In 2009, a highway patrol officer’s Lexus sedan accelerated out of control, resulting in four deaths. After a slew of these cases, NASA mechanical engineers looked into the situation, but failed to find problems. As Mitch Trachtenberg reports for Truthout, it wasn’t until Michael Barr, an independent software systems expert, examined these cases that causes were found.
Barr found many problems with the source code for Toyota, including no error-correcting memory, insufficient fail-safes, and a lack of watchdog timers. Ron Belt, an electronics engineer, also theorized that negative voltage spikes on battery supply lines could cause increased throttle input, which could lead to sudden acceleration. These are serious problems that can be fixed, but Toyota isn’t doing much, and the media isn’t helping.
There is a lack of establishment news coverage for the cause of these failures, and only specialized outlets like EDN Network, a news source for engineers, have discussed the causes. As Trachtenberg writes, “The technical press gets it—the business and mainstream media don’t.” In a world where we rely increasingly on computers to do our work for us, we need precision and safety, but laymen do not fully understand this. Toyota therefore remains safe from condemnation via public ignorance.
Source: Mitch Trachtenberg, “Why Toyota Is Settling Its Sudden-Acceleration Cases,” Truthout, April 9, 2014, http://truth-out.org/news/item/22987-why-toyota-is-settling-its-sudden-acceleration-cases.
Student Researcher: Gooey Gu (Pomona College)
Faculty Evaluator: Andy Lee Roth (Pomona College)