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Today, coming off the Chicago Skyway, I was reminded of how I learned how useless “deer whistles,” little motion-powered whistle devices still sold that attach to a front bumper or grill, and are supposed to scare off deer approaching a roadway. Vicki was driving on our way back from Michigan and I spotted a little pug dog and her pup sauntering into our lane, headed for the median. Vicki quickly checked her rear mirror and braked hard, and the dogs made it safely off the road.

I recall that in the 80s and 90s, my mother who lived in Door County, WI, told me how terrific those little deer whistles sold in truck stops and hardware stores were in warning off animals. I bought a pair for my new company car, in 1995, a silver Lincoln that came with a new vice presidency in my firm. Driving from the Chicago western suburbs into southern Wi, where we had a weekend home, a deer suddenly burst from the trees and leaped into the road directly in front of my car. It was as if the whistle had called out “com-ere-deer.” As my bumper hit the animal at 55 MPH, it projected the deer into the windshield, bending the double-pane glass inward, but not breaking it. The sunroof popped open, the air bags inflated and the door sprung open. As I recovered, I braked and held the wheel straight. I was OK, but my brand new Lincoln was a wreck and had to be towed. Two farmers came up and asked if I was all right, and when I said yes, they asked if I planned to claim the deer. For what, I queried? They ran down the road and checked it out, came back and said just a crushed haunch. Guess they were in for some venison steaks.

The police drove me to a local McDonald’s, where I called my wife to pick me up. The manager brought me a coffee, and said when he worked at a less demanding fast food place, he kept a police radio in the kitchen, and when it reported a deer/car crash, they’d speed off to see if they could claim the deer. I’d never heard of this form of deer stalking, or deer hunting. I learned, the hard way, that anyone who bought a deer whistle was very naive indeed. Here’s a You Tube piece that gives the low-down on deer whistles.

NASA has given Toyota a clean bill of health regarding any blame for glitches in electronic control systems, in relations to claims about thousands of cases of unintended acceleration by Toyota vehicles. Now, the blame seems to rest with either floor mats that got tangled with gas pedals, or with sticking gas pedals, or with the broad category of “driver error.” I’m no technician, but my bet now is as it was when I first blogged about a likely cause of many of these incidents last June (see post at http://wp.me/pI64m-e1) — “driver error.”

I think the size, placement and angle of brake and accelerator pedals, together with the vagaries of shoe or boot size and shape, foot and leg physical issues with drivers, or of driver skill, experience and even mental state could be potential factors in many of these accidents, and together present a set of safety issues that require much more study, engineering and consumer education, to say the least.

My own experience is that different cars seems to have different configurations of pedals and space beneath the dash (increased need for standardization?), which can confuse the feet. Also, tired or numbness in feet or limbs or forms of driver disorientation or distraction might be factors leading to misapplication of brake or accelerator. Having once taught driver education instructors for Allstate Insurance Company, and having also been a public relations executive for Toyota years ago, I don’t recall much in the way of safety studies or driver education practices regarding use of pedals. Some people use one foot for both pedals, some use both, and some switch off. Did anyone ever teach you what kinds of footwear to use when driving, or to check under the dash to be sure your mat is well-placed and fitted or how to keep your legs from getting stiff or numb when driving?

If work has been done on these under-dash standardization, safety issues and consumer education, I’ve seen little to none of it, even after these many incidents and the high profile they’ve been given in the press. Isn’t it about time the auto manufacturers, dealers, insurers, safety organizations, consumer groups, schools and government do a lot more to reduce the chances of “driver error” in acceleration and braking, and better communicate to the public about the issues and ideas, before more lives are needlessly lost?

Seems a flurry of safety recalls of cars known for reliability are not Toyota’s biggest problem. What is? Not building enough auto manufacturing plants in the U.S. and elsewhere outside of Japan.

The continuing strength of the yen against the dollar and other currencies is making it more expensive for Toyota to export its cars, and that is costing it both profits at home and sales abroad. The implication: look for Toyota to become even more of a globalized brand, if that is even conceivable. Toyota already has 4 U.S. plants and some 160,000 employees at these and its U.S. dealers. Perhaps that is only a beginning?

N.Y. Times — BUSINESS | September 03, 2010
Toyota Feels Exchange-Rate Pinch as Rivals Gain
By HIROKO TABUCHI
For all the turmoil over Toyota’s wave of recalls, the world’s largest automaker may face a bigger problem: the surging yen.

Toyota is now concluding that at least some of the 2000 reported cases of unintended acceleration by their cars have been proven to be driver error. Here’s the story: http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE66D0FR20100714.

As a driver, I had an experience in a rented car outside the Charlotte Airport that made me wonder. It was a foreign car, can’t recall the make, that I’d just rented on arrival. As I left the airport and drove a few blocks, I was alarmed that the car was slowing down when I wanted to go, then would barely move away from a green light. I pulled over into a gas station, and was about to return the hobbled car when I discovered the problem. The gas and brake pedals were closer together than I was used to, and my foot was pressing both at the same time, sometimes rocking toward the brake and sometimes the gas. The inconsistent placement or size of these pedals, compared with what I was used to, was the real problem. Once I realized this, I adjusted and drove off normally.

Could the placement or size of the pedals sometimes be the real problem in unintended acceleration? Does the size or shape of one’s shoe or angle of pressure based on leg length or physique factor in? Is this all already taken into consideration by the engineers and sufficiently accommodated, or if not, should standards be set or drivers be educated or warned about the differences? I wonder…

Denver Man Survives Cliff Plunge – Drops 500 Feet in Toyota
By Jess Snow
Jul 10, 2010

A man in Colorado has survived a near 500-foot plunge off a cliff in his Toyota. A report from the Associated Press reveals police believe the man may have been drinking when he lost control and went over a cliff on a slick road, a crash that could have been fatal.

Denver Man Survives Cliff Plunge – Drops 500 Feet!

They are now investigating and say the man is in good condition after the harrowing plunge.

Police say his seat belt saved his life. Trooper Jonathan Silver says Buckner’s 1990 Toyota hatchback was “pretty mangled,” but thanks to the fact that he was restrained by his seat belt, he was able to survive inside the 20-year old car.

***

Silver says Buckner was driving on slick roads through a mountain pass when the accident happened.

According to the Denver Post the Colorado State Patrol said Anthoney L. Buckner seemed to be in “amazingly good condition” after rescuers pulled him up from the crash site earlier this week.

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