U.S Drops Plans Requiring a Throttle, Brake Override System in Vehicles

U.S Drops Plans Requiring a Throttle, Brake Override System in Vehicles

Author: Eric Walz   

After dozens of fatal accidents a decade ago involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles, including the Lexus ES 350 sedan, which were initially blamed on faulty electronics leading to "unintended acceleration", the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed regulations that would have required that all motor vehicles have a brake pedal that can override the accelerator pedal in emergency situations.

Emergency brake throttle override systems are designed to disable a vehicle's throttle control if the driver presses both the brake and the accelerator at the same time.The proposal was aimed at ensuring the driver could stop a vehicle by applying the brakes if a "drive-by-wire" throttle pedal was stuck by a floor mat, driver's shoe or other obstruction.

On Monday, the NHTSA said that since automakers have voluntarily installed these systems on all new vehicles and the agency does not anticipate that any automakers will remove the system, the NHTSA is dropping plans mandating it in all vehicle sold in the U.S.

In addition, by dropping the proposed rule, NHTSA will not set braking distance requirements for the systems and other performance requirements.

Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing General Motors, Toyota, Volkswagen AG and others, said the rule was no longer necessary.

"When the technology is in widespread use now, there is no need to continue a rulemaking," she said.

A Broader Understanding of Safe Design is Needed

The NHTSA had also proposed extending its rules to require vehicles to return to idle when a driver stops pressing on the accelerator pedal or in response to a "failsafe operation" to include electronic throttle control systems.

The NHTSA said a "broader understanding of safe design of vehicle electronic control systems is needed to make an informed decision on regulating return-to-idle." The agency said there were "substantial challenges" in designing objective tests for the operation of brake throttle override systems.

The NHTSA cited a August 2009 crash linked to sudden acceleration that killed four people in Southern California as a reason these throttle override systems are needed.

At the time, the sudden acceleration was thought to be caused by faulty vehicle electronics, which resulted in a full throttle condition, although Toyota stood behind the integrity of its throttle-by-wire system.

The accident occured when California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor was driving a loaner Lexus ES350 that had the wrong floor mat installed. A backseat passenger in Saylor's Lexus made a frantic 911 from the back seat to report that the car's accelerator was stuck, and the vehicle was racing down the freeway at speeds up to 120 mph.

Moments later, the car careened through an intersection, striking another vehicle before traveling down an embankment into the bed of the San Diego River and burst into flames.

The crash killed Saylor and his wife, Cleofe, both 45; their 13-year-old daughter, Mahala and Saylor's brother-in-law Chris Lastrella, who made the 911.

The Lexus was equipped with a push button ignition instead of a key, which required a driver to hold the button for three seconds to turn off the car. Something that the driver might not have been aware of since it was a loaner vehicle.

Sudden Acceleration Led to Toyota Recalling Millions of Vehicles

Toyota eventually recalled more than five million vehicles worldwide because of unintended acceleration issues in 2009 and 2010. NHTSA stated that the recall was due to the risk that unsecured floor mats could move forward and get stuck in the accelerator pedal, causing sudden acceleration.

In 2007, Toyota conducted a safety recall on all-weather floor mats for late-model Camry and ES 350 models, due to the potential that the accessories could interfere with the cars' accelerator pedals if improperly used.

After several intensive government reviews, including a thorough investigation by Toyota, no evidence was found that electric glitches were to blame for sudden, unintended acceleration. Instead, it was concluded that movement of the floor mats, which caused the accelerator pedal to become stuck in the down position was to blame.

In Feb 2011, the NHTSA released its findings into the investigation on the Toyota drive-by-wire throttle system with NHTSA scientists finding no electronic defects in any Toyota or Lexus vehicles.

The report ended stating, "Our conclusion is Toyota's problems were mechanical, not electrical." This included sticking accelerator pedals, and pedals caught under floor mats.

In 2014, Toyota paid a $1.2 billion fine to the Justice Department after it admitted it misled U.S. consumers by concealing and making deceptive statements about the extent of sudden acceleration problems.

Eric Walz
Eric Walz
Originally hailing from New Jersey, Eric is a automotive & technology reporter covering the high-tech industry here in Silicon Valley. He has over 15 years of automotive experience and a bachelors degree in computer science. These skills, combined with technical writing and news reporting, allows him to fully understand and identify new and innovative technologies in the auto industry and beyond. He has worked at Uber on self-driving cars and as a technical writer, helping people to understand and work with technology.
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