Toyota has recently been in the news for a problem that causes their vehicles to suddenly accelerate. While Toyota claims that the problem is caused by faulty floor mats, many say that the problem is unrelated to the floor mats. Runaway vehicles are not just limited to the recent cases of uncontrollable acceleration that Toyota vehicles have made the news for. When I was a kid, I was traveling with some friends when the other vehicle that was with us suddenly had a problem with a cruise control system that would not turn off. Whether you drive a Toyota or another type of vehicle, it’s important to know what to do if your car won’t come to a stop. When emergencies occur, such as a runaway car, it is important to already have a plan of action in mind. Many of us have difficulty thinking clearly in these out-of-the-ordinary situations, and may have trouble reacting properly. This is why schools conduct fire drills. Survivors of emergency situations often have a plan in mind before they get into an emergency.
Neutral is Your Friend
One of the first things that you should do in a runaway vehicle situation is to put your car into neutral. In a recent runaway car incident, James Sikes was driving a runaway Prius. When faced with this situation, he called 911, stepped on his brakes very hard, and even applied the emergency brake, but he was reluctant to put the vehicle into neutral. He though that doing so would cause his car to flip. That is not the case. Putting your vehicle into neutral will simply disengage the drive train. The vehicle will still continue to go forward due to inertia, but the engine will not be working against the brakes any more.
Know Your Vehicle’s Emergency Functions
Sikes was lucky because he survived. In another recent runaway car case, a man named Mark Saylor was driving a Lexus ES 350, which was a loaner vehicle. When the vehicle was unable to stop, it ran into another car and then flew over an embankment. Some newer vehicles have different ways of shifting and turning off the engine. Saylor’s Lexus was an automatic vehicle with a shift lever that mimics a manual transmission. While that may have been a fine arrangement under normal circumstances, in an emergency, it may not have been easy to remember how to shift the vehicle into neutral. Additionally, the ES 350 did not have a standard way of turning off the ignition, which would be an alternate way to stop the vehicle. In an emergency, the driver would need to press the emergency shut-off button for three seconds. As the driver was unfamiliar with the vehicle, he may not have known how to turn off the vehicle in an emergency. When driving an unfamiliar vehicle, it is important to learn how to disengage and turn off a vehicle in an emergency.
While nobody expects to find themselves in a runaway vehicle, the situation does happen, and is not limited to Toyota vehicles. Knowing to put your vehicle into neutral, and knowing how to shift your vehicle into neutral (or turn it off if in a worst-case scenario) will help you get through an emergency situation unharmed.
Spagat, Elliot. “Runaway Prius Driver: Brakes Were ‘Almost Burned'”. Yahoo Finance, 10 March 2010.
Vartabedian, Ralph, and Ken Bensinger. “Toyota’s Runaway-Car Worries May Not Stop at Floor Mats.” Los Angeles Times, 18 October 2009.