LA Times Stokes Unintended Acceleration Fears
Unfortunately for Toyota, rumors of rampant incidents of unintended acceleration have been irresponsibly perpetuated by news organizations more concerned about ratings than facts. The L.A. Times has been particularly aggressive in their efforts to slander Toyota and stoke public fears. Two “news stories” have printed un-substantiated opinions as fact and used incendiary imagery to stoke fear in the hearts of Toyota owners.
While the L.A. Times isn’t alone in this practice, they’ve been leading the charge. Here’s what Toyota owners need to know.
NOTE: It should be stated clearly for all to hear that our blog isn’t living up to any high journalism standards. We were completely and totally wrong about the 2009 Tundra diesel and the Tundra hybrid…embarrassingly so. When we accuse other journalists of being “sloppy,” it shouldn’t carry a lot of weight. Still, the truth must be told.
When Toyota announced their voluntary recall in September, two reporters (we’ll call them V and B) began gathering data to see if they could embarrass Toyota somehow. Two weeks later, they published this story with the headline “Toyota’s runaway-car worries may not stop at floor mats.” The article hints that Toyota’s electronic control systems might be faulty, a very scary prospect that probably got their article a lot of page views…yet 6 NHTSA investigations have determined unequivocally that there’s no problem with Toyota’s throttle control systems.
Yes, that’s 6 separate investigations that determined Toyota’s throttle control system is completely safe. Yet the L.A. Times asks “Might a vehicle’s complex electronic features make it hard for drivers to react quickly when accelerating out of control?”
Obviously V and B have not driven one of the vehicles in question, because there’s nothing complicated about the gearshift, start button, or the function of the pedals. The only complexity is in the system behind these things…which is where the slander comes in. “Complex electronic features” insinuates there’s some sort of bug in Toyota’s throttle control system. Not true.
Additionally, many of the accusations leveled at Toyota in this article advocate that a person in a panic situation might not be able to control their vehicle. No kidding?! Panicked people aren’t rational. There’s no way to “panic proof” an automobile, and it’s not a reasonable standard when it comes to assessing safety.
V and B didn’t stop with the “runaway” accusations. Two and a half weeks later they published this story, which claims that Toyota and NHTSA are irresponsibly ignoring “1,000’s” of cases of runaway Toyotas. While the reporters make some interesting points, it’s hard to give V & B a lot of credit for being objective when they lead with this image:
Talk about a smear job! That picture and the headline “Runaway Toyota cases ignored” make it look like a Toyota will plunge off a nearby cliff at a moment’s notice. Ridiculous.
It’s true that NHTSA and Toyota systematically exclude complaints without investigation, and the process may need a review. However, accusing NHTSA and Toyota of negligence in their response is irresponsible and incendiary. Here’s why:
- NHTSA (and Toyota) HAVE to figure out a way to disqualify some complaints as a matter of practicality. With tens of thousands of claims filed with NHTSA every year for every make and model on the road, NHTSA can’t investigate each and every complaint.
- Not all complaints are equal. Some people file a complaint with NHTSA because they really have a problem to report, and others complain because they’re angry with the manufacturer, because they’re trying to secure some sort of financial benefit, or because they’re trying to avoid prosecution. After all, it’s much easier to say “my car accelerated on it’s own” that it is to say “I was negligent.”
Specifically, let’s look at what types of claims were thrown out:
- Cases of unintended acceleration sustained for more than 1 second. Why? Because, according to NHTSA and their decades of investigation experience, most of these cases are the result of driver panic.
- Cases of vehicles that couldn’t stop. Why? Because, according to a NHTSA study from 2004, most vehicle brake systems can stop an out-of-control vehicle with ease. If there’s a point to be made in the L.A. Times article, it’s here. The results of the study are (obviously) not correct.
- Cases where the complaint isn’t specific as to the “cause” of the problem, meaning the owner didn’t register a specific enough complaint. When owners aren’t specific about their problem, their complaints are ignored.
So what complaints does NHTSA listen to? Complaints from safety experts, police investigators, auto repair professionals, and specific complaints that match an existing pattern. Since the year 2000, NHTSA has investigated Toyotas for unintended acceleration 9 times…seems like NHTSA is doing their job.
V and B do make some valid points. NHTSA’s processes could probably stand some improvement and Toyota needs to upgrade their vehicle computer systems. However, there’s no disputing that these articles are designed to scare people, and for that we say BOO.
Filed Under: Auto News