Toyota modifies start-stop buttons in case of panic

Toyota has quietly made a change in most of its models that couldsave lives if a car's accelerator sticks open -- and it's not the one atthe center of the $1.1-billion settlement of Toyota's unintendedacceleration lawsuits.

Toyota has modified the start-stop buttonsin most of its models so that they shut the engine off after three quickpushes, or after being continuously pushed for two seconds. That's twobig changes from the old policy that required a continuous three-secondpush in order to shut down the power.

The start-stop button was cited as a factorin the crash that killed an off-duty California Highway Patrol officerand three family members outside San Diego three years ago. Theinvestigation found that in a panic situation, a button required a muchlonger push than intuitively would be expected to turn off the engine. But Toyota officials defended it at the time,saying it was important to make sure that drivers or their passengersdidn't turn off the car inadvertantly by brushing against it.

Afew remaining Toyota or Lexus models -- Toyota didn't specify which ones-- are yet to get the change to a two-second push. The change to thetwo-second push started a year ago, says Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons inan email to USA TODAY. And all Toyota and Lexus vehicles, starting inAugust, 2010, now have buttons that will shut off the engine after threequick pushes, as one might expect in a panic situation.

Lyonssays the changes made to vehicles with the start-stop buttons resultedin part from recommendations from a committee of the SAE, once calledthe Society of Automotive Engineers, the auto industry's engineeringbrain trust. They effect only cars with the buttons, part of the"electronic key" ignitions instead of the traditional kind where youinsert a metal key and twist it to the start the engine,

In orderto reach a preliminary settlement of its unintended-accelerationlawsuits, Toyota said it would pay to have pedals of many of itsnon-hybrid models modified so that they, too, would turn off the engineif they detect multiple pushes as if the driver were trying to make apanic stop.


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