« Revisionist History

Blame Game


In the summer and fall of 2009, hundreds of Toyota owners came forward with an alarming allegation: Their cars were suddenly and uncontrollably accelerating. Toyota was forced to recall 10 million vehicles, pay a fine of more than $1 billion, and settle countless lawsuits. The consensus was that there was something badly wrong with the world’s most popular cars. Except that there wasn’t. What happens when hysteria overtakes common sense?

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
On the morning of August, twenty eight two thousand and nine sailor set out from his home in July to California, just The San Diego serious forty five years old, California, we patrol officer, ordinarily, he the two thousand and six Lexus. I asked but his car at a price the city player, so that morning he took her to the dealership. And got alone a brand new life Yes, finished, he shifted the highway patrol and went back home picked up his wife daughter and brother law Christmas jailer. And they all set out for the daughters soccer practice they highway one twenty five and just as they approach to town called Santy Estrella proceed. The backseat calls nine one one which Two here, I'm warning you his harrowing monument
It would be reporting PETE. I wonder what I'm sorry your belt and putting out we're going out one twenty five and thirty four twenty one, twenty five, where you think we are adopting where we thought, twenty million gorge word buoyant hobbled. We can't would have no by really you don't have the ability to like turning vehicle or anything approaching the interception. You gonna do hello, the Oh, oh you here is this: trailers horrified response to the Lex is spinning control hitting another vehicle
and plunging down a ravine. Everyone the car was killed. Yeah. The sailor crash is a heartbreaking story. I hesitate before playing it. But in the end I concluded that you have to hear it to make sense of what happened next viral, whose played a mainly news, written up in horrified news articles to the point where a wave of fear swept the country Toto slamming the brakes on its sails due to a ticking accelerator that could put drivers lines runaway Toyota is cars taking off on their own up to a hundred miles an hour. Women did I'd she, cracked her Camry into a tree. At a pole, a car had sped up to more than a hundred miles per hour hundreds of people came forward with horror stories about your legs accelerators getting stuck until.
Two. Since the access is a brand of Toyota, We're congressional hearings exposes whistleblowers NASA got involved. Toyota will conduct seven recalls between September two thousand and nine in March, two thousand and ten totalling millions of vehicles has many. Ninety people are estimated to have died in Toyota. Is that mysteriously accelerated Toyota ended up paying a one point: two billion dollar, fine to the? U S, government spent another one point: one billion to settle a class, action lawsuit and since then they ve something like four hundred separate lawsuits, the world's largest automobile company, was accused of a cover up a pudding profits. It had a p of having a culture of denial, Toyota conduct, was shameful. It showed a blatant, regard for systems and laws designed to look after the safety of consumers
That's air colder in March two thousand and fourteen he was The attorney general of the United States at the time it's a pretty, market day when the chief law enforcement officer of the land calls one of the largest companies in the world. My name is Can blubber you listen revision, is history. Every week we go back and examined something forgotten the misunderstood, this episode is devoted to the Toyota sudden accelerations can chances are he hurriedly some part of that name when one tape before maybe you. A two year at the time at a sudden pang of worry. What I want to do is go back to two thousand and nine. Convince you that something went very wrong in the way the controversy played out very
Let's go back from, to the person we started with mock sailor, California, highway patrol officer, he's driving down the highway and he can't stop his car. Accelerator is stuck his brother in law, says after the crash another person, comes forward to the police and says he driven the same loner Lexus a few days before and had a similar incident had Excel to get past a truck and when he pushed the throttle towards the floor guys call the accelerator peddle the throttle stock, what he realized, Is it someone had put one of those big thick all whether rubber formats in the car? On top of the floor? That was already there that second big thick format. Wasn't it add to those little hooks that whole formats down it slid around, and so somehow the thick that got wedged under the throttle that
everyone decides is what and a sailor? Maybe try to in the car off access has one of those push button ignition and what he may not have realized is it you have to that button down for three seconds, if you're trying to stop the well, it's emotion. Maybe he tried to put are in neutral, but it's not all obvious how to do that, particularly for panicking. The crash the name when one cargoes viral until Yoda launches a massive recall of floor mats across its model problem solved right, we'll know. His problem Nobody who's ever studied. The sudden acceleration crisis thinks that floor mat are any more than a small part of the story it just as it makes sense So that's an all whether man that's my producer, Jacob Smith Talkin, to shown Kane. This is the killer, ok, this is the format that brought to you to defame in runs a consulting firm in Massachusetts, called safety rules,
