Product Liability

What should you do in a car that speeds out of control?

Toyota is telling drivers of certain Toyota and Lexus cars and trucks to remove their driver’s side floor mats immediately until the company can develop a solution to its floor mat problem. The company announced in its September 29 safety advisory that the accelerator pedal may become jammed in full open position when an “unsecured or incompatible floor mat” is used, causing the vehicle to accelerate unintentionally.

Previously we have reported on this web site that some of the drivers who became caught in a runaway car were unable to remedy the situation. There’s the story of Bulent and Anne Ezal, whose 2005 Camry accelerated unintentionally in the parking lot of a Pismo Beach, California, restaurant, causing the vehicle to plunge off a cliff and killing Anne. Shortly after that February 2007 accident in Pismo Beach, Jean Bookout lost control of her 2005 Camry as it sped off an Oklahoma interstate. Attempts to stop the vehicle were unsuccessful. Jean’s friend Barbara Schwarz was killed when the car hit an embankment, and Barbara spent months in the hospital with serious head and back injuries.

Another unintended acceleration incident, which happened just this past August, found off-duty California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor careening down a San Diego County highway at speeds topping 120 mph, according to witnesses. Saylor never could gain control of the Lexus ES 350. The car crashed, killing Saylor and his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law.

Likewise, Guadalupe Gomez couldn’t regain control of his 2007 Camry as it raced uncontrollably down a busy San Jose freeway at speeds of more than 100 mph. Gomez tried everything he could think of to stop the vehicle, but nothing worked. Gomez’s Camry struck a Honda Accord, killing a California father of 5 – an accident for which Gomez was arrested and sued.

Of course, it’s difficult to tell for certain whether the floor mats were solely to blame for these accidents. There are other reports of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles that are not easily pinned on a floor mat problem. While Toyota investigates the problem, it urges drivers of the affected Toyota vehicles to drive without floor mats.

However, Toyota realizes that not all consumers will choose to drive without the mats. In its announcement, Toyota gives instructions on what to do if a driver is caught in an unintended acceleration situation:

  • First, if it is possible and safe to do so, pull back the floor mat and dislodge it from the accelerator pedal; then pull over and stop the vehicle.
  • If the floor mat cannot be dislodged, then firmly and steadily step on the brake pedal with both feet. Do NOT pump the brake pedal repeatedly as this will increase the effort required to slow the vehicle.
  • Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral (N) position and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.
  • If unable to put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine OFF, or to ACC. This will not cause loss of steering or braking control, but the power assist to these systems will be lost.
  • If the vehicle is equipped with an Engine Start/Stop button, firmly and steadily push the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do NOT tap the Engine Start/Stop button.
  • If the vehicle is equipped with a conventional key-ignition, turn the ignition key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel.

More information about the recall and floor mat installation can be found on http://www.toyota.com.