How to Survive Sudden Unintended Acceleration

car accelerating

Picture the scene: You’re driving down the road and suddenly the car begins to accelerate without your foot on the accelerator pedal. You’re suddenly going down the road much faster than you anticipated, and far faster than traffic and your own driving skills warrant! Enough of this “sudden unintended acceleration” (SUA), and you’ll be sure to hit another car, pedestrian, or some obstacle. Clearly, this can only end in disaster.

This may sound like something out of a conspiracy movie or perhaps a driver’s worst nightmare, but it’s happened on quite a few occasions. Most recently, Tesla Motors has been implicated in as many as 10 instances of SUA, nearly all of which resulted in collisions. In the late-2000s, Toyota was implicated in a string of SUA cases, which caused nearly 100 deaths. Further back, in the 1980s, some 700 accidents were attributed to SUA in Audi 5000s.

What Causes Sudden Unintended Acceleration?

In the case of the recent Toyota SUA incidents, which cost the company billions of dollars in recalls, fines, and reputation, after intense investigations by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and even NASA (National Aeronautics & Space Administration) scientists, most instances of sudden unintended acceleration were traced to driver error. After studying thousands of lines of code and performing in-depth electro-mechanical investigation, both the NHTSA and NASA concluded that there was no way any of the supposedly-affected models could possibly accelerate on their own.

On the other hand, multiple floor mats, bulky floor mats, debris on the driver’s floor, and mistaking pedals have all caused SUA in any number of vehicles, but it seems that the perfect storm was brewed for those associated with Toyota and Lexus models. Sticking throttle linkages or throttle plates, due to lack of maintenance, can cause SUA, as well. Even pets or loose footwear can cause problems with the pedals.

Unfortunately, unscrupulous types, who have money on the mind rather than consumer safety, have developed copycat lawsuits to cash in on the hype. One such crash, involving a late-model Tesla Model X, supposedly accelerated on its own into a garage. The Tesla’s own datastream shows that the accelerator pedal was mashed to the floor, 100% “throttle,” at the time of the crash. This means someone didn’t know what pedal they were pressing, what direction they were going, or that they’re straight-up lying about it.

How Do You Survive?

First, let’s go back to before you were driving, and make sure your car is not a thrill ride. Make sure the driver’s foot area is clear of all trash, water bottles, and pets, etc. You should have a single floor mat placed well out of the way of the pedals. The floor mat cannot interfere with the pedals, either under or over. If there is a hook to hold the floor mat, make sure it is used. You may want to consider tying down the floor mat yourself if it isn’t equipped with one. Aftermarket mats should be cut to match the OEM mats to avoid interference with the pedals.

Still, no matter what the cause, sudden unintended acceleration is survivable, but you need to keep a cool head. Let’s go back to our opening scene, driving along and suddenly the car accelerates out of control… Mere seconds separate you from certain disaster. What do you do?

  • Resist the urge to turn off the engine, as you’ll lose power brakes and power steering, which you’ll need to safely bring your car to a stop and maneuver off the road.
  • Make sure your foot is only on the brake pedal – this is the most common driver error – and press hard. Don’t “pump” the brakes or use the emergency brake. At a minimum, you’ll waste valuable time. At worst, you could put your car into a spin or rollover if the brakes lock up.
  • Put the transmission in neutral or depress the clutch to stop the engine from powering the car forward. Don’t worry if the engine starts racing like it’s going to explode from under the hood. Better your engine than you or someone else.
  • If your service brakes have failed, gently apply the emergency brake to slow your car.
  • As the car starts to slow, maneuver to a safe spot on the side of the road. Once you’ve gotten the vehicle to a safe stop, shut off the engine.
  • Set the parking brake, put the transmission in park, and exit the vehicle. Call a tow truck driver and ask for fresh underpants.

SUA Possible, but Highly Unlikely

However unlikely the instance of sudden unintended acceleration, no matter what vehicle you’re driving, it’s as distinct a possibility as thousands of other accidents every year in America. The NHTSA reports that more than 90% of all accidents are due to driver error, SUA included. Being prepared and keeping a cool head will help you walk away from this one with little more than a frayed nerve.

Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers is Here to Help

We’ve been serving the St. Louis, MO, area for over forty years, and we live and work where you live and work. If your car needs routine maintenance or repairs, you can trust Dobbs Tire & Auto Centers’ ASE-Certified technicians to get the job done right. Call or stop in one of our 43 locations for a personalized consultation.