surgeon strategies whenever controversy around unintended acceleration surfaces, Sean Keynes name comes up. He's testified before Congress he's work. Mostly with mini the lawsuit against Toyota and he's not buying the floor. Mat theory, when the pedal is depressed, flee to the floor and Katie Way, this road here the pedal extended down to the point where the bottom edge of it would catch here on this rubber peace. Ok, anyway, which the bottom edge it wouldn't return, because, doesn't believe that formats tell the whole story formats, don't reach up and grab petals so The way this would have to happen. You'd have to depressed you're accelerator piddle nearly to the floor wide open, thrower too wide open throttle. You'd have to that excellence to the floor it to have that catch. Why when throttle is another term for flooring. It cannot say no the format to trap the accelerator ever has to flora, but why on earth guy driving his family to soccer practice flooring. It not demand
all the hundreds of other people who complained about Toyota would stuck accelerators. Some of those whence come from elderly Ladys, your grandmother, basically since when does your grandmother flora, when she's driving her camera down the street? mark sailor. He was driving with he thought was a stock accelerator for awhile. Why didn't you just read Deanna yank the format away from the pedal right. I saw them time believing giving a long distance and travel is car. Did the format was the culprit. Kane thinks something else must have happened in that car and by the way, the treaty a sudden acceleration crisis, ended up in hundreds of cases and in the overwhelming number of those cases, the card didn't even have an oversized thick plastic format. The car had normal formats some thing else must have been happening and a number of people believe that something has to do with software. That, there is and was something wrong with the software that governs the throttle entire Otis entered,
cars now we're looking at code law could code that can can be up to a hundred million lines of code, the F thirty five joint strikes. Better running about seven million lines of code, a luxury fortunately, can run a hundred million lines of code, hear what I have obtained, or aircraft you're, a fifty thousand dollars car in their complexity, level is still thousand or car is exponentially greater. Do you think that their cars can now gonna be defect, free and software, clear, not likely, is the argument. A cane is made in lawsuits against Toyota, the cars ten, a bug in the lines of computer code, the control, how the car starts and stops speeds up and slows down. The delay times also pursued this question, resulting or the most prestigious investigative reporting awards in a country. The low for its work see I lay times and Sean Kane are right, then that's terrifying, because what it means is that what happened to mark sailor could happen to you.
I wanted to put this fear to a test that what happened to mark sailor could easily won, t you or me. It's a turn, we'll story. After all, how much should we be afraid our cars might do the same thing to test this out producer Jake, but I got ourselves a two thousand and three camera two hundred and twenty five thousand miles on the best selling until in fact, the best selling car in Amerika for
in the last twelve years. A lot of the unintended acceleration cases happened in cameras. After getting the car, we called up car and driver the Premier automotive Magazine in the United States. We wanted them to help us figure out what was behind this epidemic of unintended acceleration to try and replicate one of those runaway car situations. So one Chile winter morning when I met up with three guys from car driver chryslers proving grounds just western Detroit it's a vast racetrack to Christ. He uses to do all of its testing, I'm guessing a thousand acres, big guardhouse in the front the whole time we were there crisis someone in a Jeep Cherokee keeping an eye on us making sure we did take photos of needs, a new cars. They were testing out of there. You said it goes Lydia DR exaggerate, their
eyes at dawn, Sherman he's a technical director of car driver he call. Will young guy looks at dawn ultimate also came he's the editor of car driver. Can I don T see any real car guys, which matters, because one of the notable facts about sudden acceleration is how the car guy see things differently from the non com, guys, incidentally, Jake. Would. I would also describe myself as car guys that, although not quite at the level of the car driver folks lift up on our way to store it. When I was thirteen, I wrote it for promotional brochures on every are sold in the world except the soviet zeal, which was really hard to get I still have every one of those brochures anyway backed the race track in Detroit. Silver Camry, entering media. Staying out of your way like we were before,
the plan is to take the Camry up to some serious speeds, keep the throttle wide open, as if the exam waiter pedal is somehow stock and then, if we can stop the car, what happens if you have your would fall on the accelerator pedal, and then you also slam on the brakes at the same time, because intuitively you'd think that's what must happen in certain acceleration car surges uncontrollably useless. The brakes. We want to figure out. What looks like you're going Go wide, open, throng, then quickly, you apply. The brakes knocked up, really upset I would just stop at the best you can so Jacob goes out. First, Casey behind the wheel. He accelerates.
