Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Litigious Americans Eyeball Toyota Loot

You know, there is only one endemic flaw to modern automotive brakes: you have to push the brake pedal down for them to work. But I digress.

Have you noticed that the reports of out-of-control Toyotas have mostly stopped? Perhaps the main reason is that the highest profile cases are all well-known now as simply pure unmitigated lies. The public has now become inured to the fact that most of these "Sudden Unintended Acceleration" stories are blown fabrications bloviated into existence by the lamestream media, rich lawyers, greedy would-be plaintiffs, "victims" who want to be absolved of their responsibility for pushing on the wrong pedal, and government bureaucrats aiming to increase their regulatory penetration of the automotive industry and to make the waters more hospitable for Government Motors (GM).

Cases in point:

- Lawsuit-lotto hopeful James Sikes of California, who went on the televised 25-mile joy ride

- Gloria Rosel, the house keeper who drove the Prius into a wall in New York

- Myrna Marseille swore she was standing on the brake pedal of her 2009 Toyota Camry when it crashed into the Sheboygan Falls YMCA on March 29

All of the above were found to be 'driver error' (although Sikes' was in reality just a hoax).

Since then, reports have tailed off and almost stopped. Was it magic that stopped the daily out-of-control Toyotas, or was it the fact that government police have -- mostly -- finally admitted the real cause (driver error) of these crashes? Did it have anything to do with the corrollary that, as a result, potential 'victims' hoping to get off scot free with a chance at a lawsuit lotto win began to understand the party was over? My guess is it wasn't magic.

Hmmmm... it is annoying to see it took government cops almost a year longer than it took skeptics to figure out the truth.

A stuck pedal does not drive you into the wall while the "victim" was 'pushing the brake pedal to the floor'. Neither does a stuck floor mat. A foot stuck on the long skinny pedal does though.

I have owned many powerful and fast cars in my lifetime, but not a single one of them can accelerate when the brakes are firmly applied. Owners of older muscle cars can attest to this: pressing on the brakes to lock up the front wheels while flooring the accelerator is a 'powerbrake'. It's how we hot rodders raise clouds of rubber-and-asphalt smoke when showing off (doing "burnouts").

The brakes on a Prius are *better* than those on those old muscle cars, and their little motors are lucky to put out about a third of the power.

Brakes against the motor? Don't make me laugh. The brakes will win every time.

And yes, it works when the cars is already at speed, also. If your accelerator really is stuck, you are in danger only until you realize it is -- a realization that should set in within three or so seconds with a *good* driver. It is a truly rare event that a stuck pedal -- like a really stuck pedal, not someone mashing the wrong pedal -- causes a crash that otherwise would not have happened. These crashes usually happen within 3 seconds of the pedal getting stuck, before a driver recognizes the problem.

The brakes will haul down that same muscle car from 80 with the gas pedal floored with little trouble.

Sudden Unintended Acceleration is a hoax now as much as it was with the Audi twenty years ago. The government agencies that are "investigating" these accidents aren't helping anyone and in fact are impeding the market's ability to "cure" itself. Abolish the NHTSA, abolish all the other federal regulatory bodies that meddle in the automotive business, move liability torts into private arbitration and mediation services, and let the market work as it should.

Sudden, Unintended Acceleration: Remember, if you heard it from the lamestream media, it's probably false.

2011-02-18 UPDATE: Another good article I discovered recently on this topic is the one by John Cook over at Gawker.com.

2013-12-06 UPDATE:  As of December 6, 2013, Toyota has settled a lawsuit with one of the hundreds of plaintiffs that filed suits in response to the scam that began in 2009; and it is looking to settle several hundred more very soon.  So people are getting rich from this media-driven scam.

Here are a few articles that support the idea that "sudden unintended acceleration" is a scam and a hoax.

The Problem is the Driver, not the Pedal:

Outside the world of trial lawyers, Democratic congressmen, and their ilk, anyone who's looked at the problem knows that the vast majority of cases of sudden unintended acceleration are the fault of the driver applying the gas pedal when s/he thinks s/he's pressing the brakes. Efforts to prove otherwise have proven to be frauds or failures. Remember the rigged 60 Minutes hatchet job on Audi back in 1989? There was no sudden unintended acceleration problem. But there was pure unadulterated journalistic fraud for which 60 Minutes brought in a trial lawyer's expert witness to provide technical assistance. "The NHTSA's official view, detailed in a 454-page 1989 report, is that the vast majority of sudden acceleration incidents in which no vehicle malfunction is present are caused by drivers mistaking the gas pedal for the brake." (WSJ)

The news media, the trial lawyers, and the [sic] Congressional allies peddle the electronic gremlin story by focusing on Toyota. But there are reports of sudden unintended acceleration about virtually every model of virtually every manufacturer. What do all those cars have in common? Drivers.
Indeed.  In addition, one of Professor Stephen Bainbridge's commenters, "Bosco", on the above article touched on one of my pet peeves: the disappearance of manual transmissions and clutches:

With a manual transmission and a clutch pedal, there is an instant solution to "runaway acceleration", just depress the clutch pedal and instantly disengage the drivetrain.
And Bob Dobalena boiled the solution down to its essence 

If you are pressing down as hard as you can on the brake and your car continues to accelerate out of control, then take you foot off the brake and put it on the pedal immediately to the left of the brake. 
In another article, "Unintended Acceleration and Other Embedded Software Bugs", Michael Barr reviewed an NHTSA study of Toyota "black boxes":

After reviewing driver and other witness statements and examining said black box data, NHTSA concluded that 39 of these 52 events were explainable as “pedal misapplications.” That’s a very nice way of saying that whenever the driver reported “stepping on the brake” he or she had pressed the accelerator pedal by mistake. Figure 5 of a supplemental report describing these facts portrays an increasing likelihood of such incidents with driver age vs. the bell curve of Camry ownership by age.
And if you are a car person, you will appreciate the hilarious comments following this Jalopnik article, "The Mechanics of ABC News' Unintended Toyota Acceleration Hoax".


The real problem here is that without even going to court, Toyota has already lost the case.  Even if every case goes to trial and Toyota wins every one, it has already lost.  Winning the cases will still cost Toyota billions of dollars -- billions of dollars that will go to the trial lawyer industry -- both those representing Toyota and those representing the plaintiffs.

These racketeering lawyers -- and yes, some of Toyota's lawyers will be among them -- will then take their fresh billions and wine and dine their lawyer cohorts in state and federal legislatures to get them to write more laws with which they can loot more and more companies.

Eliminate the "lawyer tax" on manufacturing and product/service delivery, and prices on all goods and services would fall by a third or more.