Does "unintended acceleration" really exist?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Aug 01, 1989

Dear Tom and Ray:

My brother-in-law, who never makes mistakes, drove his 1986 Nissan Maxima off the end of his driveway and into the woods. He attributed this to "unintended acceleration" and maintained that his foot was on the brake the entire time. My personal experience with unintended acceleration is that the driver's foot is on the accelerator pedal as mine was when I drove a Fiat X 1/9 into a loading dock at college. I, too, experienced the momentary urge to attribute this catastrophe to mechanical failure, though the circumstances made this untenable. Do you think claims of unintended acceleration are societal or mechanical?

TOM: There are two good explanations for this phenomena. The harsher of the two is TWP... Tennessee Whiskey Phenomenon. That is when a vehicle mysteriously surges forward or backward shortly after the driver has consumed too many whiskey sours.

RAY: The kinder explanation is "unintended stupidity." That is when a driver puts his or her foot on the wrong pedal without the assistance of mind-dulling substances. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration calls this "driver error," and in a major study released this past summer, NHTSA concluded that driver error was, in fact, the cause of these "unintended acceleration" incidents. The Audi 5000 had the misfortune to become associated with these reports. NHTSA's conclusion was that there was no mechanical explanation for these incidents, and that they must have been caused by "pedal misapplication," the bureaucratic term for unintended stupidity.

TOM: But if I we're you Don, I still wouldn't stand behind any of the cars associated with this least not while your brother-in-law is driving.

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