Monday, March 15, 2010

Mr. Sikes, a Prius, Toyota Motor Company, and Certainty

"Gov't says it cannot explain runaway Toyota"
The Associated Press (March 15, 2010)

"The federal government said Monday it cannot explain a reported incident of sudden, high-speed acceleration in a Toyota Prius on a San Diego, Calif., freeway last week and acknowledged it may not be able to solve the mystery of what happened to the hybrid.

"The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said its engineers continue to investigate and are reviewing data from the Prius owned by James Sikes to try to understand what happened with his hybrid. But so far, NHTSA says it has not been able to find anything to explain the incident that Sikes reported.

" 'We would caution people that our work continues and that we may never know exactly what happened with this car,' NHTSA said in a statement.

"Sikes called 911 last Monday to report losing control of his Prius as the hybrid reached speeds of 94 mph. A highway patrol officer helped bring the vehicle to a safe stop...."

If Mr. Sikes' case had been the first report of Toyota troubles, and had led to a sort of panic that resulted in a demand that Toyota recall cars: I'd be a whole lot more upset.

That's not what happened.

There doesn't seem to be much doubt that something went very badly wrong in Toyota's quality control several years ago.

What happened on Interstate 8, last week, with James Sikes' Prius, may have something to do with the rest of Toyota's troubles. Or, not.

Mr. Sikes was unhurt, happily. And, almost as important, his Prius was available for study.

That's the good news. The bad news? It's in today's news:
  • "Runaway Prius May Stay a Mystery: NHTSA "
    NBC San Diego (March 15, 2010)
    • " 'It doesn't mean it didn't happen, but let's understand, it doesn't mean it did happen,' Issa said...."
  • "Test on Prius Is Inconclusive"
    The Wall Street Journal (March 15, 2010)
    • "U.S investigators have yet to find evidence to explain what may have happened to the Toyota Prius that was involved in a dramatic incident on a California highway last week, the Transportation Department said Monday...."
  • "Putting Runaway Prius in Neutral Didn't Work: CHP"
    NBC San Diego (March 9, 2010)
    • "...Neibert said he checked the accelerator and brake pedal and they both appeared to be in the normal resting position as if the vehicle was parked. The floor mat, a non-rubber mat, appeared to be in its normal position, he said.
    • "[California Highway Patrol] Officer [Todd] Neibert said he not only could smell the brakes from the Prius but also witnessed Sikes physically lifting his body to apply pressure on the brakes...."
It's frustrating. I still don't know whether another Toyota driver had a potentially-lethal equipment malfunction, whether Mr. Sikes intentionally sped down the Interstate, or something else happened.

Well, that's the way things work. We don't always get answers promptly. Sometimes we don't get them at all.

I'm inclined to believe that Officer Neibert is reporting what he observed. If he's not, then he and Sikes are conspiring to defame Toyota. Or Officer Neibert perjuring himself at the risk of his career and liberty just for the fun of it. Unlikely.

If it is a conspiracy (no, I do not think so), then it likely would involve a third party - a dispatcher or whoever plans shift assignments for Neibert. Of course, Neibert could have called Sikes, informing him of where to meet him - but that sort of call can be traced these days: and would be a crazy risk to take.

So, I'm assuming that we can take what Officer Neibert is saying at face value.

As for the inability of investigators to duplicate the malfunction? I've owned and operated motor vehicles for more than 40 years, and have often had to deal with an intermittent malfunction. I long ago learned to wait until the malfunction wasn't intermittent, before seeing a mechanic. Or hoping the car or would act up when I was near the garage.

Something that sends you roaring down the road with bad brakes can be dangerous.

Strike that. Are dangerous.

And not something to put off until you can count on dealing with unresponsive controls each time you get on a freeway.

Updated from Reuters

A Reuters article from February 9, 2010, had this paragraph when I first read it:

"WRAPUP 1-Toyota to recall Prius, halts shipments on 2 hybrids"

"...Toyota is fighting to keep its reputation for quality and reliability while dealing with a potential rush of litigation for crashes linked to 19 deaths and numerous injuries in the United States over the past decade......."

Frivolous lawsuits exist. But I'm assuming that there's some basis to these. After a decade of dead people piling up, if there was fraud or foolishness involved: I'd expect some reporter to have dug it up. That sort of thing sells papers.

Reuters updated that article after I'd read it. It was more of a clarification than a change.

"WRAPUP 8-Toyota recalls new Prius in latest safety fix"
Reuters (Feb 9)

"...Toyota also faces potential litigation over 19 deaths and
numerous injuries in crashes linked to the acceleration
problems as well as class-action lawsuits over the brake
problems with the Prius. [ID:nN08218059]...

Back to Mr. Sikes

As I wrote Saturday, the latest Toyota incident involves a driver with a less-than-ideal track record and a car that won't act the way he says it did.

Given what a reliable witness reports, though: I think we still don't know what happened.

Related posts:


Brigid said...

I'd like to buy a vowel: "his Prius was availble"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian, aka Nanoc, aka Norski said...


Oops. Then, the trick was to put the vowel in the right place. This hasn't been one of my better weeks.

Thanks! Glad you caught that.

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