New Technology = Confused Drivers

Two recent instances of Toyota Priuses accelerating uncontrollably have people once again questioning whether new technology causes car accidents and creates safety hazards for drivers.

Monday’s 911 tape of the driver whose 2008 Toyota Prius accelerated uncontrollably on a California interstate was released by the California Highway Patrol on Tuesday. The 25-minute tape reveals a dispatcher trying to help the driver control his car as it reached speeds of over 90 miles per hour. Following a California Highway Patrol officer’s instructions, the worried driver was eventually able to slow the car down to 55 mph using his brakes and emergency brake. After several attempts to shut off the engine using the ingnition button, he was finally successful. On Tuesday, a New York Prius driver reported similar sudden acceleration that resulted in a car accident.

Increasingly, cars are loaded with fancy gadgets and new ways of controlling things like the ignition switch and the transmission shifter. Unfortunately, this new technology can make critical functions confusing for drivers, especially in an emergency. Drivers must focus on the road; they should not have think about how to operate complicated controls when trying to avoid a car accident.

Last August, an off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer and three of his family members were killed when the rented Lexus ES350 he was driving accelerated suddenly, sped through suburban San Diego at 120 mph and crashed in rush-hour traffic. Toyota blamed the car accident on a problem with the accelerator pedal but it may be deeper than that. The Officer was unable to shift the car into neutral or turn off the engine, possibly because he was unfamiliar with the complicated operation of the controls. In order to turn of the ES350′s engine while driving, the driver must press and hold the ‘Stop/Start’ button for three seconds, an action that is not obvious and could be difficult to perform while navigating busy traffic at high speeds. The Lexus also features a shifter that follows a slightly twisting path instead of the commonly expected straight line.  This family’s tragic deaths have become a prime example behind a series of recalls over quality and safety concerns affecting about 8.5 million Toyota vehicles.

Immediately after this automobile accident, Consumer Reports suggested that car manufacturers implement the following to improve safety in the event of unintended acceleration:

  • Make it simpler to turn off the engine in an emergency
  • Require a minimum distance between the gas pedal and the floorboard
  • Engineer cars so a sustained braking force can stop a car in a reasonable distance even with the accelerator pedal fully depressed
  • Require sufficient brake pedal pressure before a car can be shifted from Park
  • Simplify shifting into Neutral

All drivers should read their vehicle’s owner’s manual carefully and familiarize themselves with all of the car’s controls and gadgets. Make sure you understand the shifting mechanism and know how to shift into Neutral if the car accelerates suddenly. Don’t use a cell phone while driving unless it is hands free, and don’t take your eyes off the road.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an automobile accident, motorcycle crash or other personal injury matter, talk to an attorney about your legal rights. The personal injury lawyers at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes, P.A. have been caring for clients in the Tampa Bay area since 1955.  Click here for a free case consultation.

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