Back in 2010, I wrote about the sudden unintended acceleration problem (SUAP in the earlier article here, UA in the source I’m about to link) in various Toyota vehicles. Drivers would find their cars accelerating out of their control and braking was unresponsive. People died. Survivors spoke of their unsuccessful attempts to get their car to stop. And commentators like Mike Ramsey of the Wall Street Journal opined that all of it was operator error. I opined that Mike Ramsey was full of it, and that when the dust settled, fault would be found in Toyota’s software.
The dust has settled. While an analysis of Toyota’s firmware by NASA in 2011 failed to find faults that could lead to UA, other embedded systems experts persevered and did find them. Michael Barr of The Barr Group testified in a case in Oklahoma that marked the beginning of the end for Toyota’s claims that its software was OK, and its customers were idiots who couldn’t find the brake pedal to save their lives. Literally. Experts for the plaintiffs demonstrated a host of errors and bad practices within the firmware, including paths to unintended acceleration. (The article linked just previous delves into some of the embedded systems analysis and the faults that were found. I recommend it highly.) Later, Toyota settled a class action lawsuit over the matter for a cool $1,100,000,000 ($1.1 billion, with a “b”).
I also recommend a more robust approach to analysis for those of you who were advocating the “operator error” explanation back in the day. The odds that the drivers of a particular manufacturer’s vehicles would experience pedal confusion at a much higher rate than the general population are small. The odds that in 100% of cases accelerators remained fully depressed and brakes remained entirely untouched, the data from logs that Ramsey erroneously believed exonerated Toyota, are too slim to even be believable. It was, in fact, the 100% report that convinced me that the fault was not due to operator error and lay within Toyota’s systems.