U.S. Autos Need System to Limit Pedal Risks, Consumer Reports Tester Says

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Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, listens during a House Budget Committee hearing on the state of the economy in Washington, D.C.

U.S. autos should have technology to stop sudden acceleration, reducing the risks that floor mats trap pedals and send a car careening, Consumer Reports’ auto testing chief said.

Legislation requiring an override feature, or “smart” throttle, when the accelerator and brakes are applied together would cut dangers from misplaced mats, said David Champion, Consumer Reports’ director of automotive testing. Probes by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration help, he said.

“Once you’ve got smart throttle, it’s a non-issue because if the throttle does stick open, you put your foot on the brake, the computer takes away all the engine power, you bring the car to a halt,” Champion said in an interview at the magazine’s test track in East Haddam, Connecticut. “And then you realize what’s going on. And that might be a good wakeup call.”

U.S. lawmakers are considering auto-safety legislation that would require override software in all vehicles, a measure prompted by Toyota Motor Corp.’s record recalls. The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to act on its version today. Toyota has said a brake-override feature will be in all models by 2011.

NHTSA is investigating Ford Motor Co.’s Fusion and Mercury Milan sedans after three reports of floor mats jamming pedals. The agency examined a similar flaw in cars from Toyota, which recalled 5.4 million vehicles in the past year for mats that may entrap pedals and lead to unintended acceleration.

Champion and staff at the Consumer Reports track in rural East Haddam, about 100 miles northeast of New York City, have studied floor mats that can catch onto pedals. The facility, owned by Consumers Union of Yonkers, New York, has a Ford Fusion hybrid model among cars for testing.

Fusion Pedals

Consumer Reports engineers studied the floor mat and pedal configuration of the Fusion and couldn’t find any conflict, Champion said in the interview on June 2.

Automakers and regulators have faulted drivers for double- stacking floor mats. All-weather mats, thicker than carpet mats that may come standard with cars, aren’t to blame, Champion said.

“They’re really useful,” he said. “But you need to understand that if you’re going to put those in, you take out the carpet ones. You store them for the winter months.”

Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, began recalls related to floor mats after an Aug. 28 Lexus sedan crash in California killed an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three family members when a mat jammed down the accelerator pedal. The company told consumers to remove some floor mats and shortened pedals so they wouldn’t get stuck.

Lexus SUV

Engineers at the Consumer Reports track this year found an electronic-stability flaw in Toyota’s Lexus GX 460 sport-utility vehicle and concluded the SUV was a “safety risk,” leading the world’s largest automaker to halt its sales.

The magazine, which began rating vehicles in 1936, operates the 327-acre auto-evaluation facility and tests about 80 cars and trucks a year. Consumer Reports, which doesn’t do crash tests, buys new cars and sells them after completing its battery of more than 50 tests.

A NASA investigation into whether there is an electronics- related cause of Toyota unintended acceleration should resolve the issue, Champion said. The Transportation Department hired the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for its engineering and electronics expertise.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net.

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