- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2012

The Obama administration is so committed to redesigning the automobile that it’s taking over the way the gas and brake pedals are made to protect Americans from a nonexistent threat. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Monday formally proposed that all new cars have a “brake-throttle override” system installed to prevent unintended acceleration.

Few issues have attracted media hype like the mysterious reports that automobiles rocketed away of their own accord while drivers futilely held their feet firmly on the brake pedal. Given the sensational headlines, it’s no surprise that politicians and bureaucrats have turned up, offering a new government program to ensure something is done to keep the public safe.

The Department of Transportation began working on the issue in 2007 following a series of reports that various Toyota and Lexus sedans were involved in fender benders that apparently were caused by the simultaneous failure of braking and throttle systems - even though, in all cases, both worked just fine in the aftermath of the crash. NHTSA released a report last year that found overlapping automotive fail-safe systems made it impossible for a car to run away from an owner who had his foot on the brake. Instead, “the most likely cause of the acceleration was actually pedal misapplication (i.e., the driver’s unintended application of the accelerator rather than, or in addition to, the brake),” the analysis concluded.

Last month, a NHTSA study examined over 2,411 unintended acceleration incidents and noted that women, teenagers and the elderly were most often behind the wheel. “Females were the drivers in nearly two-thirds of the pedal misapplication crashes identified in both crash databases and in the media scan,” the report concluded. So even though these drivers did not actually have their feet on the brake pedal, the government is going to force automakers to develop technology to prohibit them from operating both the brake pedal and accelerator pedal simultaneously.

That’s bad news, because “left-foot braking” is a useful technique for starting on a steep hill, towing a trailer or driving off-road. The mandate may not be a big deal to some carmakers that already implement electronic control systems on their own, but now they will have to waste money on government testing to prove that their technology meets arbitrary standards set by executive-branch fiat. A handful of companies that still rely on mechanical throttles will be forced to redesign noncompliant models. All of this energy will be wasted to address something that’s reported to happen one time for every 1.4 billion miles driven.

Even if this problem were legitimate, electronic gizmos wouldn’t be needed to solve it. A racing engine - whether caused by gremlins or a foot on the wrong pedal - is defeated by shifting the transmission into neutral. The only thing accelerating out of control here is the federal government’s drive to make cars more complicated, expensive, heavy and prone to failure. It’s time to take away NHTSA’s regulatory keys.

The Washington Times