Throttle Sticking

BMW Z4 Coupe on test I photographed at the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Art Lover's House, Glasgow.
What on earth was the unfortunate family killed in the Lexus doing, calling the emergency services on a mobile phone, saying we’re in a Lexus and the throttle has stuck open, before they were killed? Had nobody the presence of mind to shift into neutral, use the handbrake, do anything? “Hold on and pray,” the unfortunate Mark Saylor, an off-duty California highway patrolman, is reported as saying. Don’t they teach highway patrolmen to deal with emergencies?

Now The Times has gone sanctimonious over Toyota, rushing round like Private Fraser in Dad’s Army saying “Everybody’s in danger, we’re a’ doomed.”

The IAM (Institute of Advanced Motorists) offers sounder advice on what to do with an engineering malfunction. Keep calm and carry on. Stephen Mead, Assistant Chief Examiner, says “Surprisingly the perception with a stuck accelerator is that the driver can’t brake either. This is a misconception brought on by panic. Press the brake firmly, then the clutch to disengage the power. In an automatic, drivers should brake, wait for a reaction and then put the car into neutral. You can still steer, so a stuck accelerator isn’t actually the disaster it sounds.”

Quite right. Let the engine rev its head off. “You will probably be in a state of shock, but if you remain calm you can avoid serious danger.”

Poor Toyota. Well, up to a point. It’s all very well saying that we have all had to deal with emergencies, like brake fade or a stuck throttle, at some time. But that is the experience of a million miles, maybe two million miles, talking. I could still drive out today into a crisis. Mustn’t be complacent.

I was once driving a test car on the twisty road alongside Loch Lomond. My nearest and dearest were on board, when I noticed a cloud of smoke in the rear view mirror. It went away. There were no alarming noises. Nothing was obviously wrong, until I braked and there it was again. A white cloud behind. I concluded that brake fluid was leaking on to the exhaust and in due course there would be none left. I drove on for about 30 miles up the A82, braking seldom, driving smoothly, slowing surreptitiously with the handbrake, until I figured out what to do. Nobody in the car noticed anything wrong. I eventually sought help at the AA box just north of Crianlarich. I could then explain to the family why we were stopping. I did not want to be stranded in the wilds.

Nobody was in danger and we completed the journey on a low loader. The AA box is long gone. Emergencies? I once put a rod through the side of a Chevrolet Sting Ray V8 doing maximum speed runs on the M1, at something like 130, still legal then. I destroyed a front wheel and tyre of a big Peugeot, on a rock at about the same speed, in Egypt. My regular driving companion, Michael Scarlett with whom I shared many an adventure, said a little stiffly I thought, “Don’t brake,” which I wasn’t. We came safely to a halt.

Two million miles? That’s 32,258 a year. Between the ages of 30 and 60 I was doing 40,000 a year on test and in my own cars, without accidents beyond minor traffic abrasions.
Dove Publishing is one of the sponsors of Scottish Car of the Year. Here Mike Roberts, Publishing Director presents a quiach to Ian Callum Jaguar design director, with Miss Scotland and me, editorial director