Thursday, March 11, 2010

Hysteria Trumps Reason in Prius Acceleration Story

Brake Uncertainty Illustration

This week�"s story of a San Diego man and his runaway Prius marks the turning point on when Toyota�"s unintended acceleration issues crossed over into hysteria. While observers cast doubt on the truthfulness of the high-profile incident, more drivers have reported cases of Prius sudden acceleration. With each new report, there is a growing counter-movement that points to human psychology�rather than technical malfunctions�as an explanation.

On Tuesday, a New York woman said her 2005 �Sshot⬝ forward into a stone wall. A day later, a Minnesota doctor and his wife complained that their 2007 Prius suddenly took off�in reverse. On Wednesday, a 76-year-old Connecticut woman reported that her 2007 Toyota (model unidentified) took off across the lawn of her church and crashed into the church steps. �SIt�"s a miracle,⬝ said Father Rev. James Bogiatzis, when he surveyed the damage and yet nobody was hurt.

Satan Behind the Wheel?

Stuck Gas Pedal

Toyota originally blamed floor mats for stuck acceleration pedals. Although some Prius owners doubted the explanation, the company issued a voluntary recall to correct for "floor mat entrapment."

How do you explain the sudden spike in incidents? Lars Perner, professor of clinical marketing at the University of Southern California, told Associated Press, �SWhen people expect problems, they're more likely to find them.⬝

The Wall Street Journal reported that increases in complaints to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) by car owners are common after automakers announce plans for recalls. In just the first 10 weeks of this year, 272 complaints have been filed nationwide for speed control problems with the Prius, according to an Associated Press analysis of unverified complaints received by the NHTSA. Only 74 complaints were filed last year, and eight in 2008. There�"s been a similar jump in reports of problems with Prius brakes: 1,816 this year, versus 90 in 2009 and fewer than 20 every other year of the last decade.

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