Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Toyota Apologizes for Idiotic Drivers

When I was a new pilot I was quizzed what to do during emergencies.

  • Engine failure?

  • Hydrolic failure?

  • Transmission failure?

  • Engine fire?

  • Bird strike?

  • Electrical failure?

The first answer is ALWAYS - fly the plane.

The same goes for driving a car. With time, all motor vehicles will eventually suffer an equipment failure. The difference is not that one car is safer than another, but how well drivers cope with the unexpected. Captain Sullenberger's "Miracle on the Hudson" saved lives not only because he flew a well-designed passenger jet but also because he had regularly practiced emergency situations for several decades. When geese destroyed both of his engines he immediately did what we were both taught and flew the plane.

Several years ago, I was riding my motorcycle on the 405 Freeway when a chunk of metal flew across the freeway and bounced a few feet from my front tire. It tore off the kickstand, which activated the built-in kill-switch that immediately turned off my ignition switch. I was traveling in heavy traffic at 70 MPH. The shoulder was six lanes away from me.

Because auto manufacturers have improved vehicle design and reliability, many drivers become complacent and forget basic driving skills. Few read their manuals or take driving courses after high school. For many, advertised performance and commercials are the extent of their training.

I immediately depressed the clutch so I could coast (I was in 5th gear) and activated my emergency lights. I then made eye contact with the cars at my right, signaled by hand and, still traveling at 60 MPH+, slowly merged into the lanes on my right. When I reached the shoulder I turned off the ignition and called a tow truck. Had I panicked or stopped in the center lane I might have been injured or worse. Although the accident was not my fault, any injury I sustained would have been.

As much as Congress is making out of Toyota's stuck accellerators, it's hard to imagine why the affected drivers didn't simply place their cars in NEUTRAL and coast to the side of the road before turning off the ignition. A panicked driver who allows their car to accelerate to 100+ may not be to blame for the faulty equipment, but their decision to keep the car in gear was.

More puzzling is why a few dozen preventable accidents and injuries require Congressional intervention while they continue to ignore companies like Pfizer, Eli Lilly & Co., Bristol-Myers Squibb and four other drug companies that have paid a total of $7 billion in fines and criminal penalties since 2004 for drugs that are known to kill or injure hundreds of thousands of patients annually.

Congressional outrage seems to be more about slamming a non-union company that makes a product superior to our state-owned union-infested auto companies. If Congress was truly concerned about public safety, Toyota would be among the last companies to subpoena.