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How to stop a Toyota Prius flying down the freeway at 85 Mph

That must be the question on many minds once they step in their earth-friendly, yet potentially deadly,  Toyota Prius.  If my gas pedal gets stuck, or my brakes become unresponsive, how will I stop this thing?  James Sikes of El Cajon, California recently had to experience that, and it came in bad time as Toyota just finished inviting the press to give them an ear on how electronic flaws could not cause their cars to speed out of control under real-world driving conditions.  Well Toyota, tell that to Mr. Sikes.

61 year old Sikes called 911 after he couldnt slow down his 2008 Toyota Prius. Sikes attempted to reach down to the floor and manually lift his gas pedal, but it was still stuck and his Prius was not slowing down anytime soon.  Luckily, a California Highway patrol dispatcher sent help immediately, the officer intercepted Sikes on the freeway and gave him some instructions over a loud speaker. “My brakes are almost burned out.” said Sikes. The to wear out his Prius brakes were apparently down to nothing, his emergency brake was also used and helped slow him from 85 mph to about 55 mph. At this point he claims to have been able to turn off the ignition and the car eventually came to a stop, 23 minutes later.

So what to do if you encounter this rare situation?  First, make sure you are familur with all the controls of your vehicle.  From the shifter, keyless engine start/stop buttons, to where your floormat is positioned.  Yes, some people have had floormats get stuck under the pedal (Fords) and this can be dangerous, but what we are talking about today is a possible defective vehicle, or gross driver negligence.

Here is the scenario. You are speeding along the freeway and all of a sudden you’re not slowing down, your brakes work but with the accelerator stuck its not going to stop.  “Nobody practices antilock braking or hard braking to see what it feels like,” says Popular Mechanics magazine’s automotive editor Larry Webster. Practice stopping from full throttle by pressing on both the gas and the brake at the same time, see what its like because you never know.  “You can practice stuck throttle scenarios very easily in a parking lot,” Webster added.

There’s also the keyless engine stop/start buttons, I know the first time I saw one I was pretty taken aback, what is this OutRun? You should also be comfortable with the shifter, practice dropping it into neutral at different speeds and situations.  In an emergency situation this will take the vehicle out of gear and allow you to atleast coast down to a stop if there are no brakes.

Here is the official feedback from The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that after recent events, they “advise drivers to press firmly and steadily, and not to pump, on the brake pedal”  in a situation like this. The last thing you want to do is pump the brakes, at high speeds the engine vacuum power is not as pressurized as it could be, and pumping brakes will just deplete the power assist.  One way is by pressing the brakes hard for a few seconds, then releaseing and pressing them again anbd holding.  Pumping the brakes is a faster repetitive action done several times per second.

What does big Toyota say about all this? “Use both feet and press as hard as possible.”  But hopefully you will never have to.



About Fabrizio Pilato

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  1. I have a prius 2007 and if you push the brake and the gas you cannot put it in neutral

    the toyota video shows a different car not the prius dash shifter being shifted.

    they also say that if you push brake and gas the engine will shut dow automatically
    not so with my 2007

  2. Video: Toyota demonstrates safe hybrid vehicle stopping techniques
    03/12/2010, 3:27 AM By Mark Kleis

    Toyota now has produced a high quality video that clearly demonstrates how to stop any Toyota hybrid vehicle in the event of unintended acceleration, following their distribution of a low budget video, apparently created by a Toyota car salesman earlier this week.

    This new video demonstrates how a Toyota hybrid – any model – should function under normal conditions if the vehicle is accelerating out of control.

    This video demonstrates that the recent incident in San Diego was either the result of abnormal function of the vehicle’s computer, or complete operator error on the part of the driver, James Sikes.
    Haven’t found that software glitch, Toyota? Keep trying

    David M. Cummings, executive vice president of the Santa Barbara-based Kelly Technology Group, spent nine years as a consultant for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he worked on the Mars Pathfinder spacecraft.
    Washington Post

    Playing the blame game with runaway Toyotas
    Thursday, March 11, 2010 A20
    Frank Ahrens quotes an auto industry consultant who claims the problem with runaway Toyotas almost always lies with drivers who step on the wrong pedal [“Why it’s so hard for Toyota to find out what’s wrong,” Sunday Business, March 7]. I find this assertion infuriating. I know exactly where my foot was on the two occasions that my 2004 Prius accelerated out of control on the Beltway last year — firmly on the brake until the accelerator popped back up from its unnaturally depressed position. The dealership blamed “floor mats,” but I was using small carpet squares that didn’t reach the pedal.

    The condescending assumption that drivers don’t know what they are talking about when they report problems like this is why I must now mentally rehearse how to put my car into neutral every time I venture out on the highway.

  3. The disk brakes may be electronically assisted, not by engine vacuum. Like the power steering might be elelctrically operated. These cars have also electromechanic brakes, which act like a generator for the battery. The more you brake the more energy goes to the battery, BUT some energy is always lost. With all cars, you should practise emergency braking. Also to move the gear shift to N while on move. And to stop the engine… Prius has the B-position at the shift-lever, so use it with the normal brakes.

    Why is Toyota not doing this advisory work?

  4. A Prius running only on a fully charged battery can drive about 2 miles. We are supposed to believe that a 1.5 liter engine would require 23 minutes to stop from 55mph. Soon dogs and cats will be living together. Pure pandemonium.

  5. Every single car ever built was able to stop from 100mph than get to 100mph. Or stop from 55 than accelerate to 55. That is because it is always easier to create friction than create power. I find it amazing too that the blocking move by the police did not dent the front of the car. So we are supposed to believe the accelerator computer, the antilock braking system, the automatic stability control, the neutral switch, the power switch, the emissions system to protect the catalytic convertor from overheating… and don’t forget that magic bumper all were in cahoots to keep this car from slowing down. In addition, I don’t think my Prius can go ninety with the charging system attempting to fill the hybrid battery. Again the physics says the battery would run down and the car would be running on 50Hp.
    This is a lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, lie, and a lie.

  6. Agree with Zack, that guy should not be driving a car, any car! Here, follow this: 1. Switch gear to “N” as in Neutral.
    2. Hit the brake.
    3. Pull over.
    4. Turn of the engine.
    5. Cheesburger!

  7. All drivers should be aware of this so that they would know what to do in these situations. I’ve read that floor mats weren’t a factor in Mr. Sike’s case. Some say he’s stupid for not putting the vehicle to neutral while others blame Toyota. i hope the investigation can clear this up.

  8. I bet you wouldn’t feel this way if it was your wife who was involved! Not every car driver is has Indi 500 experience.

  9. Zack Broadbent

    Are you kidding? The Prius has top-quality disc brakes and a mere 110bhp. There is NO WAY that Mr. Sikes was using the full braking ability of his car while the accelerator was stuck. Or, did his brakes amazingly fail at just the moment his accelerator was stuck? Ever since Audi suffered this nonsense in the ’80s, it’s been documented that a car’s brakes will always overpower it’s engine (thus stopping the car even at full throttle). Mr. Sikes needs his license revoked (and a ticket for using his cell phone while driving).

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