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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Toyota acceleration: harbinger of the future

Yesterday a Toyota Prius accelerated wildly on a highway before police managed to coach the driver into stopping. What was their solution? To slow down by using the emergency brake and regular brake, and then put the car into neutral.

I'm more disturbed that the driver didn't think to put the current into neutral then I am by the acceleration problem itself. How many drivers of automatic cars don't really know what the neutral gear does? I don't recall reading whether any Toyotas with manual transmissions have had acceleration problems, but I can't imagine many such drivers calling 911 from their accelerating car instead of engaging the clutch and shifting out of fifth.

As our cars, in our lives, become run increasingly by software and digital logic, we are losing the ability to cope when things break down. Steve Wozniak, one of the founders of Apple, complained publicly earlier this year -- before the Toyota recall -- that his Prius was prone to accelerating out of control. Woz comes from a different technological era; he built much of the first Apple computers by hand while driving a VW that he could repair himself. What does it mean that even Woz is so distanced from the workings of his vehicle that he doesn't understand why it does what it does, and has no reasonable possibility of ever understanding?

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