Balloon Boy in a Prius

I absolutely couldn't believe what I was listening to on NPR the other day, with the breathless coverage of the moron in Southern California who for some reason couldn't slow his Prius but did manage to alert the national media.   Your brakes on your car can stop it even at full acceleration. Why couldn't he?  Why didn't he shift into neutral?  Why didn't he turn the engine off?  How amazing was it that a one in a million problem (because even if the sudden acceleration issue is a real hardware problem, it is very, very rare) occurs at just about the exact height of the Toyota panic in SoCal, the world's largest media market?

I am glad someone else is showing some skepticism.  The media is just incredible.  I used to feel guilty that I was too hard on the media in stories like this in my novel, but now I think I stopped short of reality.

  • Buffalo Chris

    I was immediately skeptical of this story as soon as I saw it on the Today show. The timing was just too perfect. Unfortunately, all those years in journalism school didn't lead to the national media to have the same skepticism. It's unbelievable how unintelligent, gullible and ill-prepared these "professionals" are.

  • http://evilredscandi.blogspot.com Evil Red Scandi

    My take (extracted from a posting on another site):

    ...even in a poorly made car, for all of these things to go wrong at once would be like being struck by lightning as two passenger jets crash into you while you're being raped by the reanimated corpse of your great-great-grandmother AND Angelina Joile at the same time.

  • Ted

    My base assumption is that journalists working for daily media, at least those who move up the the top of their profession, are the most profoundly stupid people who have ever walked the face of the earth. They have to be. They would not be able to do their jobs well if they weren't. Nearly every story they present would be crushed like a block of aerogel hit by a hammer if the slightest bit of skepticism were applied. Yet there is an insatiable need for stories to keep the advertisements or commercials from butting up against each other. (Note: the term which journalists use implies that their output ought to be taken with the same skepticism as a Mark Twain yarn! Such is the need that journalists have for constant desensitization from reality!)

    Rationally, I realize that these people could not have started out this stupid. They must be able to put together grammatical sentences (or at least read them off of a teleprompter, a skill which we all know marks the zenith of human intellect!) I wonder if ideological stupefication is necessary to achieve this result.

  • Kirk

    This actually happened in Norway yesterday. Same story basically - http://www.vg.no/bil-og-motor/artikkel.php?artid=591653. The guy manages to call the police, who called Toyota, while he can't get the car to slow down. He ended up driving into the guard rail to stop the car. Toyota is "taking it very seriously".

  • http://www.chemicallygreen.com Steven R. Mason

    It was a hoax. Did sound kind of weird. The media is not media anymore, they are a bunch of crooked pen pushers that know the truth if it hit them between their eyes. Enjoy your posts and keep on kicking some butt when needed.

  • http://www.chemicallygreen.com Steven R. Mason

    It was a hoax. Did sound kind of weird. The media is not media anymore, they are a bunch of crooked pen pushers that would not know the truth if it hit them between their eyes. Enjoy your posts and keep on kicking some butt when needed.

  • DrTorch

    The news media did their jobs: they got viewers/readers with a story.

    Truth has been long gone from "journalism," if it ever was there. Consider this CS Lewis quote

    "Even in peacetime I think those are very wrong who say that schoolboys should be encouraged to read the newspapers. Nearly all that a boy reads there in his teens will be known before he is twenty to have been false in emphasis and interpretation, if not in fact as well, and most of it will have lost all importance. Most of what he remembers he will therefore have to unlearn; and he will probably have acquired an incurable taste for vulgarity and sensationalism and the fatal habit of fluttering from paragraph to paragraph to learn how an actress has been divorced in California, a train derailed in France, and quadruplets born in New Zealand."

  • Mark

    Even the family with the cop who died in their toyota while calling 911 were a bit dumb

    1st they could have switched to neutral, but most importantly the guy rode the brakes to keep the speed down, so he wore out the pads. He should have firmly and strongly pressed down, the brakes will stop the car at top speed and full throttle if you do this. If you press lightly to slow yourself down you will wear out the pads.

