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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Toyota and Sudden Acceleration

Monday, March 22, 2010

Toyota and Sudden Acceleration

Last week in class, I theorized that the sudden acceleration problem experienced by a few Toyota drivers was not due to the design or manufacture of the cars but a media and political feeding frenzy centered around a normal number of malfunctions experienced by any make of cars.  The media hungers for stories that sell papers, and politicians thirst for a villain to demagogue.  Toyota was just an unlucky victim.  William M. Briggs, a statistics consultant, writing for Pajamas Media in "Sudden Acceleration or Creeping Fear?" proposes the same theory and supports it with evidence.  We both may be wrong, but it is always good to question the media (and economics professors).  I quote the first several paragraphs and recommend the entire article. 
Just look at these headlines!

  • “Inquiry on Auto Acceleration Expanded by U .S.,” New York Times

  • “Cars That Speed Up Mysteriously Spark Bitter Dispute Over Cause,” Wall Street Journal

  • “Runaway Cars,” Detroit News

And how about these?

  • “Car Plows into Park, Killing 3 & Injuring Dozens,” New York Times

  • “Car Kills Woman At Market,” Post-Standard

  • “Sudden Acceleration May Be the Cause of Recent Accidents…,” Corporate Crime Reporter

Boy, doesn’t Toyota have problems?

Maybe not. That first set of headlines was from an earlier “epidemic” of sudden accelerations thought to be caused by Ford automobiles. The second set was blamed on Audi.
These sudden — then called “unintended” — accelerations happened in the mid-1980s to early 1990s. They were so popular that CBS’s 60 Minutes, in a now infamous segment, “televised a sensational demonstration in which a rigged Audi 5000 was coaxed into accelerating without any hint of pressure on the gas pedal.” They later had to issue a “correction.”

Complaints of unintended acceleration to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) were not unusual and were associated with cars of almost every make and model. But after the media reported a cluster of accidents involving first Fords, then Audis, more complaints about those cars were subsequently received.

The unintended accelerations were thought to be caused by everything from electromagnetic interference to sticking gas pedals. But the NHTSA investigated and found: “The major cause appears to have been drivers’ unknowingly stepping on the accleratator [sic] instead of the brake pedal.”

1 comment:

  1. Its very interesting to me how Toyota went through the whole chaos changing and trying to make people happy by replacing the car parts, but still wasn't good enough. Hopfully people will take this whole contraverse into consideration and not always put the blame on someone else. Sometimes you just have to look at what you are doing and your surroundings and will get farther ahead. Somestimes being honest and not always seeing it as someone else's fault you will get more in life.