Can a "runaway Toyota" be stopped with the brakes?

March 04, 2010  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  Weblog

There have been many driver claims that they tried using the brakes but it couldn't override the engine at the full throttle into which alleged sudden acceleration had thrown them. Is this true? At some level, it's simple physics. Newton's Second Law is that force equals mass times velocity. So the faster your vehicle is traveling and the heavier your vehicle, the harder it will be - all other things being equal - to stop it.

But we get beyond that when we take into account that individual vehicles have more or less powerful engines and more or less powerful brakes. You can build engines so strong and brakes so weak that it either takes an extremely long time to stop a vehicle or perhaps the vehicle can't be stopped at all. Is that the case with Toyotas?

Car & Driver magazine put this to the test.

It tested one of the recalled Toyotas, the Camry with the most powerful engine, a V-6, at three different speeds. It also tested two other vehicles. It found:

With the Camry's throttle pinned while going 70 mph, the brakes easily overcame all 268 horsepower straining against them and stopped the car in 190 feet - that's a foot shorter than the performance of a Ford Taurus without any gas-pedal problems and just 16 feet longer than with the Camry's throttle closed. From 100 mph, the stopping-distance differential was 88 feet - noticeable to be sure, but the car still slowed enthusiastically enough to impart a feeling of confidence. We also tried one go-for-broke run at 120 mph, and, even then, the car quickly decelerated to about 10 mph before the brakes got excessively hot and the car refused to decelerate any further. So even in the most extreme case, it should be possible to get a car's speed down to a point where a resulting accident should be a low-speed and relatively minor event.

It also pointed out that if you take a car out of gear, throttle becomes irrelevant. Even without braking your car immediately begins slowing.

In the case of my Toyota accident in 1991, which involved fishtailing, without searching for the police report I'd guess that I only had about 40 feet to stop before reaching the cliff, it was going about 50 miles per hour (speed limit 55), and while the MR2 was a two-seater it was a remarkably heavy two-seater. So I never had a chance. And other drivers would also find there just wasn't enough distance for them to stop in time. But for the most part, even assuming Toyotas "run away" from you, they can be brought under control.

Incidentally, I'm inserting a disclaimer that I have no connection to Toyota in any way. I know no Toyota employees, own no Toyota stock, have received no payments from the company or anybody connected thereto. I think that just about covers it.