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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Video: Runaway RAV4 plows into library - electronics at issue

Update 6/7/2014 - This article (unusually detailed) underscores the all-too-common circumstances in which crashes suggestive of electronically-induced unintended acceleration take place. Note that the Gilmans' car was an '03 Camry. NASA physicist Henning Leidecker is warning of increased risk of unintended acceleration in '02-'06 Camrys, calling it a game of Russian roulette.

Last Tuesday, a runaway RAV4 smashed into Finkelstein Memorial Library in Spring Valley, New York. Security-cam video caught the entire event. The RAV4 was SLOWLY turning into the parking lot when the vehicle suddenly took off like a rocket. Consistent with the video, the driver says his foot was on the brake pedal when he heard the engine rev up as the RAV4 simultaneously accelerated. This makes at least three cases during the past two months suggesting electronically-induced unintended acceleration in runaway Toyotas. Common denominators include parking lots, turning corners, slow speeds when the events begin, and driver complaints that the brakes failed to stop the vehicles. None of the drivers in these crashes (injuries galore, death of a four-year-old) have been elderly. All of the vehicles crashed into public buildings. A Solara into a daycare, a Lexus into a church, now the RAV4 into a library. 

Okay. If ol' Sammy is gonna let acknowledged crooks like Toyota ignore compelling evidence of electronic defects in throttle controls, ya gotta put barriers up. 'Specially twixt public buildings and parking lots. 'Cause parking lots are where so many unintended accelerations occur.

Who needs expensive, proper designs for electronic throttle controls when ya can have storefront barriers?

Believe it or not, that seems to be the attitude of the rapidly growing storefront-barrier movement, 'cause I've yet to see wunna their websites even so much as mention the issue of electronically-induced unintended acceleration. Not that automotive interests would dupe the public by promoting notions of "driver error," but such websites are poppin' up as fast as runaway Toyotas...

Meanwhile, runaway-vehicle events are happening far more frequently than most folks realize. The exceptionally well-credentialed electrical engineer Dr. Antony Anderson estimates that on a worldwide basis, 10,000 electronically-associated runaways take place each year. How many of these events result in vehicles crashing into public buildings is anyone's guess, but it's an alarming consideration.

One thing's for sure: The barrier people got it wrong for the runaway RAV4. Barriers placed at the library entrance - which happens to be in a direct line to a parking lot entrance that requires motorists to make a 90 degree turn, apply brakes, and travel at slow speed - were spaced so far apart that even a vehicle the size of a RAV4 could zoom between 'em unscathed, leaving the "scathed" part for the library, people inside, furniture, desks, chairs, books...

Not only proper spacing. Ya also gotta make sure those storefront barriers are strong enough to stop an out-of-control vehicle, and some haven't been. Fact is, cars have become giant computers that can even be hacked. So just think how nice it would be - since automakers seem a bit slack in designing electronic throttle controls - if barriers were most everywhere, and folks were confident that runaway vehicles, especially Toyotas, were no match for those ever-present barriers.

No, it wouldn't be a cure-all.

You'd still be on yer own until - and unless - you could get to wherever you needed to go to have safety barriers twixt you and any vehicles - notably Toyotas - in the vicinity, especially if they were lurking around those pesky parking lots where drivers are apt to be maneuvering at extremely slow speeds, foot on the brake, moving shift levers, entering or exiting parking spaces, or turning corners. As video of the runaway RAV4 demonstrates, they don't call it "sudden" unintended acceleration fer nuthin'.   

No informed consumer was surprised by Tuesday's library crash. It displayed classic circumstances in which these events take place, and the security-cam video corroborated everything the driver said. Extremely slow speed, a 90 degree turn into the parking lot, then the engine suddenly revs up as the vehicle takes off like a rocket, barrels out of control, and the brakes fail to stop it. One of the people inside the library thought the place had been bombed, and a 14 year old girl wound up pinned beneath the RAV4, lucky not to have been critically injured or killed.

From the article "Toyota's killer firmware: Bad design and its consequences," let's review once again the findings of embedded systems expert Michael Barr:

* Toyota's electronic throttle control system (ETCS) source code is of unreasonable quality.
* Toyota's source code is defective and contains bugs, including bugs that can cause unintended acceleration (UA)
* Code-quality metrics predict presence of additional bugs.
* Toyota's fail-safes are defective and inadequate (referring to them as a 'house of cards' safety architecture).
* Misbehaviours of Toyota's ETCS are a cause of UA

There's no excuse for this government allowing automakers - especially an acknowledged crook like Toyota - to ignore evidence of defective electronics associated with unintended acceleration. As things now stand, valid safety measures are being exploited as part of a perverse effort to save corporations big bucks. Storefront barriers are no substitute for proper designs in electronic throttle controls.

Update 6/04/2014 - I just now learned of a second runaway Lexus event that happened in April, this one in Ridgewood, New Jersey as the driver was attmepting to park. "Parking" may be the most common denominator of all. While Toyotas are most likely to be involved, other brands are not immune, demonstrated by this deadly, sudden unintended acceleration of a Subaru into a hair salon on 5/30/2014 in Jefferson Township, Pennsylvania.