Is there a "safe" way to stop an out-of-control vehicle with a stuck accelerator pedal?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 1995

Dear Tom and Ray:

A tragic accident happened this past spring in the Denver area. A woman was driving a U-Haul truck on the interstate when the accelerator stuck in the full open position. She fought it for a mile apparently, before hitting numerous vehicles and stopping on top of a passenger car. One of the car's occupants was killed, and a number of other people were injured. My husband says the driver could have stopped by putting the truck in Neutral. I say perhaps she could have stopped by turning off the ignition. In your opinion, was there any way the truck could have been stopped by the driver? Your answer may save many lives.

TOM: Sure, Dorothy. Turning off the ignition OR putting it in Neutral would have stopped the truck. But putting it in Neutral is by far the safer way to do it.

RAY: Turning off the ignition would have stopped the engine, but it would have turned off several other things as well. Most notably, the power steering and power brakes. And while it's possible to stop and steer a vehicle without power steering and power brakes, it ain't easy...especially when you're driving a truck with three quarters of your worldly possessions crammed into the back.

TOM: The other problem is that on some vehicles, turning the key to the off position locks the steering wheel. That's supposed to be a theft deterrent when you park it. But when you're driving a runaway vehicle--and suddenly you can't steer anymore--that certainly adds one more little annoyance to the situation.

RAY: So the best thing to do if you're ever in a "runaway vehicle" is to put it in Neutral. That disconnects the engine from the wheels, so no matter how fast the engine is going, the car is just coasting. If you're in Neutral and the engine is still running, you'll still have your power brakes and power steering, and you can simply pull over carefully, stop the car, and then shut off the key.

TOM: There is, of course, some chance you could do some damage to the engine by letting it rev so high in Neutral. In fact, it'll sound like it's screaming. But in circumstances like this, who cares? C'mon! What's worth more, your life and the lives of other people, or a lousy engine?

RAY: Especially if it's a rental!

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