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Toyota Recall: Feds Might Require Brake Overrides

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2010 Toyota Venza

2010 Toyota Venza

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It's already looking like the Toyota recall hearings will bring us at least one new safety feature to all new vehicles: brake overrides.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood might recommend that every U.S. new vehicle be equipped with so-called smart throttle systems—meaning, most importantly, that the signal brake pedal will always override the accelerator pedal.

Such a device would allow the driver to safely come to a stop even if the throttle is stuck open. In such a situation, as long as the driver is pressing on the brake, the throttle would return to an idle position. As part of a requirement, there might also be some sort of mechanical check.

In some older, rear-wheel-drive vehicles, so-called brake-torquing could help aid traction in some very specialized winter-driving situations (like getting out of a snow-packed spot, for instance). And of course brake-torquing has long been used by racers and vehicle testers to achieve the fastest possible launch from a standing start. But that's not good for transmissions anyway, and electronic stability control systems, traction control, and more sophisticated braking systems have rendered those techniques unnecessary.

Many—though not all—of Toyota's U.S. models will have a smart-throttle system or brake override by 2011, the automaker has said. 2010 Toyota Camry and Avalon models already have the systems, according to the New York Times, and the Tacoma, Venza, and Sequoia will soon get the system.

In a line of questioning in Tuesday's hearings related to how Toyota has handled its accelerator-related issues, Senator Jay Rockefeller, of West Virginia (Toyota manufactures engines and transmissions in WV), said that he thought the system should be installed on current and older Toyota models as well. Such a retrofit could prove very costly.

Rockefeller criticized the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's approach in accepting Toyota's explanation that floor mats were the cause of unintended acceleration, and not launching a deeper investigation into the possibility that it might be an electronics issue.

Brake overrides are already included in many vehicles sold worldwide and in the U.S.

For more information on the difference a brake override system could make, and what exactly we're referring to, in December Consumer Reports test engineer Jake Fisher demonstrated the difference in video with a Toyota Venza, which doesn't have a smart-throttle system, and a Volkswagen Jetta, which does.

[New York Times]

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