Report: Many of Toyota’s Acceleration Problems Due to Driver Error

By Andrew Moseman | July 14, 2010 1:44 pm

ToyotaThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s full report on Toyotas and their “sudden unintended acceleration” problem has yet to see the light of day, but the first wave of information from it suggests that driver error—not some mysterious mechanical problem in the electronic throttle control—could be to blame in many, if not most, of the reported accidents.

NHTSA has been studying data recorders from wrecked Toyotas—dozens of them—in their investigation, which will go on for months to come. Those data recorders show that the cars had their throttles open and brakes disengaged at the times of the crashes.

The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes [Wall Street Journal].

A tip of the hat to our friends at Popular Mechanics who called this months ago, saying it made no sense to blame some “ghost in the machine” and pointing out incidents in the past—like the investigation of Audi in the 1980s—where claims of sudden unintended acceleration turned out to be a bust.

But the news isn’t all good for Toyota. The company still must deal with the problems of sticky accelerators and sliding floor mats that can trap accelerators on the floor.

Those equipment and mechanical problems were behind the worldwide recall of more than 8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in October 2009 and January 2010 for unintended acceleration. Toyota faces a potential civil liability estimated at more than $10 billion from lawsuits sparked by complaints of runaway cars and trucks [Reuters].

However, a traffic fatality from last August, in which the gas pedal got stuck in the floor mat, is the only one so far that the NHTSA has tied to a mechanical problem.

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Image: flickr / danielctw

  • VIP

    Almost all Americans have been driving cars since their mid teens and are generally experienced drivers. In find it extremely hard to believe that they regularly confuse a brake and a gas pedal and all of that only when in a Toyota. Who has been quietly talked to with an envelope of cash?


    Almost all Americans were able to drive their Toyota cars without incident as well – only a small minority had “unexplained acceleration” accidents. Almost all Americans unlock and lock their cars every day, but each day a small minority lock their keys in their cars. A small minority of people die every year from texting or reading while driving. A small minority of people put diesel in their cars instead of gasoline each year, even though they pump gas every week or so. Sometimes people who drive everyday accidentally put their cars into drive when then mean to reverse, and hit something (like another car, or their garage door). Sometimes people who have been driving all their lives smash the accelerator instead of the break and plow through a crowded crosswalk full of pedestrians. Is it impossible to believe that Americans sometimes do stupid things? Seriously? Better to invent a conspiracy, I suppose?

  • Kathleen

    Americans are incredibly stupid, no doubt. But VIP has a point: why all of a sudden and why only Toyotas? If this is a common yet rare mistake, why all the press? Either…there really was something faulty with the cars or the press suddenly decided to report on this one type of driving mistake, which is also entirely possible. If so…why did they decide to report on this and only on Toyotas? That would indicate some sort of ulterior motive either way.

  • Rhacodactylus

    I haven’t seen the report, and I’m not a mechanic so I won’t venture a guess as to whether or not there actually is a “ghost” in the machine when it comes to Toyota Cars. That being said, eyewitness testimony after a crash (especially from the drivers) is inherently flimsy. If one or two people said that their cars “sped out of control,” after accidentally having pushed the accelerator instead of the break (an easy thing to do during the panic of a traffic accident) then the story got picked up in the news cycle, and repeated as it undoubtedly would, it would be prime landscape to create a nationwide case of confirmation bias. The meme would spread, and suddenly any accident in which the driver “remembered” pushing the break but the car sped up because they were accidentally mashing the accelerator would be counted as a case of the “ghost in the machine.” Whether or not there actually is a problem with these cars, this case is entirely consistent with either a problem with Toyotas, or a meme working it’s way through our culture. There is no need to invoke bribery or a conspiracy, humans are simply programmed to see patterns, even if there aren’t any. Oh, and VIP, you may want to Google: “Argument from incredulity.”

  • A Casey

    Mass hysteria is real. That with a combination of the rare legitimate claims, the stupid, and intentional-with-litigiou$-ambitions, I can EASILY see the the number of claimed reports.

  • Ryan


    I think once the original story broke there was a bit of a herd mentality. Toyota cars wreck every day due to driver error. In some of those wrecks a stuck accelerator could explain it (whether mechanical or human error).

    People usually have trouble remembering (accurately) details or facts when they go through something as intense and fast as a car wreck. It seems perfectly natural that in this climate a large amount of human error could be attributed to mechanical failure.

  • mdthoma3

    I would ask this question:

    When was the surge of “stuck accelerators” seen? Was this surge seen after the news was floating stories of mechanical problems? Take a look at when the majority of the problems were and the news stories occuring around that time. I would love to see the results of that inquiry.

