If a new rule proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Thursday is implemented, brake-throttle override systems would become standard issue in all cars and trucks sold in the United States.
NHTSA has proposed adding the systems, which would give brakes priority in the event both brake and gas pedals are pressed at the same time, as controversy over sudden unintended acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles rages on. In 2010 and 2011, Toyota recalled millions of vehicles for their potential to speed out of control unexpectedly and crash. The car maker also paid record fines for violating federal rules governing the handling of safety defects and recalls.
“America’s drivers should feel confident that anytime they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles — especially in the event of an emergency,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement. “By updating our safety standards, we’re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake.”
As it recalled millions of vehicles, Toyota retrofitted certain model Toyota and Lexus vehicles with brake override protection. The car maker also made the systems standard in all new models sold in the U.S. starting with the 2011 model year. Some car manufacturers have made brake-throttle override standard in all their U.S. models, including most German car makers and Chrysler.
Toyota has maintained its sudden acceleration woes are caused by driver floor mat entrapment, sticky throttle assemblies, or driver error. Critics, however, argue that an electronic glitch is to blame for the runaway cars – an assertion that Toyota has staunchly rejected.
However, one thing is for certain: had Toyota installed brake-throttle override systems in all of its Toyota and Lexus vehicles as so many other carmakers do, sudden unintended acceleration in its vehicles might not have been so deadly.
Several reports of fatal runaway Toyota car crashes involve the driver screaming that the brakes were not responding, including the infamous incident that killed California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor and his family in a dealer-loaned Lexus. Recordings from inside Mr. Saylor’s vehicle indicate all his efforts to slow the vehicle the brakes failed.
“We learned as part of the comprehensive NASA and NHTSA studies of high-speed unintended acceleration that brake override systems could help drivers avoid crashes,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland in a statement. “This proposal is one way the agency is helping keep drivers safe and continuing to work to reduce the risk of injury from sticky pedals or pedal entrapment issues.”
NHTSA said the proposed rule could be implemented “without significant difficulty or cost.” In most new vehicles, brake-throttle overrides would be part of the vehicle’s software code.