Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Toyota’s Floormats May Signal End to the Most Celebrated of Driving Events – The Burnout

The fallout following Toyota’s recall of over 6 million vehicles due to stuck accelerator pedals continues to generate headlines. Following a third congressional hearing over the automaker’s safety issue that to date has been linked to the deaths of 52 people, it was suggested that the problem was not an electronics issue, as these particular Toyotas (as with many American cars) utilize a drive-by-wire throttle system. The general accepted theory is that it is the floor mats, which are blocking the pedal from returning to the fully closed position.

In a drive-by-wire throttle set up, the gas pedal isn’t actually hooked to a cable on the throttle body or carburetor on an older vehicle, it simply transmits an electrical signal to a servo that opens and closes the throttle, according to how far the pedal has been pressed down.

Sounds exotic; but it actually has been around for decades and first saw use in aircraft over 40 years ago.

With the ever-expanding role of the federal government into just about any and every facet of our lives, a brilliant solution to this virtually non-existent problem was suggested this past Tuesday by National Highway Transportation Safety Administration head Ray LaHood. The NHSTA plans to require all automobiles to contain a brake override system to prevent the sudden acceleration episodes – which seem to only affect one brand of cars because the foot rugs move around a bit sometimes from kicking them.

“We’re looking at it… we think it is a good safety device and we’re trying to figure out if we should be recommending it,” he said.

Hey why not? After all, didn’t we just arbitrarily raise the threshold for CAFE fuel mileage requirements in part because of – ahem – global warming? So what is one more nanny device strapped to your vehicle?

This proposed override system would deactivate the accelerator when the brake pedal is pressed, allowing the driver to stop safely even if the car’s throttle sticks. Frequently referred to as a “smart pedal,” the feature is already employed by foreign manufacturers BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Nissan around the world.

Pardon me if I do not jump on the bandwagon of a Japanese car company run by the French or a pair of Hitlermobiles that routinely prove themselves to be chockfull of technology – but still less reliable than a late ’70s GM Diesel or Chrysler product – and cost a mint to maintain, repair and keep roadworthy.

Is this really what it has come to? You do realize what in effect this means by not being able to employ both the throttle and the accelerator pedals at the same time, don’t you?

No more burnouts.

Yes, that’s right – the age-old right of passage for any male with a driver’s license and a car producing at least 80 horsepower. If there is a group of at least two males in attendance, invariably you will hear the call to arms, “Do a burnout!”

This is not so much an idle request as it is a challenge to one’s manhood. We have all seen what happens on Animal Planet or National Geographic when one grizzly bear stands up to another one, or when two rams start circling each other – you know some violence is about to go down.

Witness any cruise spot on a Saturday night or a high school parking lot – a challenge to roll ‘em is not one to let go unanswered, lest you wish to voluntarily become a eunuch. Burnouts are to celebrated, honored, revered and offered up as willing sacrifices to the gods of torque and tire smoke.

As it is, the next bright idea coming from the gang who brought you the 55-mph speed limit, could have the same effect as described immediately above. Another band-aid measure from the government to help you take care of yourself, because you are either too unwilling or uninvolved to learn to control your vehicle and react accordingly should something unexpected happen. Innovation in automobiles always sprang forth from motorsports – as did the notion of car control and preparation for when things went awry.

Now this is not to besmirch the memory of those who have been killed in Toyota car crashes linked to the stuck throttles, but rather to everybody who may be fearful of their vehicle turning on them – here is a quick tip: put your dumb iPhone down, stop searching for apps and keep your ham fists on the wheel, stop texting your loser boyfriend with skinny jeans and smeared across hair. Learning the basic operation of a car and how to react when things go wrong is a much more effective tool than the government dictating which devices are installed in your vehicle.

If the throttle hangs wide open as it did one time while riding in my cousin’s 383-powered 1973 Dodge Challenger, you have two options:

2. Put it in neutral, use the emergency brake, pull over… and TURN IT OFF.

You probably don’t want to lock the steering wheel though, so just to the first click.

How does this have to pertain to NASCAR you say? I don’t know, probably not all, unless NASCAR – or the government – installs the same sort of throttle “fix” when they make the move to fuel injection in the coming years.

It wouldn’t surprise me if they did intrude into the cockpit of a racecar at some point. There will have to be a new twist to the post-race celebratory brakes stand at the very least. If only people would bother to invest as much time as they do sending a smiley face over their Blackberry, to learning defensive and reactive driving, as well as how to properly control their car like our heroes do, we’d all be safer and much better off.

Regardless, it has angered me to no end, so since I’m in a bad mood now, you should be too.

About the author


Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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