So bring it back up. Sixty one sixty two sixty three sixty five sixty seven sixty eight sixty nine seventy and when I put the throttle down so the gas pedal is flawed and now Casey hits to break with the guy. Pedal still damp, and we long that would mean that the car stops lawyer guard at ourselves, but no loud noises no smoke. Billowing out the back Jacob Casey about the brakes, what kind of shape, or there is a locked, her son of integration by let alone a second. Don't you have functioning breaks breaks when breakthroughs engine the brakes? When then it's my turn get in the camera with Eddie aldermen he's driving. We take the car, Damn straight away,
a little faster than ever, and seventy ultimate hits the brakes firmly smoothly. Easily we come Halt Brahms got really are not terribly car filled with three people still stopping withstand. What is the difference between breaking with you for completely off the accelerator? Breaking like this, what I mean is: how much longer does it take to stop a car with the throttle wide open ten feet? Have you got a quantified? There can be a little more about that. So much did you notice back in two thousand and nine ultimate. Had kind driver. Do aversion
of this very same test. This we did this with a variety of cars we found actually with the throttle stuck open or going in seventy miles an hour. The camera starved pretty close to the same distances afford Torres that had a strong, closed Camry with the accelerator stuck wide open stops. Basically, as quickly as a tourist, breaking normally
not a big deal, but, of course we're not panic were under the impression that the persons may have caused situation, but we can see how to do this. The most dramatic much I would like we were The testing ground for two hours we try it ray trick in the book. The car stopped we oh, did up the camera with three adults and a ton of equipment. It stopped. We enough. The engine while the car was in motion it stopped once we
the camera up to a hundred miles an hour when we get there took forever. But it's after Don Sherman and I talked the strangely normal experience of bringing a camera to a full stop with the accelerator to the floor. Breaks or powerful for wheels working and it's very easy for them. Think of the poor engine that has to convert gasoline too to power and move all that breaking is relatively easy to do it too much more powerfully. That's what people doubt acknowledge all the capability built into their com? when current driver did their version of this experiment right after the sailor crash. Went so far as to do a full throttle breaking test on a rule,
states three Mustang. If you aren't a car guy, I should explain Russia is an independent company that takes sports cars and basically puts them on steroids the engine. At this stage, three rush has five hundred and forty horsepower hats to three times more powerful than the typical car in the road monster. A rush take a camera and chop it into little tiny pieces. The car and drive or take the roof Mustang up to a hundred miles an hour, keep their foot on the accelerator at the same time they slam on the brakes and what happens car stops now it takes a good nine hundred feet to country. Full stop does all kinds of huffing and puffing, but it stops Briggs go up against one of the most powerful engines on the road and the brakes win.
