By Ben Sherwood
It’s a scene right out of the 1970s TV show “CHiPs,” except it really happened Monday on Interstate 8 near San Diego, California. A driver in blue Toyota Prius found his car accelerate suddenly. He managed to dial 911 before reaching speeds in the 90s. An alert California Highway Patrol officer pulled alongside the Prius, issued instructions over a loudspeaker, and helped the driver slow down safely.
This story has a happy ending but too many others have ended in disaster. Indeed, there are reports of at least 56 fatal accidents involving Toyotas and sudden acceleration going back as far as 2004.
By Ben Sherwood
If your car suddenly accelerates – and you don’t have Officer “Ponch” Poncherello to slow you down – what should you do? And if you don’t drive a Toyota, what should you do if your throttle gets stuck (because of a loose floor mat or a water bottle?).
Here’s what the experts say:
1. Practice “Deliberate Calm.” In an emergency situation, you need to consciously tell yourself to stay calm and to focus on solving your problem. In aviation, pilots call this “deliberate calm” – a purposeful effort to stay cool while doing exactly what you’re trained to do. If you want a perfect illustration of “deliberate calm,” just ask Capt. Sully Sullenberger on the US Air 1549.
2. Carefully press and hold the brakes. At high speed, don’t jam on the brakes – which could cause you to lose control of the car. And be careful about pumping the brakes.
Pumping brakes at full throttle “can make a bad problem even worse,” according to a field test by Consumer Reports. Power brakes rely on engine vacuum to provide additional brake pressure, CR says. “At full throttle, the engine doesn’t generate any vacuum," CR explains. "So as soon as we removed and reapplied pressure to the brake pedal, the power assist disappeared and stopping the car became hopeless."
3. Shift into neutral and steer safely to the side of the road.
Even though the car will rev up in neutral, don’t worry. Most late model cars have engine speed limiters to prevent damage. Also, don’t worry if you put the car in reverse, the engine will either stall or behave like it’s in neutral.
4. Don’t turn off the engine. If you shut down the car, you could lose power steering and braking, making the car more difficult to control. Also, if you turn the key too far, you could accidentally lock the steering and you won’t be able to control the car.
Ben Sherwood is the author of The Survivors Club: The Secrets and Science that Could Save Your Life, a New York Times bestseller. An award-winning journalist and former executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America, he is the founder and CEO of TheSurvivorsClub.org, an online resource center for people facing every kind of adversity.