Toyota Motor Corp. is introducing an emergency safety system that will ignore the accelerator when it determines that the gas pedal has been pressed accidentally, the automaker announced earlier this week.
The smart system, which the company is calling an Acceleration Suppression Function, is built on a massive database of information collected from cars that can communicate with servers via the internet and will help identify abnormal operation of the accelerator, a problem that the Japanese government has identified as of particular concern to older drivers. The auto giant plans to install the feature that slows a vehicle in new cars and introduce a retrofit accelerator control system that will include the feature for use with certain existing cars beginning gradually this summer in Japan, according to a news release.
"I don't think anyone has tried something along these lines,” says Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, in a statement published online. “We're intrigued. This is something we'd like to experience to see if it does what it's intended to do."
U.S. availability uncertain
Toyota has not announced when the system will be available outside Japan, but unintended accelerator accidents are also a concern in the United States. In 2012 the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a report that linked seven to 15 crashes a month to drivers pressing the wrong pedal.
People ages 70 to 74 were at twice the risk of being involved in such accidents, according to the agency. And starting at age 65, the percentage of drivers involved in these pedal-application accidents were higher than their percentage among all drivers.
In Japan, drivers 75 and older caused about 11 percent of fatal accidents that involved unintended acceleration during the first half of 2019, according to Japan's National Police Agency.
Toyota had a mechanical problem with sudden unintended acceleration in its vehicles about a decade ago, recalling millions of vehicles. The problem eventually was traced to a sticky gas pedal, not a wedged floor mat as the company originally reported, and the U.S. Justice Department levied a $1.2 billion fine on the car manufacturer in 2014.
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Technology already lessens problem
These days most new cars in the United States can be customized with driver-assistance technologies that rely on cameras and electronic sensors to detect nearby objects. These technologies can act for a driver to help avoid forward collisions, backing into objects or traffic or drifting out of a marked lane, the NHTSA says.
Toyota's new system takes these technologies a step further by focusing on when the accelerator is engaged abnormally. The company looked at accidents in which the cause was determined to be pedal misapplication, particularly analyzing incidents in which accelerator pedals were pressed fully.
Toyota then compared the characteristics of these situations with big data collected from connected cars to eliminate instances when drivers are required to rapidly accelerate, such as after a temporary stop. The company says it plans to share extensively, including with other automakers, the methods it used to develop this feature.