Video: Driver claims Prius went wild on freeway

  1. Closed captioning of: Driver claims Prius went wild on freeway

    >>> live interview.

    >>> but we begin with the wild ride involving a runaway toyota prius on a highway in california. miguel almaguer has more details.

    >> reporter: the 61-year-old driver who has a heart condition says he did everything he could to slow down that prius , but he says the car kept going faster and faster. wedged behind a california highway patrol cruiser, the 2008 prius sat idle after a terrifying 30-mile ride that nearly cost james sikes his life.

    >> still shook up.

    >> reporter: it began when he tried to pass another driver and his car accelerated out of control. as he dodged other vehicles, sikes says the brakes didn't work. soon, he was doing 90. he called 911.

    >> i was on the brakes pretty healthy. it wasn't stopping, wasn't doing anything to it, and just kept speeding up.

    >> reporter: the patrol car pulled alongside using the p.a. system to relay instructions -- keep pressure on the brake, try to shut the car off.

    >> when i saw him, i could smell the brakes. i saw his brake lights coming on.

    >> i was standing on the brake pedal , looking out the window at him, and he said, "push the emergency brake , too," and i laid on both of them.

    >> reporter: suddenly, the car began to slow down, dropping to 55 miles per hour. the chp cruiser moved in front of the hybrid, guiding the prius to a stop on the interstate. sikes just had his car serviced at a local dealer. mechanics told him his car wasn't a part of any recall, but eventually, some prius models were recalled for floor mats or brake problems. toyota 's recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide and 6 million here in the u.s. now the company says it's investigating this latest incident.

    >> do you solemnly swear --

    >> reporter: just last month, congress held hearings on the toyota recalls after the government received complaints of over 30 deaths linked to sudden acceleration since 2000 .

    >> it's really starting to feed in and fuel a sense that possibly toyota really doesn't know what the situation is and it's a mystery that we're all going to have to discover together.

    >> reporter: the investigation into what happened in this case could take weeks, but damage to toyota 's reputation may already be done.

    >> i won't drive that car again, period.

    >> reporter: this morning, both the california highway patrol and toyota say they are investigating the incident. in fact, toyota officials say they're sending a representative here to southern california to take a look at that car. matt?

    >> hey, miguel , the highway patrolman said he told the driver to turn the ignition off. the driver did not do that, though, correct? why?

    >> reporter: the driver said he did everything he could to turn off that car, matt, and of course, remember, these priuses don't have those key switch ignitions, they have those buttons, and the driver may have had some concern that he would have lost his power steering at speeds up to 90 miles per hour, but he does say he did everything he could to turn off that car.

    >> all right, miguel almaguer for us this morning. miguel , thanks very much. it's now five

By contributor
updated 3/10/2010 7:21:58 AM ET 2010-03-10T12:21:58

With fear of unintended acceleration approaching the dimensions of mass hysteria, now is a good time to review the fundamentals of operating cars so that drivers are prepared in the event of a stuck throttle, whatever the cause.

The first order of business is to ensure familiarity with the car and its controls, advises Popular Mechanics magazine’s automotive editor Larry Webster. Check the placement of the pedals to avoid accidentally pressing the accelerator instead of the brake. Practice shifting the transmission into neutral. Practice shutting the engine off with the transmission in drive.

The shifters and keyless engine stop/start buttons in many new cars may be unfamiliar to drivers who should study them in preparation for an emergency situation. Beyond simply examining these controls, practice using them, Webster suggests.

“Nobody practices antilock braking or hard braking to see what it feels like,” he noted. After a couple of practice stops, drivers will get a feel for stopping the car at full throttle by pressing on both the gas pedal and the brake at the same time. “You can practice stuck throttle scenarios very easily in a parking lot,” Webster observed.

Even today’s shifters which may vary from the familiar “Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Low” convention of the past will shift from drive into neutral just by pressing forward on the shifter, he said. “If you are worried about this, practice it a few times.”

And if the dread event strikes, as it may have done in California, when police helped slow down a Toyota Prius that sped out of control on a freeway?

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration advises drivers to press firmly and steadily, and not to pump, on the brake pedal. Toyota’s advice to consumers adds that drivers can even consider using both feet to press on the pedal as hard as possible. Pumping the pedal is not only counter-productive, it can deplete the power assist which comes from engine vacuum, a phenomenon that is reduced at full throttle.

Many carmakers program their electronic throttle systems to automatically return to idle if the brake is applied. Toyota has not done that, but is in the process of changing to that approach. But even with the engine racing at full throttle, Popular Mechanics editors have demonstrated a 2010 Toyota Camry with none of the recent fixes braking uneventfully to a stop from highway speed, so the brakes should easily stop the car.

Webster theorized that some drivers may have their seats positioned too far rearward out of fear of an airbag deployment, so they may not be able to press the brake pedal far enough. Before driving a car, ensure that the seat is positioned so the pedal can be pressed to the floor.

If, for whatever reason, braking does not stop the car, then shift it into neutral and steer safely to the shoulder. NHTSA cautions that the vehicle's diagram showing the location of Neutral may be misleading. It is worth practicing in advance, but in the actual event, be sure push the shifter out of drive.

If, somehow, the brakes don’t stop the car and it won’t shift to neutral, then shut the engine off. Stopping the engine will eliminate the power assist to the brakes and steering, so they will get harder to operate, but they will still work, Toyota says.

With an engine stop/start button this requires a three-second hold on the button to stop the engine, according to Toyota. Other companies’ products may require a shorter hold, but holding down the “Start/Stop” button should work.

If the car is equipped with a conventional key ignition, it is important to switch it to the “ACC” or accessory position, not to “Off” because doing so will lock the steering wheel while the car is moving.

Once the car has stopped, call a dealer or repair shop to tow it, do not drive it, advises NHTSA. The agency has a hotline for questions: 888-327-4236.

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