NHTSA Proposes Brake-Throttle Override Systems
April 13, 2012

NHTSA Proposes Brake-Throttle Override Systems

US auto safety regulators announced a new proposal on Thursday that would require vehicles to be outfitted with brake-throttle override (BTO) systems to prevent vehicles from unintentional acceleration due to stuck throttles.

The proposal comes despite the fact that nearly all 2012 and newer vehicles already come equipped with such systems, and regulators can´t say just how many injuries or deaths the rule would prevent. A government probe into the unintended acceleration of Toyota and Lexus vehicles also showed that most of the incidents involving those makes were due to driver error.

Under the new proposal, developed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), all new cars and light trucks would be required to have these override systems. The override systems, which automatically activate if the accelerator and brake are touched simultaneously, would be required in all passenger vehicles and buses weighing less than 10,000 pounds.

The NHTSA wants the proposal to go into effect for all vehicles by the 2015 model year. And since most passenger vehicles already have such systems installed, the Department of Transportation (DOT) expects costs to auto manufacturers to be “close to zero.”

The proposal comes on the heels of two investigations looking into the unintended acceleration problem. Both the NHTSA and NASA probes concluded that there were no electronic defects in the vehicle models studied, but they found that in some cases drivers had accidentally pressed the brake and gas pedal at the same time of that gas pedals had become trapped in some way.

An August 2009 high-speed crash gained national attention when a Lexus driven by a California highway officer crashed near San Diego, killing all four people on board. Investigators determined that the officer applied the brake of the loaned car but was unable to override the accelerator, which was stuck wide-open, being trapped by the floor mat.

After several more accidents involving both Lexus and Toyota model vehicles, Toyota Motor Corp. in February 2011 recalled more than 2 million vehicles in the US to address the accelerator issue. The recall prompted NHTSA to close its investigation, but only after fining Toyota $50 million for not recalling the vehicles in a timely manner.

The NHTSA said the BTOs aim to minimize the risk of drivers losing control of their vehicles due to accelerator-control system disconnections or accelerator-pedal sticking or floor-mat entrapment. The BTO systems is set up so that the brake wins when both the brake and accelerator are pushed simultaneously.

“While NHTSA´s defect investigation program will continue to monitor and consider consumer complaints of any potential vehicle safety issues, this proposal is one way the agency is helping keep drivers safe and continuing to work to reduce the risk of injury from sticky pedals or pedal entrapment issues,” NHTSA´s administrator, David Strickland, told Reuters in a statement.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers have been urging for regulators to make override systems standard on new vehicles for two years, said agency vice president Gloria Bergquist. She said the alliance would review the new NHTSA proposal.

The public will also have 60 days to comment on the proposal. If the proposal passes a 60-day comment period and becomes a final rule by October 1, the BTO requirement would go into effect on September 1, 2014, according to the NHTSA.

“By updating our safety standards, we´re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood in a statement.

Toyota maintained from the very beginning that the problem was the result of faulty floor mats that could pin the gas pedal to the floor. And LaHood, in early 2011, announced that the federal probe launched on the issue agreed with Toyota.

“There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas,” LaHood said in February 2011.

However, one analyst was critical of the proposed rule.

“There´s the risk that an override system could provide a false sense of security for drivers, especially in cases where a driver accidentally applies the wrong pedal, and an override will do nothing to solve the problem,” said Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of autos and sales analyst Edmunds.com.

“While this mandate might help prevent some other causes of sudden unintended acceleration, a brake override system could impact everyday drivability and generate other sorts of customer complaints if not executed properly,” he said.

The complete 98-page Brake-Throttle Override system proposal can be found here.