    Cause I believe in the power of suggestion and can fully believe that a bunch of people duped themselves into believing so much that they didn’t realize that they were really hitting the accelerator instead of the brake.

    And what about just turning the key off? Wouldn’t that have done something to stop the runaway cars?

  • kc

    People really make me laugh. We are in a day in age when people keep wanting the governmenet to make laws to make the decisions for us. We want everyone else to be to blame for our problems and mistakes because it is the status quo to not take responsiblity for our actions. Our schools teach our children to memorize more than learn, and not how to problem solve or think for themselves. And any reason to sue somebody the courts will allow for the most part (wanting to sue fast food chains for making people fat, spilling hot coffe on ourselves, thinking cruise control in an RV means you can leave the wheel to go to the back to make coffee, suing a company because getting a deal at christmas time means it’s ok to stamped over a person and kill them, but it’s the companies fault for having the sale and not the selfish persons who stampeded over the person). And for the most part those suits win because the juries see a company with money and want to punish them for being profitable. I would be willing to gaurantee most of these people were seeing the potential of $$. This company has taken responsibility for their actions, you do not see or hear about other safety recalls taking place or issues there need to be recalls on on Ford and GM products. And a few issues with their products have come up since the Toyota issues. I’ve hit the accelorator unintentionally myself before. It happens. But I am sure some of these were accidents and some of these were just people looking for money.

  • James Winsor

    I’m from Red Wing, Minnesota (pop. 10,000). In 1948 a man driving in downtown Red Wing, applied his brakes to stop at a stop sign. To his surprise, he was unable to stop and bumped the car ahead of him. He notice that a Coca-Cola bottle rolled out from under his break pedal, thus preventing full movement of the break pedal.

    I know there are some cars that are full of junk, including beverage bottles rolling around on the floor.

    How many acceleration problems are cause by a beverage bottle stuck under the break pedal and at the same time pinch down the accelerator pedal?

  • Jeff Faulkner

    My 2009 Tacoma accelerated on me last night and scared the crap out of me. I was not trying to brake. I was entering the highway on an entrance ramp and was accelerating purposefully. When I reached a comfortable speed I let up on the gas and the truck did not slow down, but kept accelerating. I pressed the brake and it kept going. I put in neutral and the brakes worked, but the engine kept revving. I was able to stop on the shoulder of the highway and when I put it in park the engine kept revving. I didn’t have my foot on the gas or the brake. This is clearly not a driver error situation, nor is it a floor mat problem nor is it that the gas pedal is too big. This is clearly a computer malfunction. I had my two daughters in the truck with me and was about to be in the middle of a very busy 7 lane highway. Thank God it happened when it did, before I entered the highway. Thank God I was able to get it stopped. If I were looking for money, I would have had to have an accident first, which could have killed my girls, me, or someone else. You people who think this is a conspiracy by some Toyota drivers make me sick to my stomach.

  • Sheri


    Very sorry to hear about your experience. That was the first question asked of me (driving a Toyota), “what would you do?” My immediate response was to put it in neutral. Sounds good, but in the wake of shock would I actually remember to try this? Its nice to hear your rapid response worked. Doesn’t fix the revving issue but kept your family and many others safe from potential impact.

    If people want to talk conspiracy then how about terrorism in our manufacturing plants? Sky’s the limit for creative inquiry.

  • Hector

    I have a 2009 Rav4 and I never had problems with acceleration while driving but a couple times the engine raced while I had my foot on the brake. I was on a 2 way street waiting to make a left turn with the car on drive and my foot on the brake. All of the sudden the engine raced and I felt the car trying to advance, so quickly I put more pressure on the brake and at the same time I shifted to neutral and the engine went back to normal idle speed. Last saturday I felt the same as I was coming out of the parking area at a shopping center. I am turning left onto the street and some people where crossing so I put my foot on the brake and stop. Within 2 seconds the engine raced but not as high as the previous time. I did the same and again the engine slowed to normal speed. Yesterday I took the car to the dealer for service and I told them about the problem and right away the lady is asking me if I wasn’t pressing on both pedals at the same time. I told her that my foot was only on the brake, and that the car stopped normaly and a few second later without me moving my foot at all, this happens. If I was pressing on both pedals, I would feel the problem as soon as I press on the pedals. Today I went to pick up the car and I was told they checked the computer but did not find anything. I was told to keep an eye on it and come back if I have any problem. I was thinking to myself “Sure, I’ll have the funeral home drive my casket by the dealership and I would let you know what happened”. Sometimes you have to take things with humor but I really don’t feel confortable driving a car that can do weird things like this. I wish I could return it and get some other brand.

