Last Updated Jan 29, 2010 10:54 AM EST
This is what it feels like to experience an incident of sudden acceleration, the devastating condition that, according to Safety Research and Strategies, has resulted in 2,000 complaints, 16 fatalities and 243 injuries in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. The car in question is a 2006 Toyota Corolla S with 52,760 miles on it:
"Just two days ago, I was driving on a city street and approaching a red light. I applied the brakes and rolled to a stop. All of a sudden without warning, the engine surged and the car lurched forward--despite the fact that the brakes were being pressed. I immediately pressed harder on the brakes and got no reaction, so I jammed both feet on the brake pedal as hard as I could, the wheels locked and I skid approximately 10 feet! I had to steer out of the way of rear-ending the stopped car ahead of me. "All of this happened in about a three-second time frame. It was literally a miracle that I did not ram into the car ahead of me. Once the car came to a stop, everything seemed normal again, and the car drove fine as if nothing ever happened. I am the original owner and sole driver of this car and have never experienced anything like this--. Toyota needs to address this NOW!" The owner says she had no floormats in the vehicle at that time, and her foot was nowhere near the accelerator when the incident occurred.
This is one of literally dozens of reports I've gotten in the last few weeks, and it's important to point out that many of the incidents occurred in non-Toyota vehicles. For instance, I've had two reports on late-model Ford F-150 pickup trucks, and two on older Volkswagen Rabbits.
The auto supplier, Indiana-based CTS Corp., had many other customers for its pedal assemblies, including Ford, Nissan and Honda. All are pointing out now that their units had different designs and specifications, but Honda is taking the probably prudent step (for its business, anyway) of not disclosing which models use the CTS pedals.
A reader with experience as an electrical engineer is convinced there is an electronic cause rooted in the "throttle by wire" accelerator system, as many attorneys for victims have alleged. He had his own experience in 2004 with unintended acceleration in a 2000 Lexus LS 400. He wrote to the service manager at Lexus of Wayzata (in Minnesota) on May 24, 2004: "As I released my foot from the brake, the car unexpectedly leaped forward, causing me to immediately slam on the brakes, after which time it tried to accelerate against the braking several times again--Several weeks later it happened again, but not as violent."
A third incident caused him to almost hit the car in front of him, but a quick shift into neutral saved the day.
"To me, the evidence points to noise problems in the fire wire system that may occur over time due to aging electronics and corrosion," he says. "There needs to be designed traps to look for the condition--Some sort of automated margin testing is needed to check whether there is a simultaneous braking while accelerating. The problem is that it will cost the industry millions, if not billions. And it is not just Toyota--"
Yes, it is not just Toyota, and it has already cost the industry billions. But it will cost even more if a lasting solution is not found. Let's hope a Congressional investigation by the House Energy and Commerce Committee produces some answers.