New Prius "sudden acceleration" claims beginning to look fishy

A week and a half ago, in the wake of the publicity surrounding the ongoing government investigation into numerous consumer claims involving stuck accelerators on Toyota vehicles, a man placed a frantic call to 911 from a California freeway claiming that the accelerator on his 2008 Toyota Prius was stuck. James Sikes claimed that he “stood on the brakes” but the car continued to gather speed until it reached 94 mph. After “several attempts” to turn the motor off Sikes was finally successful, and a CHP officer used his own car to slow Sikes’ Prius to a full stop.

But shortly after his sensational claims hit the airwaves, information about James Sikes’ checkered past began to emerge:

Now comes Sikes’ former business partner, William Sweet, who, according to Jalopnik, “says he went into business with Sikes, together opening up a paralegal services company called AAA California Aid in 1997. Sweet operated the main office and Sikes ran one in Los Banos, California. Sweet alleges numerous incidents of fraud and theft involving Sikes led him to dissolve their partnership, including an incident in which Sikes sent an employee to break into the main office to steal payment records.”

Sweet told Jalopnik’s Matt Hardigree that “As soon as I heard the words ‘Jim Sikes,’ I immediately woke up out of a dead sleep and thought, ‘uh oh, what the hell is this guy up to now?’ He’s trying to do a scam, and get in on that lawsuit for the Toyota thing, that’s immediately what i thought.”

Earlier this week, technicians from the NHTSA and Toyota reported that after thoroughly examining Sikes’ car they could find no forensic evidence that the brakes and gas pedal were deployed simultaneously:

Toyota has said all Priuses are equipped with a computer system that cuts power to the wheels if the brake and gas pedals are depressed at the same time, as Sikes was doing.

“It’s tough for us to say if we’re skeptical. I’m mystified in how it could happen with the brake override system,” Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, said Thursday.

A Toyota official who was at the inspection explained that an electric motor would “completely seize” if a system to shut off the gas when the brake is pressed fails, and there was no evidence to support that happened, according to the memo.

“In this case, knowing that we are able to push the car around the shop, it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time,” according to the report for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

A day after the Sikes incident in California, another Prius driver blamed a vehicle crash on a stuck accelerator. A Harrison, NY resident claimed that as she was easing out of her driveway the accelerator on her 2005 Prius suddenly jammed. The brakes on the vehicle also failed, causing her to accelerate out of control and crash into a stone wall. But after technicians from the NHTSA and Toyota examined the car, they firmly concluded that “the car’s event data recorder ‘indicated there was no application of the brakes and the throttle was fully open.'”

As new “unintended acceleration” reports make news headlines, we continually find out more about the impressive number of safety features that Toyota included in the mechanical and computer systems of the Prius. Of course gremlins can pop up in mechanical systems at any time, but these latest reports of unintended acceleration by Toyota vehicles seem far more likely to have involved errors in human judgment rather than mechanical failure.

If you need a good laugh, someone decided to explore what would happen if Toyota’s hybrid technology was added to an electric lawn mower:

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