Deadly cars

Cars can be very dangerous machines!

Toyota Yaris

Toyota Yaris Image

Back in 2012 the American Highway Loss Data Institute published insurance statistics with a league table of the car that was most likely to produce personal injury claims. The booby prize went to the Toyota Yaris. The conclusion was that if were you were involved in a crash in that car the likelihood of you being injured was far higher than average.

In a way this is hardly surprising. The Yaris was a tiny sub compact and so it would stand to reason that in a collision involving other vehicles it would come off second best. However there was more to it than that!

Back in late 2009 hundreds of owners had complained of sudden unintended acceleration and subsequent accidents. Toyota's response was to blame mats getting caught on the accelerator pedal, or driver error. They announced a recall to put right the alleged defects but they didn't mention the fact that they already suspected that the true reason was a fault in the accelerator pedal, which caused it to stick when it had been partly depressed.

By now the media had got hold of the story and a number of journalists had started their own investigations. By now people had died; but Toyota failed to tell either regulators or their customers about the sticky pedal problem.

ABC News aired a programme about the dangers this could cause; in a subsequent court case Toyota were found guilty of misrepresenting the defects in their cars. The company was fined a massive US$1.2 billion.

For many victims of this fault it was too late; they were already dead or seriously injured. One man however who was serving a prison sentence of eight years for manslaughter was released from prison after having already served two years, when it was shown that he was possibly a victim of this defect. He will never get those two years of his life back again.

What was the real cause of the accelerator sticking? Extensive testing indicated that there were no faults in the electronic systems that controlled the accelerator. However an interesting theory has been put forward, that blames what is called 'tin whiskers'.

It appears that when an electrical current is passed through tin it is possible for tiny fibres, thinner than a human hair, to sprout from the surface. This allows electricity to be conducted to places where it is not supposed to be conducted. Toyota have insisted that they were aware of this issue and took steps to make sure that it didn't cause a problem but doubts remain.

Next - the Chevrolet Cobalt

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