I have written on a number of occasions about recent unexplained vehicle acceleration claims of many different vehicles, and the failure of government agencies and manufacturers to thoroughly investigate or take these claims seriously. Most claims are attributed to driver error, accusing the driver of pressing on the wrong pedal.
The most recent case involved a Lexus ES 350 that killed an off-duty highway patrol officer and three of his family. Recall that he had placed a 911 emergency call at the time of the incident. Recognizing that the plausibility of arguing that a trained CHP officer simply pressed the wrong pedal was not viable, a second simple explanation was offered, that the gas pedal had been trapped by a floor mat. I wrote that I doubted a CHP officer would not realize that the floor mat trapped the gas pedal and was interfering with its release as he and his family prayed during the last minutes of their lives.
Now according to the Los Angeles Times article, October 25, 2009, further investigation has revealed a reasonable basis for skepticism. Evidence showed that the brakes were heavily damaged, suggesting that the officer tried to stop the car through use of the brakes to no avail, as the motor roared on. He was not pressing the wrong pedal.
Investigators are again focusing on the floor mats because they were designed for a different model car, installed by a dealer in a loaner car. Clips that hold the floor mats were found, some attached some not. Strangely, no efforts have been undertaken to examine the electronic data recorder which would provide much more information about the acceleration, and potential cause of the accident. Additionally, it is reported that the accelerator pedal was actually “bonded” to a rubber floor mat.
The reason for bonding is not yet known. However, I my common sense opinion as a California product liability and accident attorney, suggests that this bonding actually occurred prior to the accident. To conclude otherwise, we would first have to presume that the pedal was, during normal operation of the vehicle, jammed to the floor, and held there for some unusual period, causing some unexplained force or factor to cause the rubber to bond!. Have you ever had rubber floor mats. They are tough and unlikely to bond without some significant force or heat, and when have you pressed the pedal to the mat racing down the road in your normal driving, with your family in tow?
A more likely explanation is that the unexplained acceleration had already begun. The officer, after realizing that the acceleration was occurring, pressed the brakes hard to no avail. He probably tried desperately to punch and stomp on the accelerator pedal in the hopes that the acceleration would stop. I am curious if he reported to the 911 operator if the pedal was stuck to the floor or just that the car was simply accelerating out of control.
I do not believe these accidents are a function of mechanical sticking of the pedal to a mat, driver error or a trapped accelerator caused by the wrong size mat. Our fuel delivery, cruise control and acceleration is all controlled by computers, and given the varied types of cars and drivers that have died, more investigation needs to be done until a definitive reason is identified. I hope that this case will not be swept under the “Mat” and the real culprit of this accident and others in the last five years will be found.