Within the last few weeks, Toyota has released and updated a FAQ related to their very rare, sudden, uncontrolled acceleration safety problem:
The topic of product safety, hazard management, liability, and related disclosure policies are not foreign to HCIT, so I wanted to share one observation.
What I've gleaned from a TV show on the topic is that the single most important thing to know is to reflexively put the car into neutral, should you experience a loss of control with sudden acceleration. In explaining the problem, the experts interviewed noted that the brakes on many Toyotas cannot overcome the acceleration, until the car is in neutral. This highlights the need for Toyota owners to know how to contain the issue, and have the confidence (through practice) to effect the shift-to-neutral maneuver within 3 seconds or less.
Odd then, that the FAQ lists the "go into neutral" maneuver halfway down the page, buried in location, font and color:
Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral (N) position and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.
The TV show did not articulate the maneuver until 23 minutes into the program, requiring a dedicated and attentive viewer. And yet, this was the single most important piece of life-saving information it delivered.
Hazards, be they transportation, automotive or aviation, nuclear power, or in healthcare will be with us. All complex, loosely-coupled systems (or tightly coupled systems that get uncoupled by humans) are error-prone. For more on that topic, see this presentation:
We do need to become more instrumental in educating users on how to contain these hazards.
Credit: title graphic from: http://www.mxtelevision.com/video1/1124b_toyota_recall.jpg , downloaded 2010-02-25)