It was reported recently that Toyota has quietly made a change in most of its models that could save lives if a car’s accelerator sticks open. Significantly, this doesn’t involve the actual model at the center of the litigation comprised of Toyota’s unintended acceleration lawsuits. We wrote about the $1.1 billion settlement elsewhere in this issue. Toyota has modified the start-stop buttons in most of its models so they will shut off the engine after three quick pushes, or after being continuously pushed for two seconds. Those are two big changes from the old policy that required a continuous three-second push to shut down the power.
The start-stop button was cited as a factor in the crash that killed an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three family members outside San Diego more than three years ago. The investigation found that in a panic situation, a button required a much longer push than intuitively would be expected to turn off the engine. But, as most of our readers will likely recall, Toyota officials defended the older version at the time, saying it was important to make sure that drivers or their passengers didn’t turn off the car inadvertently by brushing against it.
A few remaining Toyota or Lexus models – at press time Toyota hadn’t specified which – are yet to get the change to a two-second push. The change to the two-second push started a year ago, according to Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons who relayed this information to USA Today. All Toyota and Lexus vehicles, starting in August 2010 will now have buttons that will shut off the engine after three quick pushes. This is a major improvement for a driver in a panic situation. Lyons told USA Today that the changes made to vehicles with the start-stop buttons resulted in part from recommendations from a committee of the SAE, once called the Society of Automotive Engineers. It’s important to note that only cars with the buttons will be affected by the change. Those models have the “electronic key” ignitions instead of the traditional kind in which you insert a metal key and twist to start the engine.
In their efforts to reach a preliminary settlement of its unintended-acceleration lawsuits, Toyota has said it would pay to have a “brake override” feature added to its pedals of many of its non-hybrid models. If a driver pushes the brake and accelerator in quick succession, as if in a panic, the engine speed will be cut to idle. All of Toyota’s hybrids already have this feature. It’s also now standard on all Toyota and Lexus models, regardless of whether they are hybrids or not. I have to wonder why it took Toyota so long to make the needed changes, considering what it had to know about the hazards and dangers caused by sudden acceleration of its cars.
Source: USA Today
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