Friday, February 26, 2010

Toyota and the Stupid Tennessee Woman

I spent the drive to work the other night getting more and more tired of the human race. I was listening to NPR do a story on the Toyota recalls and the hearings and such. They had a woman from Tennessee testify about her "terrifying" ordeal when her car accelerated "out of control". She was in her Lexus...not a cheap vehicle of course, when the accelerator stuck and she sped up to...wait for it... 100 MILES PER HOUR! OK. So some people would think that's pretty fast. And I was thinking, sure... in town, that could be a pain. But she was not in town. She was on the open road. So she testifies that she "put both my feet on the brake pedal and pulled on the emergency brake and it still didn't stop. So I called on the bluetooth device... I called my husband (here she gets all teary and quiver voiced) not that he could help me, but so I could hear his voice... one (sob) last (sob sob) time. (waaah cry cry sob sob)"

And it occured to me in a flash. This woman was an idiot. The first thing she thought to do when she accelerated was hit the brake. Good. But when that didn't work, she A)stood on the brake harder (Like screaming at someone who doesn't speak your language) B) pulled the emergency brake (excellent for stopped vehicles or doing doughnuts) C) made a phone call (she had time to dial? Who the heck was driving at that time?)

For those of you who don't see the stupidity of this line of procedures, here's what she (or anybody) should have done.

A) DON'T PANIC! Panic leads to stupid decision making. This is where the woman from Tennessee failed. My guess is that a broken nail also leads to panic for her.

B) PUT THE CAR INTO NEUTRAL! Without power going to the drive train, the engine would start racing, but the car would slow down.

C) TURN THE ENGINE OFF WITH THE KEY! Without power to the going to the engine, it too would stop racing and not overheat or get damaged. Oh and before you get all defensive and gripe about keyless ignition...hod the button down for three or four seconds, that shuts off the engine too.

D)PULL OFF THE ROAD! The car will be slowing down without power, and the brakes will miraculously begin to work again bringing the vehicle to a gentle stop.

Instead she had the time to call her husband for an overly dramatic and completely useless teary goodbye. Blaming Toyota for not understanding how to operate a vehicle in an emergency is a bit silly. Are there parts on their vehicles that fail? Yep. And they are fixing those problems. But anything that is built by human hands (and that's pretty much everything built) has the potential to fail.

I cannot even guess at how much time I spent as a pilot in training going over emergency procedures for a wide array of potential problems in a single engine airplane, but it was a great many hours. Stall training, engine failure training, spin training, bad weather training, icy runway training, loss of one or many instruments training. It is called proficiency. People driving cars get by with a LOT less training than they should have in my opinion.

If your first thought in an automobile crisis is "I have to call my loved one to say goodbye!" then you should not be in the driver seat. And this idiot woman from Tennessee is not only giving the residents of that state a bad name, but her gender and her species as well. She is proof positive that Darwinism is alive and well.

Bottom line should be, if you cannot handle an emergency in your vehicle, then for the love of all that is holy DON'T DRIVE IT!

More Later


ssouth said...

It's easy to say what she should have done in hindsight. She did try putting the car into reverse and I imagine she tried other things as well. I don't think you can assume she "dialed" the phone. It's likely her bluetooth responded to voice commands. I know I'd want to hear Jason's voice and advice in a situation like that. Toyota is the obvious bad guy here. The company is not addressing the electrical problem at root and are trying to put it off as a floor mat issue. People have lost their lives. I don't think it's fair to call this woman an idiot for reacting normally. I'm impressed she managed not to hit anything for 6 miles of being at the wheel of an out of control vehicle.
But thanks for your tips. I'll try to remember them if I ever find myself in a similar situation. I'm all for more increased driver's ed.

John said...

It's easy to let people off the hook by saying hindsight is 20/20. But the simple fact is that she did have six miles to try something else, and putting the car in neutral didn't occur to her. I don't think we can assume she "tried putting her car into reverse" either. That would have most definately killed the engine or made the vehicle that much harder to control. Yes people have lost their lives, yes others have been scared, but I don't think calling Toyota the "bad guy" is accurate though. 60 incidents out of 4 million cars is a pretty small percentage when it comes to recalls. The media and the public are just as much to blame. The first for scaring people and sensationalizing the story, and the second for not knowing enough about their own vehicles to do the right thing in an emergency. I've seen first hand the results of people talking on the phone - even bluetooth, voice activated phones - who weren't paying attention to their driving under normal situations. The woman panicked. If that's her normal response in an emergency, then she has no business being in the driver seat of such a deadly weapon. To do otherwise makes her an idiot, or at the very least irresponsible.

