We now know that the panicky tales of electronics-driven sudden acceleration in Toyotas, as urged on the nation by trial lawyer allies like Clarence Ditlow and Joan Claybrook, were sheerest fantasy. That’s no real surprise, since earlier reports of mechanically arising sudden acceleration in Audis and other brands of automobile (also urged on the nation by Ditlow et al.) proved equally imaginary.
But the media never learns, and if they don’t, why should the government? So the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is proposing a rule that would require all auto designs to include “override” systems which shut off the accelerator if the brake is pressed. This will have no effect at all on typical “sudden acceleration” accidents, which arise from drivers’ hitting the wrong pedal, since those drivers already imagine themselves to be hitting the brake. They will have little if any effect on the extremely rare floor mat entrapment cases in which an accelerator gets trapped in the depressed position, because drivers can already overcome such acceleration by pressing the brake pedal if it is available, while if it is not available because of mats or other obstructions, the efficacy of the override may fall short of what is hoped.
But at least the government will be able to say that it did something.
I did find it interesting in the Washington Post account that Ditlow seems for the moment to have joined the rest of us in agreeing that pedal misapplication is the big cause of these accidents, the better to afford him a vantage point to criticize NHTSA for Not Doing Enough on that front. That’s quite a change from what you hear from him at the height of these panics, when he tends to talk up every possible cause of unwanted acceleration other than driver error. When the next sudden-acceleration panic breaks out, I fully expect CAS to be back pitching the electronics theories again.
P.S. Plaintiff’s lawyer and longtime Overlawyered favorite Steve Berman asserts that there have been “thousands of crashes, hundreds of deaths,” a claim the National Law Journal’s Amanda Bronstad relays without skeptical comment.
Coyote wonders about the contrast between the frantic, America-in-crisis media and political coverage of an imaginary Toyota sudden acceleration glitch and the considerably mellower reception given an alleged safety hazard in Chevy Volts, put out by government-sponsored General Motors.
John Cook at Gawker wants to know how a coveted Edward R. Murrow prize could just have been bestowed on the Toyota-panic reporting of ABC’s Brian Ross (“America’s Wrongest Reporter”), given that it showcased staged, fakey footage, relied heavily on the assertions of a safety consultant whose plaintiff’s-side involvement in the controversy went unmentioned, and omitted details that would have raised readers’ doubts on key themes, among many other sins. Later investigations, of course, decisively refuted the lawyer-stoked fears that Toyotas have some mysterious tendency to accelerate out of control. More: Ted Frank and Hans Bader, and my take on the sad history of media irresponsibility on car-safety scares.
Ted Frank’s class action settlement reform group, the Center for Class Action Fairness, has announced “multiple victories” in ongoing cases arising from settlements by Apple, Classmates.com, Toyota, HP, and gasoline retailers. Among the topics addressed in objection: exaggeration of benefits supposedly provided for the class, excessive attorney fees, and diversion of proceeds to groups unrelated to the class. Details here.
I explain at Cato at Liberty.
P.S. Also, welcome listeners from Richmond, Va.’s WRVA, which had me on to discuss these issues this morning. And a retrospective on the Toyota scare from The Truth About Cars’ Edward Niedermeyer.
Ed Wallace at Bloomberg Business Week tells why the Toyota sudden-acceleration debacle merely replays a long and sad history:
I don’t mean to single out CBS for criticism. Plenty of other media outlets share the blame. For 30 years they have treated us to Jeep, Suzuki, and Isuzu Trooper rollovers, Audi unintended acceleration, side-saddle gas tanks exploding, police cars catching on fire, Firestone tires blowing out, and then the Toyota case. And each time the media took the word of those with a vested financial interest in the outcome—and every time they got burned for doing so.
I wrote about this in my article “It Didn’t Start With Dateline NBC” and in the chapter “Trial Lawyer TV” of my book The Rule of Lawyers.
Plus: For comic relief, here’s a New York Times editorial claiming the findings “did nothing to dispel concerns” about safety. And welcome listeners of Ray Dunaway’s morning show on WTIC (Hartford).
It’s basically the same message that leaked out seven months ago. In a new post at Cato at Liberty, I raise some questions about why it took so long to release the study results.
More: Jalopnik, Coyote, Marc Hodak, Rick Woldenberg/AmendTheCPSIA, Dan Fisher/Forbes, Dan Bigman/Forbes (LaHood: “no defect, but we’ll regulate the industry anyway”); Carter Wood/ShopFloor and more, Ted Frank/PoL (class action over loss of resale value continues), New York Times, Leonard Evans/AOL. My March 2010 National Review piece “Exorcising Toyota’s Demons” is here. And welcome readers from Instapundit, Charlie Martin/PJ Tatler, Pejman Yousefzadeh, Roger Donway/Atlas Society, Ira Stoll/Future of Capitalism.
Unable to show any electronic flaw in the vehicles, plaintiff’s lawyers switch to the theory that the automaker should have embraced “brake override” technology that disengages the throttle when the brake is applied. That technology doesn’t work, of course, if the driver is in fact mistakenly hitting the accelerator when intending to hit the brake — which was what happened in earlier sudden-acceleration scares, and looks likely to be the cause of most of the Toyota incidents as well. [L.A. Times]
Product liability edition:
- You mean cigarettes were dangerous? “Florida jury awards $80M to daughter in anti-smoking case” [AP]
- “Acne drug not found to increase suicide risk” [BBC, earlier on Accutane here, here, etc.]
- “Man hit by jar of exploding fruit says $150,000 award isn’t enough” [Detroit News via Obscure Store]
- Chicago accident coverage exemplifies Toyota acceleration hysteria [Fumento/CEI] NHTSA-NRC panel findings on subject [PoL]
- Strict product liability is in decline, according to Prof. David Owen [Abnormal Use]
- More questions raised on $500 million Nevada hepatitis verdict [PoL]
- Notwithstanding chatter in press about toxic cosmetics, study finds cosmetologists have below-average cancer rates [David Oliver]
- Florida juries repeatedly hold Ford liable for millions when drivers fall asleep [five years ago on Overlawyered]