After reading drational's diary, Braking: Put the Prius in Neutral earlier today about the runaway Prius of yesterday, I did some Googling and came across an article in Car and Driver where they tested three different carsand how they could be brought to a stop with an accelerator stuck wide open.
As it turns out, it isn't as difficult as news reports have led us to believe.
First of all, let me admit that I am very skeptical of these "sudden acceleration" incidents. I believe that there are probably more than one cause, but if I were to bet, my money would be on driver error in at least some of the cases. Others might be caused by drivers on purpose, for a variety of reasons. Each case, I'm sure, is being evaluated on its own merits. If I'm wrong, I will gladly admit it when shown the proof.
Over the past decade or two, I've seen reports of more and more cars running into buildings from parking lots. It used to be that almost invariably, these incidents would be older people (in my age group and beyond) who claimed that the accelerator "stuck". Nothing would ever be found wrong with the cars.
These type of incidents are now becoming more common and they seem to happen to people of all ages. I blame driver distractions - cell phones, MP3 players, CD players, GPS screens, and even passengers who are demanding attention in one way or other. Add that to the pressures on people these days, juggling children and careers, etc., and drivers today are more distracted when they just get into the car than ever before.
In the Prius incident from yesterday in California, I suspect the driver of intentionally causing an incident. Motivation? I don't know. Maybe with a possible lawsuit? Maybe a publicity hound like Richard Haney of balloon boy fame? I don't know, but I suspect that the incident was intentionally caused because of two things that have come out on that incident: 1. The driver refused to shift into neutral, fearing the "car would flip" and 2. After the California Highway Patrol (CHP) car pulled in front of the Prius to stop it, the driver of the Prius was able to bring the Prius to a stop using the brakes without contacting the CHP car.
My personal driving experience has taught me that a vehicle can be handled pretty much in any conditions, as long as the wheels are on the ground and turning. I find it incredible that braking alone cannot stop one of these vehicles that is supposedly "running away". I've actually had experience with stuck accelerators and brakes are highly effective.
It turns out that Dave Vanderwerp, writing for Car and Driver last December, in his article published in the March, 2010 issue, was questioning the same thing.
In the article, titled "How To Deal With Unintended Acceleration - Tech Dept.", they tested three separate vehicles, a V-6 Camry (one of the recalled vehicles), and Infiniti G37 convertible, and a supercharged "Roush Stage 3 Mustang" with over 500hp.
They took each vehicle to 60 mph, then jammed the accelerator to the floor while simultaneously jamming on the brakes. All 3 vehicles were brought to a stop in little more time than if the engine had been turned off.
They also tried turning the vehicles off using the starter button (on the Camry and Infiniti). The Mustang wasn’t included in this test as it had a standard key setup. Pushing the starter button and holding it causes the engine to shut off. On the Camry, it took 3.3 seconds for the engine to shut down. In that time, the car accelerated from 60 to 80mph. The Infiniti shut down in 2.2 seconds. Repeated momentary stabs at the button did nothing for the Camry, but after the third stab, the Infinity shut down.
They had other advice about shifting to "neutral" and even into "park" (both recommended), but the most natural thing to do – to step on the brake, is the first reflex of most people and is highly effective in overcoming the thrust of the engine.
Their advice for anyone with a runaway vehicle is to jam on the brakes. The brakes have the ability to overcome the thrust of the engine even when it is at full acceleration. This was true even with the muscle car Mustang.
They also suggested that Toyota take some advice from other manufacturers, and make their engines stop accelerating when the brake is applied (the Infinity did that) and make the engines shut down after repeated, momentary stabs at the starter button.
In conclusion, they "...found no major deficiencies with the Camry’s ability to defuse an unintended-acceleration situation." I have to assume that the same would be true with the Prius, especially since it has about half the horsepower and far less mass.
OK, go ahead and rip me to pieces. I can take it.
After reading comments about brakes burning up, and seeing comments from shpilk, jmknapp, and indycam saying to use the brakes to stop the car and then turn it off, I realized that I hadn't clearly made that point.
You definitely don't want to try to maintain your speed or just slow the car using the brakes. Either of those things will quickly heat up your brakes and render them useless. You want to stop the car as quickly as possible and shut it off and call a tow truck. If you have the presence of mind to shift into neutral and you can, do that too, but the brakes should bring the car to a stop whether you can remember to shift into neutral or not.