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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 — “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?

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:

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…

May 2020

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