into the gas pedal to get it to loosen(I was going 120 at this point) and finally breathed a sigh of relief as I was able to brake again.

    I threw away those floor mats, this happened about 5 years ago.

  26. Bahnburner says:

    Wrong floor mat.
    It just was a fluke.
    For there to be four occupants in that car, one of them being a law enforcement officer and another with enough time to make a call lasting 44 seconds and none of them possessing the wherewithall to pull or engage the parking brake (locking the undriven wheels…no car’s gonna go or stay at 100+ with the rear wheels locked up.) or shift the vehicle into reverse, park, neutral or low gear. They were simply caught out. I’m sorry for their families.

    • yevarechecha says:

      @Bahnburner: We have two automatics and the parking brakes on both of them are pure crap. I have driven all over town on one of them with the parking brake engaged and only realized it after the fact because it made absolutely no difference in how the car operated. So I just never set that brake, because it does nothing. At 100mph it would probably just get destroyed. The only way to stop the car would be to kill the engine or shift out of drive.

  27. katia802 says:

    Years ago I drove a school bus. This happened to me, fortunately after I’d dropped of my kids and was on the way back to the garage. Very scary, eventually, after really screwing up the tranny trying to drop into second and first gears, I tried neutral. Got it to shut off, but the mechanics who picked up the bus almost wrecked it because they started it and tried putting it into gear!!! It’s extremely frightening, and I can see how they would be panicking and unable to think of the best way to deal with the situation.

  28. tsmvengy says:

    I actually remember that our driver’s ed instructor told us to put your car in neutral if this ever happens.

  29. evartse says:

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  30. evilpete says:

    Was the document distributed as a PDF?

    If so and #5 was blocked out using Acrobat you can sometime de-censor a document. Many time the censored text is blacked out by placing a opaque object over the text thus leaving the text intact on a lower layer.

  31. m92348 says:

    I’m sorry, but this sounds like driver error to me. Cars can get stuck accelerating for many reasons. I wouldn’t fiddle with the ignition key; turning that while driving can have all sorts of bad consequences. The right thing to do is to switch to neutral and step on the brakes. Even better, drive manual, take your foot off the clutch, and brake.

    And you just have to be aware that machines fail and can kill you. Purely mechanical cars can fail as well and kill you. (I still feel more comfortable, however, with stick shift and no cruise control than these hyper-automated cars).

  32. Ptath says:

    What’s missing here is a timeline. 3 seconds careening out of control and into traffic is a heck of a long time to have one hand off the wheel of an unfamiliar car.

    I would suspect the driver may have been concerned about not hitting anything, specially pedestrians, which probably demanded a lot of attention. His training ould call to that.

    If the whole thing happened in a short time span – say 15-30 seconds – you only have a few moments to try what comes to mind:

    It wont’s stop!! OK, press the pedal again a couple of times to see if it gets unstuck – No? Darn, I am still accelerating! – OK, hold the brake – until they give – hey watch that car!- BAM! – Ouch, that hurt! You guys OK? – Now, adding the handbrake.. No go? OK Turn of the key – What the hell, no key? Oh yeah, I need to… now lets press that button – where is that button? – and hold it for … BANG.

    That could happen pretty much in the same time it took you to read it.

    At some point there is just nothing you can do: Once the car war airborne, that was pretty much endgame.

    In most road accidents everything goes from Ok to disaster in 3-5 seconds at most, usually far less. If you were ever in one, you know what I mean. If not, trust me and count yourself lucky.

  33. ShirtMac says:

    For all of those that have questioned why the 911 operator didn’t tell them to shift to neutral; it’s called agency liability. We have a saying in the emergency communications business…CYA..Cover Your Agency. Any advice or suggestions to a caller can lead to the municipality AND the dispatcher being on the receiving end of a lawsuit. As obvious as it is…when a house is on fire people will ask “Should I get everyone out of the house?” All we can tell them is I can’t advise you on that…it’s a decision you will have to make. Sounds bad and it is very frustrating but if someone gets injured or killed on the way out…their first words are that “the 911 operator told me to…” Then comes the lawyers. Sorry…but I can’t afford to be sued!

  34. Eticus says:

    Who thought it was a good idea to stop using keys in ignitions?

  35. TessTalks says:

    When can we read the Toyota in-house memo that discusses the known flaw, then makes the decision to do nothing? Or, rather, do nothing until these poor souls were unnecessarily cooked beyond recognition.

  36. physics2010 says:

    [] in case anyone else wants to work on it.

  37. suburbancowboy says:

    Since everyone else is throwing in their hypothetical “I Would’ve done this” in this awful situation, I would’ve just pulled on the steering wheel and jumped the car Dukes of Hazzard style.