Tag Archives: unintended acceleration

Tonight my son’s Toyota Camry had unintended acceleration: safe but frazzled

My son was on his way to Durham tonight– a 1 1/2 hr. drive–for a professional meet-up with other programmers. His wife got a call to come and help him. Before he made it out of town, his accelerator went out of control. Fortunately his brakes functioned well and he was able to stop–in the middle of the street in busy rush hour traffic.

We are thankful it happened before he got on the expressway and that there was no crash involved, no injuries.  But, despite many other 1996 Toyota Camrys which have experienced similar problems, there are apparently no recalls listed prior to 1999 for that model with that problem.

As soon as I heard what had happened, I started searching for his model online:

That reminded me of the book which I recently finished, Car Safety Wars by Michael Lemov:

“Car Safety Wars is a gripping history of the hundred-year struggle to improve the safety of American automobiles and save lives on the highways. Described as the “equivalent of war” by the Supreme Court, the battle involved the automobile industry, unsung and long-forgotten safety heroes, at least six US Presidents, a reluctant Congress, new auto technologies, and, most of all, the mindset of the American public: would they demand and be willing to pay for safer cars? The “Car Safety Wars” were at first won by consumers and safety advocates. The major victory was the enactment in 1966 of a ground breaking federal safety law. The safety act was pushed through Congress over the bitter objections of car manufacturers by a major scandal involving General Motors, its private detectives, Ralph Nader, and a gutty cigar-chomping old politician. The act is a success story for government safety regulation. It has cut highway death and injury rates by over seventy percent in the years since its enactment, saving more than two million lives and billions of taxpayer dollars.

But the car safety wars have never ended. GM has recently been charged with covering up deadly defects resulting in multiple ignition switch shut offs. Toyota has been fined for not reporting fatal unintended acceleration in many models. Honda and other companies have—for years—sold cars incorporating defective air bags. These current events, suggesting a failure of safety regulation, may serve to warn us that safety laws and agencies created with good intentions can be corrupted and strangled over time.

This book suggests ways to avoid this result, but shows that safer cars and highways are a hard road to travel. We are only part of the way home.”


Having read Michael Lemov’s book, Car Safety Wars, I am not the least bit surprised–just all the more motivated to share what I have learned from this book and to do my part in speaking out for decisions and actions reflective of a safety-minded perspective.

In fact, you have not heard the last from me about this book.

Car Safety Wars book cover

Note: I temporarily made this post private until I could verify with my son what his mechanic told him. Apparently, something (possibly an oil leak or some damage due to a blown tire a month or so ago) caused the sensor for the accelerator to go awry and thus the Sudden Unintended Acceleration that he experienced. The mechanic was able to repair the throttle. (I don’t fully understand this.)

We were thinking that it sounded like it was maybe a different issue than what we have been reading about. But is it? My son was on a city street and not going very fast so that he was able to brake safely (though the accelerator was still trying to keep going). Perhaps if he had been on the expressway and going faster, he might not have been able to stop safely. ?????

My son said that maybe there was a design flaw in that the accelerator flaw was perhaps too easily impacted by oil leaking, etc. Is that a manufacturing defect? I don’t know. What if he had died as a result or killed someone else?

Marianne Karth, June 17, 2015

Update: I continue to see news reports of cases of SUA, e.g., http://www.streetsblog.org/2015/10/01/cab-driver-who-ran-over-kids-on-bronx-sidewalk-blames-car/ What if things had turned out differently with my son? What is the truth of the matter?

October 1, 2015

Update (May 19, 2016): This article just posted: