Why the EV World Should Worry About Unintended Acceleration
(Bloomberg) -- Stay on top of the revolutions reshaping the auto world — from EVs to self-driving technology — by signing up for Hyperdrive’s newsletter here.
There have been some harrowing headlines out of Paris the last few days following a fatal crash involving a Tesla Model 3.
G7, the taxi operator, suspended the use of Teslas following incident, sidelining 37 cars that had been part of its network. French Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Wednesday on RMC radio that he spoke with the heads of G7 and Tesla Europe.
“We are taking precautions because the accident was dramatic, and the driver's version of events could potentially be a concern,'' the minister said, adding that Tesla had furnished all technical data to French investigators. “At this stage, we don't have any technical elements to lead us to believe there is a problem technical malfunctioning with this model.”
The driver told police he deliberately steered the car into objects to get it to stop. He’s been charged with involuntary manslaughter, Agence-France Presse reported.
It’s too soon to jump to conclusions about what happened, but the circumstances point to a possible sudden unintended acceleration event.
Safety regulators have been studying these events for decades. A 1989 report by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that most of these incidents were a result of drivers accidentally hitting the gas pedal when they meant to hit the brakes.
The issue reemerged in a major way when Toyota dealt with a sudden acceleration crisis more than a decade ago. Speculation swirled at the time as to whether NHTSA’s report was no longer valid, and if modern cars switching over to electronic throttle and braking systems were to blame. While Toyota ended up being faulted for floor mats and “sticky” pedals, investigators found no links between electronics and sudden acceleration incidents.
The question now is whether the issue will resurface as EVs continue their ascent.
If a driver accidentally stomps on the gas pedal of a combustion car, he or she is going to hear a revving engine and perhaps stand a chance of letting up and braking before something bad happens. By contrast, a slip of the foot in an EV produces silence and, in many cases, incredible power. Tesla claims its Model S Plaid that debuted in June can get from zero to 60 miles per hour in less than 2 seconds.
EVs can pull this off because electric motors don’t need the help that a gas engine does to get a car going. The instant torque they deliver from a standstill can be staggering to experience, as evidenced by countless YouTube videos from Tesla and its owners showing off their cars to their friends.
That’s all well and good when drivers happen to be on open roads. But there’s something to be said for the unintended consequences of putting this power into the hands of drivers who make mistakes. NHTSA estimated back in 2015 that roughly 16,000 preventable crashes occur every year due to pedal error.
For a potential solution, Tesla and other EV makers may want to look to the company most associated with this issue. Toyota has developed what it calls an acceleration suppression system that aims to detect pedal misapplication and override a driver accidentally pressing the throttle.
Manufacturers may have little choice but to go that route, since zero-to-60 times have always been points of pride and grounds for competition. Gobsmacking performance makes for great marketing, but regulators could eventually insist that safety be put first.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.