A series of complaints to federal regulators, and a recent highly-publicized accident that killed four people, forced Toyota to recall nearly 4 million vehicles this month. Investigators believe the accident may have been caused when the vehicle's accelerator pedal snagged on an improperly-secured floormat, causing the car to accelerate out of control. Toyota owners nationwide have been instructed to remove their drivers' side floormat, and Toyota dealers are installing zip-ties to restrain the floormats on vehicles remaining on their lots.
Owners of Chrysler vehicles, however, don't need to be as concerned. Nor do those who own Volkswagens, BMWs, or cars built by several other automakers.
The New York Times explains, "Some automakers - primarily European - are using an unusual method to reduce the chances of unintended acceleration from something like a floor mat getting tangled up with the accelerator: smart gas pedals." The idea behind the technology is simple: if both the gas pedal and the brake pedal are depressed at the same time, the brake always wins - "the computer tells the engine to ignore the gas pedal."
Kicking Tires reports, "BMW made the feature standard in all of its vehicles beginning with the 2005 model year...but the feature only works when the vehicle is in motion in case tough guys want to rev the engine while holding down the brake." A few other automakers use a similar smart pedal system, including "Audi, which had its own rash of unintended acceleration cases in the '80s, and Volkswagen. Nissan will have a similar system for the 2010 Infiniti M, and Chrysler says most of its vehicles include the technology, as well."
The Times notes, "Spokespeople for General Motors, Ford, Honda, Acura, Toyota, Lexus and Hyundai said their vehicles do not have smart pedals," while a Mercedes-Benz spokesperson "declined to confirm the use of such software."
Toyota may ultimately use a smart pedal system to solve its own floormat problem. The company has told safety regulators it intends to develop a solution more effective than a simple floormat redesign.