Friday, March 12, 2010

Toyota discriminates against the elderly

Ted Frank as quoted by Marginal Revolution:
In the 24 cases where driver age was reported or readily inferred, the drivers included those of the ages 60, 61, 63, 66, 68, 71, 72, 72, 77, 79, 83, 85, 89—and I’m leaving out the son whose age wasn’t identified, but whose 94-year-old father died as a passenger.
This may just be evidence that Toyotas are popular with older drivers. Except there is evidence that older drivers have been known to confuse the gas and brake pedals. If this is true and if all cars were equally likely to have true sudden acceleration problems, then Toyota would have a higher rate of cases classified as sudden acceleration.
More in a commentary today in the New York Times,
It is interesting to note that unintended acceleration in the 1980s happened before the arrival of drive-by-wire controls and computerized engine-management systems.

Back then, many of us who worked in fields like ergonomics, human performance and psychology suspected that these unintended-acceleration events might have a human component. We noticed that the complaints were far more frequent among older drivers (in a General Motors study, 60-to-70-year-olds had about six times the rate of complaints as 20-to-30-year-olds), drivers who had little experience with the specific car involved (parking-lot attendants, car-wash workers, rental-car patrons) and people of relatively short stature.

Several researchers hypothesized how a driver, intending to apply the brake pedal to keep the car from creeping, would occasionally press the accelerator instead. Then, surprised that the car moved so much, he would try pressing harder. Of course, if his right foot was actually on the accelerator, the throttle would open and the car would move faster. This would then lead the driver to press the “brake” harder still, and to bring about even more acceleration. Eventually, the car would be at full throttle, until it crashed. The driver’s foot would be all the way to the floor, giving him the impression that the brakes had failed.

In the cases that went to court, jurors naturally asked, why would a driver with decades of driving experience suddenly mistake the accelerator for the brake? And why would the episode last so long — often 6 to 10 seconds or more? Wouldn’t that be ample time to shut off the ignition, shift to neutral or engage the parking brake?

First, in these situations, the driver does not really confuse the accelerator and the brake. Rather, the limbs do not do exactly what the brain tells them to. Noisy neuromuscular processes intervene to make the action slightly different from the one intended....
The author is Richard A. Schmidt, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Heh, in composing this post my finger did not do what my brain told it to do. I was inserting a hyperlink and mistakenly clicked the blockquote button. Ever do that?


Blogger naz said...

Great post. And a driver with decades of experience is more likely to react instinctively by stepping harder on what he thinks is the brake.

4:00 PM  

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