NHTSA proposes brake overrides be mandatory

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Lexus ES-350

A family was killed in a runaway Lexus ES-350, prompting recalls, probes and recommendations. Image: Auto Exposure Canada

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposed Thursday that brake override systems be made mandatory in all new vehicles. The proposal comes as a fallout to large-scale Toyota recalls in 2009 and 2010 for deadly, unintended accelerations.

Override braking system required

Under the NHTSA proposal, all cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. would be required to have an override system installed whereby an operator can stop a vehicle in the case of unintended acceleration by pressing the brake and the gas pedal simultaneously.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said:

“America’s drivers should feel confident that any time they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles — especially in the event of an emergency. By updating our safety standards, we’re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work, even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake.”

Most automakers already comply

According to the NHTSA, the implementation of the technology would cost next to nothing; most automakers are already meeting the standard. But a standardized requirement is not yet in place.

Henry Jasny, of the Washington-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said:

“We’re glad they’re doing it and we’re glad it’s uniform so all vehicles will be required to have an override. The population of vehicles without it has grown smaller since the Toyota sudden acceleration issue came out several years ago. But there are no performance standards for it.”

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Regulatory efforts follow Lexus tragedy

The federal safety regulator also issued a recommendation in December that all new cars have keyless ignitions, allowing drivers to cut the power in their vehicles much more quickly in times of emergency. That recommendation also stemmed from the earlier recalls, which were prompted by the 2009 death of a family in a runaway Toyota Lexus ES-350.

Recall affected 5.4 million vehicles

In 2009 and 2010, Toyota recalled about 5.4 million vehicles in separate campaigns dealing with unintentional accelerations. One recall was over pedals sticking due to floor mats becoming trapped and jamming pedals. One was over a faulty pedal assembly that could stick. In all, more than 20 Toyota models were affected.

Toyota override efforts ‘voluntary’

The Lexus fatality got a great deal of attention from the media. Subsequently, Toyota’s sales dropped by more than a quarter over the first ten months of 2009. In November of the same year, Toyota announced that it would be voluntarily installing brake overrides in some of its models.

In 2010 Toyota amended that announcement by promising to install brake overrides in all 2011 models. That announcement, however, came only after the U.S. Congress launched its probe into the recall efforts.

Nevertheless, the Japan-based automaker took the opportunity to trumpet its own initiative. Brian Lyons, a Toyota spokesman, responded to Thursday’s proposal in an email:

“We are currently reviewing the NHTSA notice of proposed rulemaking in detail but are proud that with the 2011 model year, Toyota was the first full-line automaker to make brake override systems standard across all model lines.”


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