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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

09 March 2010

Unintended Consequences and Accelerations

The horrible spectre of the OUT OF CONTROL CAR! (music: dah-dah-dah-daahhhhhh) continues. Now some other moron, this time in a Toyota Prius is claiming that his car began accelerating uncontrollably and there was nothing he could do about it except call the cops. Accelerating "uncontrollably."

A Prius.

I know. I can't believe it either.

Dear Lord! What kind of idiot drivers are we allowing on our public roads?? Idiots like, evidently, 61 year-old James Sikes of...you'll never guess...California.

Here's the Associated Press
STORY as it appeared on Yahoo News this morning:


Mr Sikes says he was on Interstate 8 and went to pass another car when his accelerator jumped to the floor and stuck there. He says the brakes were useless. So he did a perfectly normal thing: He got on his cell phone, called 911 and got the California Highway Patrol involved. You see, ALL drivers know how to use a cell phone, even if they don't know how to operate the car they happen to be driving at the time.

A police cruiser soon pulled up next to him. After all, the Toyota Prius is not exactly a high-speed, high-performance car, and it probably wasn't all that hard to catch. The trooper offered instructions through his loudspeaker. He suggested some highly unusual techniques such as pushing the brake pedal to the floor and holding it there and applying the handbrake.

Now here's an interesting tidbit from that story:

"After the car decelerated to about 50 mph, Sikes turned off the engine and coasted to a halt."

Well, damn!

Ooooooookkaaaaaayyyyy, WHY didn't Sikes just do that at the first sign that his car was doing something he didn't intend? Are people really that stupid?

"Gee, my car is accelerating and I can't stop it. Should I shift to neutral? Shut the engine off? Naaaahhhh. I think I'll call 911 instead! Hopefully, they'll send a police car out to help me before I crash and kill myself...and maybe other people. No hurry!"

I am appalled at the lousy drivers on the road today. Our licensing standards are a joke. I am terrified that drivers like Sikes might be behind me when I'm out there driving around.

As a public service, I'm going to now give you some basic instructions on what to do if your car begins to accelerate uncontrollably. This advice applies no matter what kind of car you drive:

1. First try to dislodge the gas pedal with your foot. If that doesn't work;
2. Stomp on the brake pedal as hard as you can AND HOLD IT THERE! Do not let up;
3. Apply the hand/parking brake;
4. Shift to neutral;
5. If Steps 1 through 4 do not work, SHUT THE ENGINE OFF.
6. Do not whip your cell phone out to call the police or your mom or Mr. Toyoda until AFTER the car comes to a stop.

No matter what you might think...no matter what the media might lead you to believe, the brakes of your vehicle are far more powerful than the engine. The brakes never "stop working" (unless they are defective, in which case you should not have driven the car). Push the brake pedal down and hold it there. Don't worry about the smell of burning brakes- that's normal. If you let up (even slightly), the car will simply accelerate again and the brakes will have to work all that much harder the next time. Just push the pedal as hard as you can AND HOLD IT. Then shift the transmission to Neutral.

Is this too much to ask?

Oh, don't believe me? Read
THIS article in CAR AND DRIVER Magazine.


Jack said...

I was cruising west on I-80 heading towards Sacramento, CA this morning in my 07 Prius. I normally run about 80 MPH in this car. When I heard the article on-air on National Pinko Radio (NPR), I accelerated to 90 MPH.

While my right foot was flat on the floor, accelerating hard, I used my left foot on the brake. It took about 2 seconds to get the car to slow down to 50 MPH.

I tried it again from 100 MPH with the same result.

In fact, the brakes are so much stronger than the engine that I could lock the tires and engage the ABS during a full-throttle acceleration.

This guy just wanted to get rid of his car!

Anonymous said...

Now we find out he was in financial trouble, maybe late on his prius payments. Is he looking to get some money?? Kinda makes one wonder.

Anonymous said...

I would disagree with your armchair advice about what to do. My armchair advice would be to put the car in neutral and coast to a stop on the side of the road. Much simpler.
No screwing around with "unsticking" the pedal, jamming on the brakes or any other drama.

Bob Barbanes said...

Well of course, that's the simplest thing, right? Put it in Neutral!

In airplanes, we're taught that the FIRST response in a rejected takeoff is to firmly apply ALL of the brakes. Merely pulling the power off does little to slow you down; for that you need BRAKES. *First* brakes, *then* power-off. There's only so much runway up ahead, and you want to stop the plane before you run out of it.

In a car, it would depend on the situation, and there are so many variables to say which procedure is absolutely correct all of the time. If the gas pedal gets jammed fully open at low speed in a low gear, the car might be accelerating very rapidly. In that case you do whatever you have to do stop the car. If there's time and space, I'd try unsticking the pedal, sure. If not, I'd absolutely stomp on the brakes first for the aforementioned reason. While my foot is firmly on the brake my hand would be moving the shift lever to Neutral. Doesn't seem so hard here in my living room- might be something else on a crowded freeway or busy boulevard in a...umm, "heightened" (not to say panicked) mental state.

Your mileage (and technique) may vary.

Point being, STOP THE DAMN CAR, don't let it drive you helplessly off a cliff. And don't sit there thinking that there's nothing you can do except call for help on your cell phone.