Case Study: NHTSA’s Denial of Dr Raghavan’s Petition to Investigate Sudden Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles Fitted With Electronic Throttles


The Raghavan petition to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concerns a sudden acceleration (SA) incident experienced by the petitioner’s wife in a 2009 Lexus ES350 automobile. As she drove slowly into a parking space, the engine roared. When she braked, there was no response and the vehicle accelerated onto to a sidewalk into some bushes, hit a fence, and then stopped. The petitioner cites two other similar SA crashes where the electronic data recorder (EDR) results showed no pedal sensor voltage signals during most of the 4-5 s before impact. It would be reasonable to argue that the absence of accelerator pedal signals ruled out the possibility that the driver had been startled into flooring the accelerator pedal by mistake and holding it there, as required by the pedal error hypothesis and as presented in the NHTSA SA Report (1989). In the Raghavan denial of petition, NHTSA claims that drivers may have been making unrecorded accelerator pedal applications between EDR data points and that this proves that they were still making pedal errors. This ingenious counter hypothesis seems to require that the driver is startled into stomping on the accelerator pedal at 1-s intervals-each stomp being followed by a full pedal release-precisely timed to avoid detection by the EDR. This would require considerable right foot timing skills, muscular control, and dexterity on the part of an allegedly panic-stricken driver. This case study shows that NHTSA, in the process of denying Dr. Raghavan’s petition, has done a volte-face and expediently abandoned the pedal error hypothesis, thereby undermining the claim in the 1989 SA Report that: for SAI in which there is no evidence of throttle sticking or cruise-control malfunction, the inescapable conclusion is that these definitely involve the driver pressing the accelerator instead of or in addition to the brake.

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