  • cyberaim

    I don’t buy it. For many really good reasons. Ever try to stop a car that is accerlating that high? You don’t have your foot on the gas, you try to use the brake (and you know you are) and it is like the brake isn’t working. Two feet and very aware.

    This is terrible. I do not run around making conspiracy theories. I do not believe it. Sorry – I do not think they are working in the people’s best interest here.

  • Ciro Verdi

    Of all 14 Posts here, except for about 3 or 4 have justifiable complaints, but the rest was unbelievable gibberish. The Toyota sudden acceleration problem is, I suggest, from a flawed design problem that would have devastating manufacturing, and costs to fix. Thus the cover-up. What’s appalling is the U.S. and American dealers are colluding with Toyota to minimize the impact at the risk of its drivers.
    Toyota’s design mechanism for controlling fuel distribution, is not mechanical at all – it’s controlled electronically which is not only vulnerable to heat, but vibration as well. The omission of a direct mechanical link to fuel distribution control, is not only a badly flawed design strategy, but places the driver in a needlessly perilous situation.
    In addition, it has been reported that programming logic or code employed may be flawed – programming codes which are not received, or erroneously executed by default. It is an issue electro-mechanical designers, with a computer programming background, understand.
    3000 sudden acceleration complaints, cannot be swept away, nor The Transportation Department and NASA’s inability to find what is wrong. There is something wrong with that picture. Do we have another Federal body, as in the Deep Horizon oil spoil, looking the other way???? Ciro V

  • Stuart Knoles

    Yep, needing to cover-up for extra terrestrial aliens again.

  • Brian

    I seen, first hand, the acceleration problem last week. While standing in my driveway, waiting for the school bus to pick up my children, I witnessed a near tragedy. One of my neighbors started their car in their driveway, I then saw it quickly accelerate backwards, across the street into the yard, did a donut and slammed into the house. The children were about 50 ft. away and thank God nobody got hurt. When the car hit the grass, I could hear the engine “whine”, like it was floored and could see the tires lose their grip as it spun around to hit the house head on. The lady driving was ok, just bruised and scared. She stated that shortly after putting the car in reverse, it just took off. She said she heard about this problem before and thought about shifting to neutral, but it happened so quick she didn’t have a chance to. It was a Toyota Rav 4.

  • mike

    The TOYOTA problem is REAl..The acceleration issues. Knowing one personally that had the problem, then the SIKES guy in March they tore aprt on the web but yet we all know the claim of the acceleration was real you just had to listen to the 911 tape,,,the guy was scared s***less. WHY DO THEY HAVE TO RIDICULE those who have issues…This guy wanted no fame and did not sue Toyota, somebody someplace better start listening!

    [Moderator’s note: edited the cuss word.]

  • lou

    last week i was sitting in my driveway in my 2005 matrix. the car was in drive and my foot was on the brake. the engine started revving, i shifted into neutral and it stopped revving. yesterday i was idling at an intersection and the vehicle stalled.
    i called a toyota dealership today and explained my problems. I gave them my vin # and was told my car was not presently elegible for thier recall. they said i should bring it in for diagnostic testing, if it met thier criteria i would not have to pay for the repair
    is this correct!!! i like the cars but this sounds crazy. i must be wrong.

  • http://kalmbach Steve

    I was inclined to believe that human error would be the cause of the acceleration problem until it happened to me. My incident occurred tonight and was much like what Brian describes. When I placed the gear selector in reverse (with the brakes applied) the engine revved up and began to lurch backwards. I applied more braking to stop the movement and the rpm increased further. After shifting to neutral the rpm increased again until I released the brakes at which time the engine returned to normal. My first thoughts were that my foot was on both the accelerator and the brake at the same time. Looking at the pedals I noticed that the brake pedal in the released position sets further away from the floor than the accelerator. It would be possible that the toe of my shoe may have pivoted to the right when I turned around to back up. This would be human error. After reading some of the blogs on the subject I recalled many times when I would come to a stop light with my brakes applied and my foot not on the accelerator about three seconds later there would be a small lurch forward that would require additional brake force to stop the movement. There is also a slight increase in rpm at this time. This may be normal but in both cases the engine is not in a stable idle condition. I do not believe this problem is related to the computer system but rather a design flaw in the brake sensing circuits and stability control. I am going to try to make it happened again. One more thing to note is that the car was cold and wet from a rain and snow event this morning. Has anyone else noticed any or all of the conditions I have described?

  • Ron

    Were you able to repeat the behavior? Do you have ABS brakes?


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