In Defense of the Runaway Prius Owner
All weekend long, including today, there have been non-stop news reports casting doubts on the claim made by the Southern California runaway Prius owner, James Sikes, that his car inexplicably and uncontrollably accelerated down the highway and that he was unable to make the car stop — not by stepping on the brakes with both feet and not by putting on the emergency brake. The insinuation by the media this weekend is that he made the whole thing up, that it is probably nothing more than a hoax à la Balloon Boy.
The major television news stations and print media, along with many bloggers, cite a number of things that they feel cast doubt on Mr. Sikes’ story: he declared bankruptcy in 2008; he owes $20k on his Prius; he had a failed swingers online dating website; and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) stated that it was not able to replicate the problem or find a reason for the acceleration.
“Our engineers have evaluated Mr. Sikes’ Prius and re-created the drive that Mr. Sikes took. We obtained a copy of the diagnostic data that was read at the Toyota dealership,” NHTSA said in a statement. “So far, we have not been able to find anything to explain the incident that Mr. Sikes reported.” -Detroit News, 3/15/2010
I hope we can all agree that his financial situation or failed business ventures would not preclude Mr. Sikes from experiencing what thousands of other people have similarly experienced, nor do I think it is relevant at this point in the story. The media insinuates that Mr. Sikes might have a financial motive for making up the runaway Prius story, but what proof do they have? He is not alone in experiencing hard economic times, in fact, most of the country is dealing with a merciless economy, does that make us all liars? Why sully this man’s reputation without proof?
The fact that neither the Toyota mechanics nor the NHTSA engineers have been able to replicate the problem or find appropriate diagnostic error codes indicating that a problem happened is not unique to Mr. Sikes’ situation. In fact, neither NHTSA nor Toyota have been able to find a cause, or error codes, or replication of the similar problem that thousands of other Toyota owners have experienced.
If you watched or listened to the Congressional hearings held a few weeks ago, on the runaway Toyota problem, you would have seen a number of Toyota drivers, survivors, or family of victims describing the same exact problems and experiences. And, unfortunately, they received the same exact responses from Toyota mechanics and NHTSA engineers: they could not replicate the problem, there were no diagnostic errors, and it must be user error.
If you could easily replicate the problem, wouldn’t you have millions, not thousands, of Toyota drivers experiencing these uncontrollable acceleration problems? And the fact that the acceleration system is electronically controlled and the electronic computers on board are not recording any error codes, might that be an indication that there may be an electronic or a computer software problem in these cars? Why not think outside the box, why not investigate with the hypothesis that all these Toyota drivers experiencing these acceleration problems might just be telling the truth? Why not? Perhaps because it is much easier and cheaper to assume user error.
In Mr. Sikes defense, he was audibly scared when he called 911, as he was driving, telling the 911-Operator that his car was accelerating and he was unable to make it stop. A California Highway Patrol officer, Todd Neibert, was dispatched to offer assistance and he did. The CHP officer stated that Mr. Sikes had his brake lights on most of the time, appearing to pump the brakes occasionally, and the officer could smell burning brakes. The officer communicated back and forth with Mr. Sikes for a while trying to figure out how to bring the car to a stop. In the end, the officer risked his life by getting in front of the Prius, slowing down his police cruiser, and forcing the Prius to a stop. In his report, Officer Neibert described Mr. Sikes’ visible signs of panick and shock, expressing no skepticism about the truth of what he witnessed. Additionally, NHTSA did find that Mr. Sikes had burned through his brake pads and had damaged the rotors.
Before you victimize Mr. Sikes a second time by accusing him of orchestrating a hoax, why not give the man the benefit of a doubt. So far, the news media has not presented anything that would make me doubt the veracity of his claims. And, if you doubt that these Toyota drivers are experiencing a real phenomena, I urge you to watch the testimony from the Toyota victims during the congressional hearings, which you can still find on C-Span, Toyota Gas Pedals, Safety Officials and Victims – Toyota Recall House Oversight Committee. If you don’t break out a box of tissue, then perhaps you should check that your heart is still ticking.
But if you are one of those people who really don’t care about things unless or until it is your problem, well, it is your problem. These runaway Toyotas are out on the roads with you and me, with our spouses and children, with our family and friends… so, it is your problem and my problem, and we need the NHTSA and Toyota to thoroughly investigate and do something about it. User error? Enough already!
Martie Hevia (c) 2010 – All Rights Reserved
- C-Span Video Library – Toyota Gas Pedals, Safety Officials and Victims – Toyota Recall House Oversight Committee – February 24, 2010 [ http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/292243-4 ]
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – Main Website [ http://www.nhtsa.gov/ ]
- Detroit News – NHTSA says it may never know what caused runaway Prius – March 15, 2010 [ http://www.detnews.com/article/20100315/AUTO01/3150388/1361/NHTSA-says-it-may-never-know-what-caused-runaway-Prius ]
- ABC News – Runaway Toyota Prius Driver: ‘He Thought He Was Going to Die’ – California Highway Patrol’s Official Report Offers Harrowing Narrative of James Sikes’ March 8 Ride – March 17, 2010 [ http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/hed-runaway-toyota-prius-driver-thought-die-dek/story?id=10114198&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter ]