16 July 2010

Remember those "runaway Toyotas" ?

This rather surprising message was posted at Consumer Reports:
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has analyzed the “black box” event data recorders in dozens of Toyota vehicles involved in crashes linked to unintended acceleration, according to an exclusive Wall Street Journal report. The DOT found that the throttle was wide open but the brakes were not engaged in those instances. This may suggest driver error, rather than an electronic or mechanical defect in the cars, as the cause for those accidents. A formal study has not yet been issued.

The Toyota findings appear to support Toyota's position that sudden-acceleration reports involving its vehicles weren't caused by electronic glitches in computer-controlled throttle systems, as some safety advocates and plaintiffs' attorneys have alleged. More than 100 people have sued the car maker over crashes they claim were the result of faulty electronics.
Frankly, I didn't realize that today's cars have "black box" data recorders.   Does that mean that if I'm involved in an accident, I can demand information from the malefactor's black box recorder to prove he/she was at fault?


  1. I'm surprised no one has questioned the validity of the blackbox data. The firmware that is reading the states of the foot peddles is also writing the blackbox data. If the firmware *thinks* you pressed the accelerator, it is going to log exactly that. It still doesn't mean that the user actually pressed the accelerator!

    There is a conflict of interest!

  2. People have questioned the data; read the linked articles.

  3. Mark, I hadn't seen that argument before, only the official Toyota line. Thank you for posting it.

  4. Yes, there is some precedent for their use in court and determining fault for insurance purposes:


  5. "Frankly, I didn't realize that today's cars have "black box" data recorders." This may be of interest to you: http://www.autosec.org/publications.html

  6. Interesting link, Amy. Here's one FAQ answer from it:

    We determined that someone with access to the internal network in the car could use his or her own computer equipment to take over a broad array of safety-critical computer systems.

    For example, in live road tests, were able to forcibly and completely disengage the brakes while driving, making it difficult for the driver to stop. Conversely, we were able to forcibly activate the brakes, lurching the driver forward and causing the car to stop suddenly. We were also able to control the lighting within the cabin, the external lighting, the vehicle's dash, and so on...

    We stress that all our experiments focused on what an unauthorized party could do if they had the ability to access the car's internal network (e.g., via physical access to the car). For example, that unauthorized party might plug in a computer to the standard OBD-II diagnostic port under the dash. Clearly the risk in this scenario is low — it implies that someone already has physical access to the car — which is one reason we think consumers should not be alarmed by our results.

    But our concern is that the increasing use of externally facing wireless interfaces may increase the risks for future vehicles and provide a way for someone to remotely access the car's wired network.


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