  • http://myweeklycrime.blogspot.com Elliot

    Look at http://tinyurl.com/ygxudsr (Google News). The chart on the right "Timeline of articles" shows how many news stories picked up the original story, compared to about half the stories which picked up the skeptic's angle.

  • jay
  • DOuglas2

    I heard a panel discussion at an academic conference where one panelist used the analogy that one could still be a good driver without understanding how a car's differential worked. The other panelists, all from engineering backgrounds, made a point of disagreeing with him on this when they made their own comments.
    Reading some of what this Prius guy is supposed to have said in various interviews and to 911, I get the impression that he views the operation of an automobile to be rather akin to the spells taught at Hogwarts. If you get something wrong, who knows what might happen? You can't chose neutral or switch off, because things might go more terribly wrong than they already are.

  • Fred from Canuckistan

    90mph in a Prius ?

    The guy should be paying Toyota a performance bonus.

  • Doug

    The MSM is now starting to report that this was probably a hoax. Toyota and the govt can't reproduce the event and the brakes not showing the kind of wear that would be expected for someone trying to break at high speed for so long.

  • Greg Worrel

    It seemed so obvious to me when listening to the 911 call that the driver deliberately did not answer the operator's question asking if he tried to put the car into neutral.

    He answered "I'm trying to control the car." I believe he said he was going 81 mph at the time. If controlling a Prius at 81 mph is such a white knuckle challenge then Toyota has more problems than just runaway acceleration.

    I was surprised when news reporters and friends did not share my skepticism. One Prius owner told me how difficult it is to put the car into neutral and that her first time going through a car wash she needed help from the attendant.

    I am sure that within 5 years all cars will have some sort of mandated large neutral kill button to prevent these one in a million occurrences. Eventually cars will be so extremely safe that almost no one will be able to afford them.

  • MGW

    "Eventually cars will be so extremely safe that almost no one will be able to afford them"

    Nothing is safer than a car that no one can afford and therefore no one drives.

  • Agammamon

    Good for the environment too!

  • IgotBupkis

    Fumento is pretty good. He specializes in health issues and has done some Michael Yon style war reporting, but he does a good job, and, if you ask a reasonable question, he does try to reply to his e-mails. If you ask a really stupid question, mind you, you might get a snarky reply, too. LOL.

    His website is here

  • IgotBupkis

    > My base assumption is that journalists working for daily media, at least those who move up the the top of their profession, are the most profoundly stupid people who have ever walked the face of the earth.

    No, those people have a special place in the College of Education.

    J-School is for people who are the second most profoundly stupid people who have ever walked the face of the earth...

  • Ted Rado

    I learned something important from this story. If my car goes out of control on a busy freeway, I should take time out to dial up my telephone. How brilliant!

  • epobirs

    My suspicion was immediately raised because the Prius wasn't one of the models in question for the acceleration problem. It has a totally different mechanism. The Prius issue had been about brake problems.

    Even those brake problems might have had a psychological basis. An endless number of articles about hybrid and pure electric vehicles have made mention of the concept of regenerative braking, which attempts to capture some energy back into the battery from the drag on the wheels. All well and good but it also plants the knowledge in consumers heads that this cars has different brakes than a regular car.

    This ties into the history of unintended acceleration claims. Audi was driven out of the US market for a long time, despite there never being any substantiated proof of a problem. What made Audi the target appears to have been their own advertising. Remember those ads with the gutteral accented German engineer being interviewed?

    Why five cylinders? "Four was not enough and six is too many."

    Why front wheel drive? "It is better to pull a car than to push it."

    Audi sought to make some rather normal design decisions into exotica and was rewarded by people regarding the car as being a sort of Frankenstein's monster, that might run amuck without warning.

  • TC

    Walter Olsen has a bunch on it, he actually worked on these cases in the 80's.

    http://article.nationalreview.com/print/?q=YzIzOWZiYTM1OGJjNDkyMmQwYzEyZjM5YzdkMzNiZDk=

    This one viz language is nsfw,
    but all too true and accurate.

    That ABC guy should have just borrowed it for his "Death Ride"!

    CIAO