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October 06, 2009

How Do You Stop A Runaway Vehicle?

Morguefile.comarchivedisplay226333.jpg In the aftermath of last month's news event involving deaths of a California Highway Patrol Officer and three members of his family, and the subsequent advisories by Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall more than 3.8 million vehicles to check their floor mats, one other issue comes to mind: "How DO you stop a runaway vehicle when the brakes don't seem to work?"

We've all heard stories about "Unintended Acceleration" in which vehicles are reported to suddenly accelerate on their own, and do not respond to braking by the driver. In most circumstances, cases of unintended or sudden acceleration can rarely be duplicated in vehicle testing. Often, such cases are caused when the driver accidentally steps on the gas rather than the brake.

I was recently advised by Mac DeMere  a colleague and expert driver with years of experience in the automotive industry: "If you're pushing the brake pedal and the car continues to accelerate, release that brake pedal and push the one to its left." He says pedal misapplication is a very common problem. The fact is, he says your vehicle's brakes are more powerful than the engine in every unmodified, well-maintained modern car.

So what should you do if your vehicle experiences unintended acceleration?

In its recent safety advisory, Toyota offers the following suggestions:
"Should the vehicle continue to accelerate rapidly after releasing the accelerator pedal, this could be an indication of floor mat interference.  If this occurs, Toyota recommends the driver take the following actions:
First, if it is possible and safe to do so, pull back the floor mat and dislodge it from the accelerator pedal; then pull over and stop the vehicle.

If the floor mat cannot be dislodged, then firmly and steadily step on the brake pedal with both feet. Do NOT pump the brake pedal repeatedly as this will increase the effort required to slow the vehicle.

Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral (N) position and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.
If unable to put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine OFF, or to ACC. This will not cause loss of steering or braking control, but the power assist to these systems will be lost.

-If the vehicle is equipped with an Engine Start/Stop button, firmly and steadily push the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do NOT tap the Engine Start/Stop button.

-If the vehicle is equipped with a conventional key-ignition, turn the ignition key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel."

Morguefile.comarchivedisplay226198.jpg This is a lot of stuff to remember if you're in a panic situation, so -- regardless of what kind of car you are driving -- if you can only remember one thing it's this: you can downshift the transmission gear selector into lower gears to slow the vehicle or go into neutral (N) position and then use the brakes to make a controlled stop.

If for some reason the brake pedal doesn't seem to work (see Mac's note above), once the car is in neutral, you can ease on the emergency brake  to slow the vehicle. (Don't jerk the e-brake with full force: that can cause fishtailing, or snap the cable which operates the mechanism.)  This is better than turning the engine off, which could shut down power to the steering and make it very difficult to steer the vehicle.

Even if the engine is revving, as long as the car is in neutral, it can't apply that force to the wheels, and you will still retain control of the steering system to assist you in coasting the vehicle to a safer stop.

Jody-devere_president_askpatty Jody DeVere
President and CEO

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