At Large

A motoring mystery

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A family friend, Delfin Garcia, has sought my help in calling attention to a motoring phenomenon known as “unintended sudden acceleration.” A few months ago, Garcia was driving his Mitsubishi Montero Sport out of his garage and turning left to the other lane when all of a sudden his SUV accelerated and thrust forward. Instinctively, Garcia stepped on the brakes, but the vehicle continued to speed forward, moving even faster. Unfortunately, a man happened to be crossing the street on a bicycle, and despite repeatedly stepping on his brakes, Garcia hit the bicycle, causing the rider to fall. The Montero came to a halt only after it landed on a part of the road that was being repaired, and only after hitting a small store on the roadside.

Garcia rushed the bicycle rider to a hospital and paid for the man’s bills. He shelled out quite a tidy sum, considering that the man needed a lot of care. The Montero, meanwhile, is in a repair shop and the bill promises to be huge.

For some days, Garcia says, he was in a daze and couldn’t understand what had happened. That is, until he was alerted by friends and other motorists to check out various websites and forums that are so plentiful one can search for them on Google under the heading “unintended sudden acceleration” or “USA.”

It was only then that Garcia found some comfort—if you could call it that—by reading about what had happened to other motorists who experienced USA, although most don’t make any mention of serious injuries suffered by the drivers, passengers or pedestrians. He is just unlucky, I guess.

But he also finds it uncanny that what he went through in those terrifying few seconds when the Montero suddenly accelerated and he lost control of the vehicle are echoed almost exactly by the accounts he read online.

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Many of those reacting to the other accounts of “USA” seemed skeptical, asking if the accidents were not attributable to driver error.

Aida Sevilla Mendoza, writing in her motoring column in this newspaper early last year, said the same problem received a lot of publicity in the United States some years ago, but involving car makers Audi and Toyota.

“Unintended sudden acceleration is nothing new,” said Mendoza, noting how the issue “nearly destroyed” Audi some 20 years ago, although investigations found that the footage to “prove” the case against Audi was found to be fabricated. It was another matter for Toyota, which paid a “record-setting” $16.4-million fine to the US Department of Transportation for the “potential defects.” But in 2011, wrote Mendoza, the US government found no defects in the “brand’s electronic throttle systems” and “concurred with Toyota’s explanation that faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals—if not driver error—have caused Toyota vehicles to accelerate suddenly out of control.”

Since this is not the only documented case of “USA” involving Mitsubishi Montero Sports, Garcia wonders if there is any official body in this country which can carry out an investigation on the safety of such vehicles. He is sure it was not a case of “driver error” because he was driving slowly as he was simply leaving his garage and road repairs were underway on his street.

One thing he is sure of, though, is that he will no longer drive his Montero once it leaves the repair shop. The bad memories simply won’t leave him alone, or in peace.

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Correction. The excerpts from the “alternative answers” prepared by the Psychological Association of the Philippines in response to another column on a parent’s response to suspicions of having a gay/lesbian child was incorrectly attributed to Dr. Regina Hechanova, PAP president and a TOWNS awardee.

The answers, I have been informed, were written by Liane Pena Alampay, also a PAP member. With them, I share my hope that, as Hechanova wrote, the column succeeded in “educating the public … and lessening discrimination against LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders).”

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