Investigation Raises Questions on Driver’s Version of Prius Incident

Follow this link to the article in The Wall Street Journal.  I know what newspaper I have just given you as a link. However, this appears to be a news story and not an editorial, so there might be a smidgen of credibility in it.

During the 911 call, the operator urged Mr. Sikes to shift the car into neutral. He later said he was afraid doing so might cause the car to “flip” or shift into reverse.

What kind of ignorant driver would think that shifting to neutral would cause the car to flip over, but slamming on the brakes would not?  What kind of driver would rather crash into a wall at 95 miles per hour for sure rather than run some other kind of risk to get the car under control?

The piece I quoted isn’t even the question being raised.  The actual question is whether or not the driver actually applied the brakes as forcefully as he claimed.  I wonder if the behavior of the anti-lock brakes caused him to take his foot off the brakes.

I don’t know how many of you have experienced your anti-lock system coming into action.  In some cars it causes a rapid vibration in the brake pedal.  In some cars you may also get a bit of noise from the brakes.  If you are unaware of what is going on, you might think this is a problem and might take your foot off the break pedal.  Actually, this behavior is a sign that the anti-lock system is doing exactly what it is designed to do.  You just need to keep your foot on the brake until you regain control.


A federal safety investigation of the Toyota Prius that was involved in a dramatic incident on a California highway last week found a particular pattern of wear on the car’s brakes that raises questions about the driver’s version of the event, three people familiar with the investigation said.

On Monday James Sikes, 61 years old, called 911 and told the operator his blue 2008 Toyota Prius had sped up to more than 90 miles per hour on its own on Interstate 8 near San Diego. He eventually brought the vehicle to a stop after a California Highway patrolman pulled alongside Mr. Sikes and offered help.

During and after the incident, Mr. Sikes said he was using heavy pressure on his brake pedal at high speeds.

But the investigation of the vehicle, carried out jointly by safety officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Toyota engineers, didn’t find signs the brakes had been applied at full force at high speeds over a sustained period of time, the three people familiar with the investigation said.

The brakes were discolored and showed wear, but the pattern of friction suggested the driver had intermittently applied moderate pressure on the brakes, these people said, adding the investigation didn’t find indicators of the heavy pressure described by Mr. Sikes.

Further details of the findings weren’t available.

On Friday NHTSA officials declined to comment on the inspection and couldn’t immediately be reached on Saturday.

Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said the company will release technical findings very soon and declined to comment further about the vehicle’s brakes. Mr. Michels said the hybrid braking system used in the Prius would make the engine lose power if the brakes were pressed at the same time as the accelerator.

Mr. Sikes lawyer, John Gomez, said Saturday: “Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, it’s clear that there is a problem with these cars. We’re going to wait till the inspection is complete.” He said that the California Highway patrolman involved in the incident said he saw the car’s brake lights go on and that he smelled the brakes burning.

The investigation’s findings aren’t 100% conclusive and still must be finalized. But they are likely to cast doubt on how the situation was described by Mr. Sikes. The California Highway Patrol has said it has no reason not to believe Mr. Sikes, but questions have mounted in recent days, in part because the Prius has a type of technology that pulls back on the accelerator when the brake is engaged.

During the 911 call, the operator urged Mr. Sikes to shift the car into neutral. He later said he was afraid doing so might cause the car to “flip” or shift into reverse.

Mr. Sikes’s Prius is subject to a recall by Toyota to prevent the driver’s floor mat from pinning down the gas pedal that was announced in November and covers 5.4 million vehicles in the U.S.

Reports of unintended acceleration have prompted Toyota to recall more than six million vehicles in the U.S. and more than eight million world-wide. The recalls are aimed to fix the floor mat issue as well as gas pedals that can get stuck.

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