How Would You Stop a Vehicle Accelerating Out of Control?

September, 2010

By Kathy Phillips

Imagine your employee is parking a vehicle and when pressing down on the gas pedal, the vehicle suddenly accelerates out of control, right into a block wall or, worse yet, a pedestrian. This may seem like a nightmare, but it has been a frightening reality for some owners of Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
Toyota earlier conducted a recall of 3.8 million vehicles to deal with accelerator pedals that had become stuck under floor mats. More recently, additional recalls for malfunctioning accelerators have added to the total, magnifying the costs and bad publicity. But Toyotas are not the only vehicles with runaway acceleration problems.
These types of incidents can happen in practically any vehicle. And they can result in serious injuries and severe property damage.
So, do your employees know how to deal with a vehicle that suddenly accelerates out of control?
Give them the following test to determine how they would react, and then inform them of the proper answer, as provided by Jake Fisher, a Senior Engineer in the Auto Test Division of the Consumer Reports organization:
If your vehicle suddenly accelerated out of control, what would you do?
A. Pump the brakes to slow down.
B. Shut off the engine.
C. Press down hard on the brakes, shift the transmission into neutral, and shut off the engine after the vehicle stops.
The correct answer is C.
Fisher says that pumping the brakes in situations of sudden unintended acceleration may actually cause a total loss of the power brakes. Shutting off the engine may cause the steering wheel to lock, meaning that the vehicle could no longer be steered. Also, with the engine off, the driver loses the power assist for both steering and brakes.
None of these scenarios is good in a vehicle that is traveling at breakneck speed.
Hitting the brakes hard, quickly shifting into neutral and shutting off the revving engine only after the vehicle is safely stopped is the proper way to respond to this type of emergency, Fisher says.
Consumer Reports even recommends that your drivers practice the above steps in a safe location at low speeds until they feel comfortable with them.
If you have valets, mechanics or other incidental operators, make sure they know what to do in this type of an emergency.
Kathy Phillips, CIC, CPP, is First Vice President of Alliant Insurance Services. She can be reached at kphillips@alliantinsurance.com.

Did You Know?
Research on “distracted driving” reveals some surprising facts:
• 80% of all crashes and 65% of “near-crashes” involve some type of driver distraction. (Source: Virginia Tech study for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
• In 2008, nearly 6,000 people died in crashes involving a distracted or inattentive driver, and more than 500,000 were injured. (NHTSA)
• Drivers who use hand-held devices are four times more likely to get into crashes serious enough to injure themselves. (Source: Insurance Institute for Highway Safety)
• Driving a vehicle while using a cell phone reduces the amount of brain activity associated with driving by 37%. (Source: Carnegie Mellon University)
• Using a cell phone while driving, whether hand-held or hands-free, delays a driver’s reactions as much as having a blood alcohol concentration at the legal limit of .08%. (Source: University of Utah)
For more information, check the “Stats & Facts,” “FAQ” and “Research” sections of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s “Official Website for Distracted Driving” at www.distraction.gov.