A recent incident in our long-term 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid was a harsh reminder that unintended acceleration is not limited to a particular brand. In our case it happened to our director of vehicle testing, Dan Edmunds (no relation), due to improperly installed floor mats.
Ironically, Edmunds had written articles and made videos warning consumers of the danger of stacking all-weather floor mats on top of normal carpeted mats. The fact that he could find himself in this frightening situation was the result of a combination of coincidental events and a reminder that it can happen to anyone — including an automotive expert.
Coincidental Series of Events
When the vehicle first entered our long-term fleet, Edmunds immediately noticed that the heavy rubber all-weather floor mats had been improperly stacked on top of the normal carpet mats. Since the carpet mats use the anchoring hook in the floor, the all-weather mats were left unattached and could be pushed forward as the driver gets into the car. Eventually, this can re-position the all-weather mat so that it contacts the gas pedal.
Some weeks prior to this incident, Edmunds experimented with the gas pedal in the Fusion by pressing the accelerator down with his hand. It appeared to him that the dangerous situation that had occurred in Toyota and Lexus vehicles could not happen in the Ford. Still, for safety's sake, he removed the driver-side all-weather floor mat and placed it in the trunk.
Time passed and other road test editors on staff drove the car. It was taken to either the car wash or the body shop where a worker, intending to be helpful, must have put the rubber floor mat back into the driver-side footwell. Edmunds noticed this on his commute home and continued to test and experiment with the floor mat in his driveway. He intended to continue testing but became involved in other things during the evening and forgot about it. He climbed into the car the next morning and began driving to work with the driver-side rubber floor mat still in place.
How It Happened
Edmunds described what happened on the 405 Freeway at 5:45 a.m. the next day. "I mashed the throttle to pass a slow-moving vehicle by shooting into a gap in traffic in the lane to my left. Lane change accomplished, I relaxed my foot to settle in, but the car kept accelerating [unintentionally, at this point] for perhaps another two or three seconds. Just as the Fusion bore down to within a couple car lengths of the car ahead, I heard a click down by my feet and the pedal released, returning all to normal."
The "click" Edmunds heard was the gas pedal popping loose from where it had been pinned under the all-weather floor mats that had been improperly stacked on top of the normal mats.
He continued, "It all happened fast, and I didn't actually figure out what had happened until after it was over. I tried it once more with clear road ahead and the same thing occurred: The throttle hung open for a couple of seconds until something down by my feet clicked and the throttle returned to idle."
Driving carefully the rest of the way to the Edmunds.com offices in Santa Monica, Edmunds left the floor mat in the same position. He found something he had overlooked in his earlier tests.
Analyzing the Incident
"Apparently my earlier tests of the Fusion didn't replicate the [stuck throttle] condition because I was out of the car and using my hand to operate the throttle," he said. "Turns out the downward weight of a foot aggravates the problem by not allowing the mat to bend up out of the way. If this happens to you, lift both heels up, kick backward and reach down and tug the mat backward."
Edmunds described this incident and took photos and a video of the floor mats in a Long-Term Road Test blog post. With the engine turned off, he was able to replicate the stuck throttle and shoot a video of it.
The all-weather mats have been removed from the Fusion Hybrid and are sitting under his desk now, but Edmunds is going a step further — he is filing a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to officially log the incident in the NHTSA database, and in the process learn more about how this complaint process works. The process and the outcome will be documented on Edmunds.com.
Background on Safety Recalls
While Edmunds' unintended acceleration incident ended quickly and without the serious results affecting other drivers across the country, it served as a valuable reminder that these dangerous situations are not limited to Toyota and Lexus vehicles and that innocent missteps can create an out-of-control incident.
Reports of other unintended acceleration incidents around the country have led to a series of recalls by Toyota and Lexus and a congressional investigation. One recall targeted floor mats, and another sticky throttle pedals in Toyotas. There's also been unsubstantiated speculation suggesting that an as-yet-unknown computer or electrical glitch is responsible for many of these acceleration incidents.
A search for an answer is still under way and Edmunds.com has offered a $1 million prize to anyone who can determine such a cause. Still, the Edmunds incident is a reminder to go back to the basics and make sure that simple safety measures have been followed.
It Can Happen to Anyone
Edmunds said he was surprised the incident happened to him of all people. He said it does make him relate to the drivers who have reported being involved in unintended acceleration incidents. The difference, however, is that in this case the cause was known and clearly replicated.
Edmunds offered this conclusion from his experience: "Don't assume everything is OK because a) you don't drive a Toyota/Lexus product or b) because everything looked OK in a random curbside test. The real world contains far more variables and conditions than you or I can account for." The immediate takeaway from our incident is that you should never stack driver floor mats, and be certain the floor mats that are installed in your car are properly anchored every time you get into your car.
Could You Please Stop