Wednesday, April 28, 2010


I had Posted earlier here and here about the then-current (check one: emergency, outrage, revelation, stuff) about the Toyota Prius and its problems. I mentioned the California driver who led the Highway Patrol on a long rescue chase on the I-8 (hilly, almost mountainously so) where the CHP unit was hard-pressed to keep up with him (in, as aforementioned, a Prius).

I connected the Prius (out)rage to the Sex Offense Mania and how different ‘interests’ and not all of them above-board might come together to help fuel such a thing.

Now comes an article in the online edition of ‘Reason’ magazine and I have to add a bit.
In the article, entitled “The Wrong Kind of Toyotathon’, magazine columnist Ronald Bailey discusses the whole thing.

It all started back in the late 1970s and early 1980s when Audi started marketing its high-performance sedans (already big sellers in Europe, especially Germany) as rivals to Cadillacs and Lincolns in the I-have-arrived category. That high-performance sedan was, Bailey helpfully specifies, the Audi 5000.

Nicely, most experts even at the time “concluded that the drivers were mistakenly pushing the accelerator when they thought that they were applying the brakes”; the cars responded to the driver’s instruction with typical Teutonic efficiency.

BUT he notes (and I had forgotten), in November of 1986 CBS ran an episode of “60 Minutes” featuring a mother who had run over her child with her Audi. You can imagine how somebody in that position would feel a whole lot better if blame for such a terrible thing might be transferred … ummmm … elsewhere.

CBS – alas – was discovered to have rigged the show car with a canister of compressed air so that it would suddenly lurch out of control. And by 1989, almost a decade later, Audi was the plaintiff in 120 ‘sudden acceleration’ lawsuits. And in January of that same year the Canadian government issued a report “attributing sudden acceleration to ‘driver error’”. And just two months later the US National Highway and Safety Administration – again, a decade later – issued a report blaming “pedal misapplication”, which is a nice way of saying … you know.
CBS dismissed the report as “an opinion”.

By amazing coincidence, “reports of unintended acceleration declined shortly thereafter”.

Thus to the current Toyota craze.

The poster-guy for it was the California guy who “claimed he drove his Toyota [Prius] for 34 miles as it accelerated to 90mph” (who would have thought?). But then it turned out that neither Toyota nor Federal technicians could get the car to do what the guy said it did. And the onboard diagnostic system recorded that during his ‘crisis’ the brakes and the accelerator “had been pumped alternately 250 times during the alleged runaway event”.

My my my.

But then Bailey does the math – really does the math (which is completely beyond my onboard skills).

If you take the claims that 52 people have died in Toyota sudden-acceleration deaths over the past decade, then that would work out to a highway fatality rate 6,200 times greater than what it actually is.

Or: if you divide the number of cars on the road in this country by the number of sudden-acceleration fatalities, then “roughly 1 in ever 1.2 million Toyotas were involved in a fatal sudden-acceleration accident last year”.

Whereas, he notes, 20 people a day die in this country from overdosing on “non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – such as aspirin – mostly to manage the symptoms of arthritis”. So you are 1,300 times more likely to die from taking aspirin (assuming you have arthritis) than from driving a Toyota (let alone the specific model called Prius).

He observes that in light of all this, “the costs of addressing the alleged problem have been hugely disproportionate”.

And THIS is the type of putting-the-brakes-on that has precisely not been engaged in the SO Mania.

He refers to the Toyota episode (and the Audi saga before it) as a “safety panic”.

You can see here how this type of thing works.

Of course, in the Toyota matter the government had no interest in prolonging or supporting – let alone institutionalizing – the “panic”. And that went a long way toward keeping things in perspective.

Such has not been the case in the SO Mania, which has simply engorged, extended and intensified as time has gone on. Because, I would say, the government has its thumb on the scales, continually amplifying the illusions and tamping down any actual evidence that might serve to put things in perspective and take actually efficacious action to such of the problem as really exists in a form that the Federal government can do anything about.

And the government is going to all that trouble because it figures it has found a handy way to both secure votes and distract folks from other, far more real, dangers that the country is facing – many of them stemming rather largely from the government’s own failures to perform its actual Constitutional duties.

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