Toyota Investigates Case Of Runaway Prius
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Federal investigators are heading to California to find out why a Toyota Prius raced out of control yesterday on a San Diego Freeway. The driver used his cell phone to call police and he told them the vehicle wouldn't stop, no matter how hard he pressed the breaks.
As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the close call could hardly have come at a worse time for Toyota.
CARRIE KAHN: California Highway Patrol officers in San Diego County got the call from dispatch.
(Soundbite of radio)
Unidentified Man: We'll never make it in time before this guy hits the grade.
KAHN: A driver of a blue 2008 Toyota Prius made a frantic 911 call saying he couldn't stop his vehicle after speeding up to pass a car. The highway patrol raced in to help.
Officer BRIAN PENNINGS (California Highway Patrol): We had units converging with his location. Fortunately, one of our units was able to get hold of him.
KAHN: CHP Officer Brian Pennings says the patrolmen located the Prius racing down the highway at speeds over 90 miles an hour.
Ofc. PENNINGS: The officer pulled up alongside the driver.
KAHN: And the two cars raced side by side toward a mountainous grade. Jim Sikes, the driver of the car, told reporters after the incident that he tried everything he could to stop the car. At one point he even held the steering wheel with one hand and with the other tried to pull on the gas pedal, hoping it was stuck on the floor mat. But Sikes said the car kept speeding toward the mountain pass.
Mr. JAMES SIKES: I was on the breaks pretty healthy. It wasn't stopping. It wasn't - doing anything to it, just kept speeding up.
KAHN: Officer Pennings says the patrolmen then shouted out another idea.
Ofc. PENNINGS: Via his PA system, instructed the individual to simultaneously hit his breaks as hard as he could and simultaneously hit his emergency break.
KAHN: The driver Sikes says he was standing on the brake pad with both feet. Finally, as he pulled the emergency brake, the car slowed down to around 50 miles an hour. Sikes said he was then able to switch off the engine. The CHP officer pulled in front of him just in case the car accelerated again and the two rolled to a stop. Officer Pennings said it was 20 terrifying minutes for both men.
Ofc. PENNINGS: It was nerve wracking and the individual was pretty shaken up by it, but we're just glad it came to a safe end.
KAHN: Sikes, the Prius owner, says he had received a recall notice from Toyota and had taken his 2008 car into a local dealership, but was told the auto wasn't in need of repairs. The dealership declined to comment. The San Diego incident happened just hours after Toyota held a press conference attacking critics' claim that electronic failures were behind unexplained acceleration problems. Karl Brauer, editor of Edmunds.com says Toyota definitely has a PR problem.
Mr. KARL BRAUER (Editor, Edmunds.com): There still seems to be a disconnect between what they're claiming and what they're telling everyone and what is going on in the real world.
KAHN: Toyota has recently recalled more than six million autos because of the acceleration issue. Today Toyota said it plans to expand that recall for the 2004 through 2008 Prius hybrid models.
Carrie Kahn, NPR News.
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