Mary Quite Contrary (Steph) said...

That woman had a matter of seconds to deal with an unexpected, life-threatening situation. Toyota had years to do something to prevent it.

If she is an idiot because she panicked when she suddenly found her life flashing befor her eyes, then what does that make the decision-makers of Toyota, who had years in a non-emergent situation to rectify these problems before they became big news that could bring their entire empire to the brink of financial ruin?

Toyota is the bad guy, because customers have been reporting the litany of problems that are now getting media attention for around 9 years and were given the brush off.

Also, when you pay the amount of money it costs to purchase a Lexus, it is reasonable to expect that, other than ordinary wear & tear, the vehicle will operate within certain parameters.

As a person who regularly drives the Iowa speed limit of 55, I find it uncomfortable even to purposely accelerate to 70 on the interstate. I'm sure I would likely panic if my car suddenly decided it wanted to go 100mph all by itself. I don't believe that makes me an idiot or irresponsible.

Toyota chose to prioritize their bottom line over the safety of their customers. Being vilified in the press is a small price compared to what was paid by those who put their trust in what they had every right to expect was a reliable, safe vehicle.

I'm sure the leaders of Toyota are not even close to being the only transgressors, and it's possible there are even worse decisions being made by their competitors. Let's hope this is a wake up call for everyone who puts profit over people.

What goes around WILL come around.

(I second Jenny's thanks for your tips. I hope nobody I know ever has to use them!)

John said...

Well Mary, I still disagree. Toyota does share some of the blame. But any vehivle built has the potential to fail. If the woman was able to go, as Jenny said, 6 miles at over 100 MPH (let's say it was 120 for easy math) that still gives her 3 minutes to do something. It takes about a second, maybe two, for a person to realize "oh crap, this car is speeding up!" Another second to try the brakes. No luck and we're down three or four seconds. That would accelerate you to near 90 MPH. It takes another second to shift into neutral. then the car starts slowing down. Even in the fancy Lexus with the electronic starter, it's three more seconds of pushing the starter button to shut off the engine. Entire problem avoided in 10 - 15 seconds. She had three minutes and chose to make a phone call during that time. Talking on the phone, even hands free, is one of the biggest causes of accidents at normal speeds. Doing it while zipping along at over 100 while inpanic mode? She's very lucky she didn't kill herself or anyone else.

Toyota had years to dal with it, true. But they were looking at statistics and probables. They've had a few dozen failures out of millions of cars. Not exactly damning evidence. And they've had not so good luck finding the real source of the problem, needing mainly to rely on "victims" with unreliable memories of the events.

She had plenty of time to fix the problem if she had known what to do and had not panicked.

It's not hindsight that makes me write this. It's forethought. Every time you drive a car, you should be aware of not only your situation, but what to do if things go bad.

During my near miss of the pickup that slid into my lane, I did not panic. Had I done so, I might have tried to hit the brakes first, which would have sent me spinning into the truck. Or frozen all together, whereby I would have just slammed into the truck. Instead, I quite calmly and gently swerved onto the shoulder and it missed me. Was I lucky? Heck yes. Very much so. But I also kept my head on and did what needed to be done.

Tennesee woman did not. She panicked. I saw images of my wife and kids and parents and siblings and even some friends during that close call. But I never once thought, hmm... I think I'll make a phone call!

There are dozens of cases where vehicles (it seems mostly Lexus') go accelerating out of control. Most end up fine, as this woman's did. Some end tragically. At least one guy, who remembered hearing advice to put the car in neutral, was able to drive his Lexus all the way back to the dealer using the shifter to control the power!

What I'm saying here mainly is, I'm tired of people overdramatizing an event that they had lots of control over. This woman will probably get a nice large settlement from her "ordeal". Meanwhile Toyota gets raked across the coals for being a business.

Strange that I didn't hear any airplane recalls or lawsuits against Airbus when that flight went down in the Hudson river. And disaster was averted why? Because the pilots knew what to do even in the event that happened that was so very unlikely. They did not panic, and they sure as heck didn't try to call their wives. They did what they needed to do, they knew their vehicle, and they had a lot of luck doing it.

Maybe if people who drove cars would pay more attention to safety and less to what fancy car they get to drive, there would be fewer accidents. Except people, when it comes to driving, can be idiots.