There are many reports over the past couple of days (please see here and here for example) implying that it’s all the driver’s fault if SUA (sudden unintended acceleration) happens. The driver “mis-applies” the pedal, they say – pressing the accelerator pedal when intending to press the brake pedal. The rather suspicious version of events by the driver involved in the Toyota Prius SUA incident add another layer of skepticism.
Three things to note:
- Readers of this blog know that we have always acknowledged that pedal misapplication certainly does happen but it does not address all SUA incidents. Life is not simply binary: either all electronic problems or all operator error. There is no law against there being some of each. One of the articles highlights the fact that senior citizens are involved in more than 55% of SUA-related deaths/incidents. Am I the only one to note that this still leaves at least 45% of incidents that cannot be just waved away by using the older age of the driver as the explanation? A psychologist is quoted that, unlikely as it may seem, all SUA problems can really be attributed to drivers – he cites the Audi incidents from the 80s as his base. Hello! Does his PC or laptop work perfectly today? It perhaps did in the 80s – simply because he had none. Electronics is complex – just because you do not understand how it works does not mean that it is bug-free or cannot go wrong. The blame is being pinned on the hapless driver when these writers do not want to take the time to understand what can indeed go wrong. The drivers are sadly victimized twice: once by the vehicle, and then by these allegations. Even NASA, whose spacecraft are operated by astronauts who have trained for their entire careers, places non-zero failure rates on their electronics when they have an obscene amount of redundancy and use the best technology/people available. Comparably, automotive electronics only has an “affordable” level of redundancy.
- SUA incidents spiked in the 90s when electronic cruise control was introduced. They spiked again when electronic throttle control was introduced in the early ’00s. Did people suddenly become less smart when electronics got introduced? Would/did they even know that there was electronics involved?
- If drivers were to be blamed, the SUA rate will be, statistically speaking, roughly uniform across all years, makes and models. Toyota cars, after ETCS-I introduction, had more than 45% of the share of SUA incidents while having 20% of the market share. That’s statistically significant – meaning, it is very likely that “pedal mis-application” fails to explain the discrepancy.