I think you can now understand how crucial this point is: Toyota, embroiled in a massive controversy they pay Billy. Of dollars in fines. They face allegations of a cover up all because Their cars are supposed to be suddenly and seriously, accelerating celebrating all you car is suddenly and mysteriously accelerating, because by have to do is step on the brakes because breaks beat engines No, I couldn't mark sailor. Stop is Lexus that day, as he's. Down how even twenty five I know it sounds ridiculous and tragic but it's the only logical explanation because he never put his foot on the brake. Maybe the most important person in this whole stories, a man named Dick Schmidt, salvation died last fall which is a real loss, because Schmidt was a really remarkable man as a kid
champion gymnast later champion sailor. Three hour marathon. Beyond five porsches. Do he raced cars, car guy, was also a professor at you see a leg who becomes an important figure. What's called human performance research performance? Research asks how do people move and act can interact with the physical world. Starts the Journal of motor behaviour and longed awake. He become Maybe the world's leading experts on the way your feet behave. When you drive a car, I talked to Schmidt year before he died. He was in a week sure by that point, He had a neurological disease engine here a little bit of his illness. In his speech, I'm gonna have to PETE what he says, because it's real important and I want to make sure you understand it. Should got involved in the sudden acceleration issue years ago, when you got a call from Turning in Washington D C,
the case involving a taxi driver who picked up some people outside a hotel, Nationalities is full for far away. Watch me saying is Next thing you know he's running full throttle down. The street and he makes a left turn and realizes. Oh god, I'm coming to big traffic circle and he ends up the car into a wall law that was one. Ninety four years, the two other scandal, but its eggs, the same scenario. A car takes mysteriously, the driver can't stop it. Was ever a you suspected. There might be a mechanical caused. These incidents now now I'm asking- is, if Schmidt ever suspected, that the problem might be with the car a malfunction, a faulty bitter. Software, an engineering failure and Schmidt
one of the world's leading experts in human factors is saying that never once crossed his mind. Why? Because air thing about sudden acceleration looked like a problem with driver not the car he started to look at other cases in discovers that there are some pretty clear patterns, but those patterns don't involve a particular make or model of color nothing that could make you say: oh there's something wrong with that kind of car. Every Carmen gets hit with complaints of sudden acceleration when, as a whole, If our case, like the sailor crash people, get focused on one brand like Toyota, but that's just here the publicity it happens, to every patterns while the kinds of people who have sudden acceleration incidents and the kinds of circumstances that lead to sudden acceleration incidents the door
we tend to be older, they tend to be order. They tend to be people and this is really important. They tend to be people, who are driving an unfamiliar car so, for instance, parking, lot, attendants and the The majority of these incidents happened right after someone gets into a car for the first time or when their parking or drug very low speeds. Now you have to make sense of these patterns. You could argue, I'm against all reason, but you could argue that cars just get really upset and misbehave when they be driven by parking lot attendants, but that's ridiculous. The path and Schmidt found mean it's not. The car watchmen concludes is it. People are getting into strange cars and maybe because those p, are too short and didn't adjust to seek properly were a little further away from the pedal than usual or maybe they're trying to park
because you're doing the stopping in starting of getting in and out of a parking space they get thrown, a little out of their comfort zone, they start make stabbing motions with their right foot like someone, growth in the dark. The term dictionary is is to describe this is impulse variability. Your rain requests a very specific action, but your body fail deliver exactly what its told to do. Research, when producing a very familiar fiscal movement. There is very bitterly and how My limbs forces, which I am so based on their swinging, a bat I thought likewise reproducing his way every time, but he's not that's. Why even the greatest golfers in the world sometimes hit the ball in the rough or the best bet All players in the world miss a free, throw very few
Pushing valley knows what he is Guess Schmidt says I don't Think the drivers confused, if you ask him which is to break puddle and which is the accelerator pedal he knows, but it gets this state, where he feels like his acting normally and he's not in others. Words somewhere between intention and action. There is a global, a glitch on what happens. The driver What's his foot on the accelerator thinking, it's the break him wants to stop the car, but in fact he speeding it up here is not a question How are you supposed to know what to do with your money? Very few of us are exposed to meaningful advice on how to manage our finances. Even fewer have the means to get professional financial guidance betterment is a platform was built to do something radically to give accessible financial advice. That puts you first, if you're, like most Americans,
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Gladwell, so back to finance. Why do they sometimes get implicated in certain acceleration because they throw off the expected geometry if the car a big thick winter, mad stacked on top of an existing mad rays? the floor of the full. Well makes the accelerator and seem much closer to your right foot and if you in a strange car that, just in case says the odds of impulses. Variability one of those little things that leads to a garbage between intention and action. Once you. Stand dictionary. You realise there are all key names of scenarios that could explain what happened to mock sailor, to give you one he's driving down the highway with the crews.
