Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

The Toyota Pedal Error

In 2009, a California highway patrol officer was driving his daughter to soccer practice inside a loaned Lexus ES. As the officer got onto the highway, the Lexus malfunctioned.

The accelerator was stuck and the brakes didn’t work.

With no way to slow down, the Lexus flew into a busy intersection, struck a car and bounced off the road into a ravine.

All occupants were killed.

The story blew up across all news outlets.

Suddenly hundreds of people were sharing similar experiences with the Lexus ES accelerator.

Toyota, the parent company that owns Lexus, recalled millions of its malfunctioning vehicles, and paid billions of dollars in government fines and lawsuit settlements.

A fair price for selling a defective car and putting profits ahead of people.

But was the Lexus ES accelerator really impaired, or was something else going on?

Let’s return to the car that dove into a ravine.

A few days after the crash, a man went to the police and said he knew what happened. He had loaned the same Lexus a few days before the incident and also ran into trouble with the accelerator.

Instead of a technical issue, however, he understood that a thick, loose floor mat was the culprit. Once he pushed the pedal to the metal, the floormat reached up and grabbed onto the pedal, keeping it from moving back up.

Many were quick to agree and blamed Toyota for its shoddy craftsmanship.

The specialists disagreed.

Why would a man driving his daughter to soccer practice fully step on the gas?

Plus, not all the Lexus ESs have thick floor mats.

So is it a bug in the car software? That’s what a lawyer against Toyota argued—an error in the coding makes it impossible to brake while fully opening the throttle.

Turns out, no.

Several experiments show that brakes beat engines.

Even if we accept Toyota’s cars are mysteriously accelerating, its solution is simple: step on the brake.

Despite its simplicity, hitting the brakes in a panic isn’t easy.

And gets even more difficult when you’re older, shorter, or driving a rented and unfamiliar car.

The glitch isn’t in the car, but inside the driver.

Although any motorist logically knows which pedal is the accelerator and which is the brake, a panic scrambles our thinking. And increases the odds of putting our foot onto the wrong pedal.

So instead of slowing down, we may unintentionally hit the gas and go faster.

Shocked by the unexpected acceleration, we press even harder on what we think is the brake, but is actually the gas.

The result?

We believe the throttle is stuck and the brakes don’t work.

The black box that comes with every modern car confirms this human error: before the officer’s Lexus ran into the intersection, the brakes weren’t even touched.

The Lexus ES was fine. As sad as it sounds, it was the drivers who screwed up.

So what do you do if your car unintendedly speeds up?

You firmly press the brake. Let go of the pedal. And firmly press the brake again to confirm if you’re pressing the right pedal.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach