Walter Olson: Toyota is Audi all over again

Mike Riggs Contributor
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It’s Audi all over again, Olson argues at NRO:

With Audi, as with Toyota, the panic was met with far more skepticism in the specialized enthusiast and engineering press — places like Car and DriverPopular Mechanics, and their onlineequivalents — than in the general press and on Capitol Hill. Not that seasoned automotive writers necessarily were in a rush to dismiss the reports; there’s always a first time with emerging hazards, and problems like misplaced floor mats or sticky pedals might indeed need to be checked out. But the general feeling was that familiar old causes of accidents should be well explored before positing exotic new ones.

And that brought up, in both episodes, the question of why brakes had failed to overcome the car’s forward motion. In all American cars, now as well as then, brakes firmly applied will readily overpower an accelerator at full throttle. In theory a driver might burn out the brakes by hesitant or inconsistent efforts to fight the surge, but seldom if ever were brakes actually found to be burned out in this way after accidents.

Also, this graf–covering a topic we addressed in this space last week–is a true skeptic-maker:

The Los Angeles Times has compiled a list of 56 fatal incidents over 19 years purportedly involving unintended Toyota acceleration, and according to my Overlawyered co-blogger Ted Frank — in a Thursday analysis refined and extended the next day by Megan McArdle of The Atlantic — the age of the driver can be publicly ascertained in a little more than half the instances. That median age turns out to be 60 — that is to say, half the drivers were that old or older. By contrast, only 16 percent of general auto fatalities in 2008 occurred with a driver 60 or older behind the wheel. Whatever is causing Avalons, Highlanders, and Tundras to misbehave is largely bypassing drivers in their twenties and thirties and instead homing in on drivers old enough to remember the Eisenhower era.

Today, the WSJ and the LA Times are reporting that the Prius that went batcrap wild on the California freeway doesn’t seem to have anything wrong with it.