Control on both of his feet are on the floor. Man comes up behind a car going slower than he is, so he what's his right foot back on the accelerator hard, but as he does that the format slides under the throttle, locking it open now comes the crucial part he takes his foot off the accelerator to return to his cruise control speed, but the car doesn't slow down it. Sir is forward. The throttle is locked, by the format he's alarmed. He picks his foot up to hit the break but it's a car he's not familiar with its a loner and he puts his fur. On the accelerator. Instead of the break any presses it down. Back in the car to slow, but it doesn't Swell Strella says the brakes. Don't work and sailor freaks out so we sit down harder and the car even faster any freaks out. Even more
think it's important to note here that sailor isn't negligent, he's not a fault he's nuts. Beating or running a red light or drunk making a mistake to almost any of us could make under the circumstances. What happened to him in that moment is confusion, so the guy you're kind of panic say where etc, asking the question of. Why is my foot on the right pedal and they think the problem is not pushing the brake hard enough for several years, abrasion failed his power, those who for It hardly saw Schmidt says the perception. Said the brakes have failed, because the pedal goes to the floor and the light or drunk he's. Making a mistake to almost any of us could mean kind of far fetched theory. Here in February the eleven, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, released its report on the whole Toyota business that's the one NASA got involved in, and they based we agree with Schmidt they concluded
the overwhelming number of sudden acceleration cases, were clearly paddle air. The agency no This, because every car has a black box that records when the brake and when the accelerator are used time and again, in these cases, the black boxes showed that the brakes, even been touched? So here's my question wise, so hard for people to accept the fact that there is a really simple, straightforward explanation for what, happened in the sudden acceleration cases because it was hard right after the sailor case secretary of Transportation, real hood, went before worse and said? Advice is if anybody one of these vehicles, stop driving it. Take it the toilet, cause, I believe they have the fixed for it. Do you realize how in saying that is this? Is the guy in charge of american, auto safety, and he is completely delude
about the cause of the problem. He wants to blame the car summer orders to exactly the same thing. They have said. There's absolutely no electronic problems in these cars again and again if established with, with this type of in February of twenty ten brine Ross, Abc news: does a story on a runaway Avalon, it's about how the software intuitive causes them to accelerate uncontrollably. Would, of course, all you have to do if a Toyota accelerates uncontrollably is used eggs so ABC rigs up and Avalon and essentially stages in episode of unintended acceleration raised our price. The factory was later uncovered by the website. Jalopy Nick here's, the or of gelatinous, Patrick George? They got universe professor to cut three wires within the electronic Thrall control system then connected to it. Here's to each other. In a specific pattern, and with this
resistance to create a link between to final wires with a switch in between so he control it. In other words, he Does this car was rigged was rigged in a way that you would do not produce these results in real life at the same time take a video or, if you can we see they make an. Bidding air that makes it look like cars engine is rising dramatically. In fact, the cars in park video. You can actually see the light is, on the whole time they go to all this trouble of splicing wires and rubbing engines all that, because of tat, to avoid the simplest and most plausible explanation, which is people are doing the wrong pedal crazy. It gets worse at that I did the Toyota controversy consumer which releases a video telling drivers what to do in the case of unintended acceleration, so
is one of the most trusted and reputable brands in the United States. Millions of people look to consumer reports for objective advice. Here's what their head of automotive testing Jake Fischer has to say a card for. Controls very serious and scary situation for anyone, a gas power could get stuck the usual malfunction broken, throttle, return, sprang or even of jam format. Fortunately, for remain calm and follow a few steps, You can easily avoid tragedy. Wait! Stop right there! he lists a series of reasons why a car might accelerate out of control and he neglect dimension. The number one cause which is at issue Ever has his foot on the wrong paddle. Ok onto the next problem here at track, we're in a demonstrate to you when you should and, more importantly, when you shouldn't do it you're ever
