Toyota Floor Mat Safety Recall – Can your Prius kill you?
Here is a picture of a potential situation they are describing. The floor mat supposedly jams the accelerator pedal and causes it to get stuck in the wide open position. Please note the only way I could model that is to use a third-party rubber floor mat – the stock Toyota floor mat is too short to reach the accelerator pedal unless you dislodge it which in itself is no small task:
There are few problems with the floor mat interference as I see it:
- The accelerator pedal is, of course, spring-loaded. The spring is pretty strong and will easily push away a mat made of anything that’s rubber or carpet. It would be a very frustrating experience indeed if the mat would in any way interfere with the pedal but to let it stay wide-open the spring would have to fail first.
- The stock Toyota floor mat has rubber bumps on the underside that embed themselves into the carpet underneath the mat and hold onto it so well that the mat simply does not move! In order to force it to slide forward so it can interfere with the accelerator pedal you have to lift it up from the floor first. See the picture below
Note the part number on the picture – it’s PT208-47060, which is mentioned in the Toyota letter as the correct floor mat for the vehicle. Here is the complete chart
So, all in all, even though the floor mat seems like something that is plausible, I think it is not the culprit or at the very least not the most probable one. Even though this particular issue (if it’s not completely made up) is rather easy to explain to customers and easy/cheap to fix, I can’t think that something so simple to figure out, even under the tremendous stress of driving an unresponsive vehicle, could cause some of the most high-profile runaway crashes, such as California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor and his family’s tragic death. I’m inclined to think that the cars’ electronic controls (think the “Start” button that replaced the turn-to-start key) can and do fail, just like pretty much every electronics device you’ve ever owned. The car’s computer just happens to be the most dangerous electronics device that can fail on you and Toyota, as well as all other car manufacturers will do well with the public if they build multiple safety backups for the most important vehicle controls and then disclose what the backups are and how they work.
As consumers demand and car manufacturers provide more and more electronic features in the cars, we become more and more reliant on operation of devices that for the vast majority of the general public are nothing other than black boxes. For as little as we know how the boxes work, we know even less about what would happen if they fail. Radar automatic brakes, camera steering assist that follows the road marking and compensates your steering, semi-automatic parallel parking and other features that we may soon find ourselves accustomed to are all going to have some finite time-to-failure values. So, we better be prepared and have tools provided by the manufacturers to take control when the electronics controls do fail.
In industrial applications things can also get really hairy if some device, say a robot, runs away. For that you will not find any industrial installation that does not have the BIG Red panic button that overrides and shuts everything down.
I want one for my car!