unfortunate situation, defining your car is accelerating hard. Even after you take your foot off the gas paddle, your first instincts by the right one step, one put your foot on the brake firmly and dont lift off too, Truly important, not lift your foot off the brake. Wait, wait, wait This is even crazier than a abc reporter faking. A killer, Toyota Avalon Fisher says, is extremely important not to lift your foot off the brake, no, no, no, the whole problem of unintended. Acceleration is caused by the fact that people mistakenly think they have therefore firmly on the brake when they don't. He needs to say the exact opposite. He needs to say it is streamlining important to lift your foot off what ever paddle. It is on board chances are you are mistakenly pressing. The accelerator now play it back on the brake firmly This is an advice. This is malpractice
in the spring of two thousand and ten, the people who run the auto website edmunds dot com got really frustrated without nutty. The discussion of sudden acceleration have become so. He announced contest. If any could prove that the car was the culprit and sudden acceleration. That is an explanation different from someone hitting the wrong pedal or a floor trapping throttle. Edmunds would pay. A million dollars. A million dollars. They put together a panel of experts, sneering professors? Car industry veterans and who came when I asked Dan Edmunds Heads up decides vehicle testing. He says they got a grand total of nineteen submissions, of which only five, even met the eligibility requirements of the contest and of those five one talk but paddler one talks,
floor, mats again and the rest. He says I just nonsense, so the cannibals eyes, two million dollars is still sitting there. While you had this contest there are numerous lawsuits filed against Toyota aging among other things, flaws in the software control in the electronic throttle. You didn't you're from any of those plaintive lawyers. Now we didn't hear, any anybody of that sort. I think, because the each of litigation. I mean this is me, speculating they probably one. The focus on that Be a million dollars was enough to attract their attention. Remember Sean Kane, MR sudden acceleration, the guy with the sun were coding, gone awry, SIRI, not then he wants two million dollars. It was nothing more than ten zero media circus in interest. It was ridiculous media Circus Kane
doesn't want to try and when a million dollars, because it's a media circus I'll. Tell you what a media circus was the entire Toyota sudden acceleration scandal because people like Sean Kane insisted that some elaborate electronic cover ups should bind it because people John Kane couldn't admit that this was just overwhelmingly a map. Of human error I've used the phrase car guys in this episode. A few times dictionary. Car guy. The three p from current driver a car guys interesting about the car guys is that none of them doubted ever that. This is a problem caused by drivers. Because they understand what a car is. It's a complicated. Chemical object requires attention and skill to be operated. Safely
and non car people have lost sight of. That fact. Here is Eddie Ultimate car driver Amr time I think there is that really really depressing sense of exasperation about how customers expect the car to take care of them and how the driver just expects the car to be completely flawless and save their lives. Any circumstances What the car guys want. The rest of us to acknowledge is that driving is complicated and dangerous. It is Just the negligent or the reckless who make favour mistakes, coordinate, People do under seemingly ordinary circumstances. Mock Sierra Nothing wrong nothing. What happened,
it could have happened to any of us can will happen again. We can finally haven't an conversation about a car is That is what they were bond of a driver is when things go wrong, I do not have minds of their home. A as does the driver, tells it to do So here we are worrying our words when these two thousand three hundred two thousand three or to those two hundred twenty two thousand miles fifty five miles ready. At least I was complete version. That was the most remarkable thing straining answer now. Sixty
you been missing too revisionist history, if you like, but you ve heard. Please do us a favour and reticent items. You can get more information about this and other episodes at revisionist history, dot com or on your favorite podcast at our show, is produced by a mere Labelle, Roxana Scott and Jacob Smith.
Our editor is Julia of our music is composed by Luis Gara and talk, I guess, who's our plan. Williams is our engineer. I fact checker as Michel Sirocco Especial thanks to Eddie Ultimate John Sherman and Casey call a car driver for helping us to find, and by two thousand and three Camry and taking a day off doses. Also thanks to audio producers, Zack Rosen for braving the Breakthroughs Panoply management team is Laura Mayor, any bowers and Jacob iceberg. I Malcolm Gladwin Angela, tenth, twenty fifteen, a young woman named Sandra Bland, was stopped by a police officer on a highway and rural Texas. Then everything went wrong.
I've written a book called talking to strangers. It starts with that encounter, but I didn't just right for the page, I recorded an audio book as well New kind of audio book that allows you to hear the voices of the people I talk to and come with me to the places I go, because You shouldn't just listen to an audio book. You should experience it talking to strangers the audio experience available now, where ever audio books or sold.
Transcript generated on 2020-01-12.