Commentary

In the 1983 Stephen King horror novel “Christine,” a car with supernatural powers drives around by itself and murders people.

Despite the efforts of trial lawyers and a few members of the media, Toyotas possessed by demon electronics so far remain safely in the realm of fiction.

It still may be proven that hidden software defects, cosmic radiation or Al Qaeda members with death rays are causing sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, but evidence to the contrary is starting to pile up.

Federal investigators say data retrieved from the onboard computer of an alleged runaway Prius in Harrison, NY, shows the crash was caused by driver error.

“Information retrieved from the vehicle’s onboard computer systems indicated there was no application of the brakes and the throttle was fully open,” the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. says.

“The trouble, unbelievable as it may seem, is that sudden acceleration is very often caused by drivers who press the gas pedal when they intend to press the brake,” says Richard Schmidt in a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times.

Schmidt, a professor of psychology at the University of California, investigated more than 150 cases of sudden acceleration in the 1980s.

An investigation of another highly publicized runaway Prius in California, monitored by NHTSA officials, also reveals “the driver’s account of the event is inconsistent with the findings of the preliminary analysis,” Toyota says.

In addition to the technical information that casts doubt on the driver’s story, dozens of Internet videos posted by Prius owners and news organizations demonstrate how easy it is to stop a Prius at full throttle.

These videos – some serious, some profane and funny – show drivers easily pulling to the side of the road after doing any one of the following: stepping hard on the brakes, pushing the parking brake button, shifting into neutral or pushing the power button.

They make it hard to believe the driver’s story of careening for miles at high speed without being able to stop.

Toyota also is demanding a retraction and public apology from ABC News, which purported to show how an electrical short circuit could cause sudden unintended acceleration.

The report focused on a gadget created by David Gilbert, an associate professor at Southern Illinois University.

An analysis of Gilbert’s device by engineering experts at Stanford University and an electronics consulting company hired by Toyota reveal Gilbert engineered a completely new circuit, including the addition of new electronic parts and an on-off switch, in order to create sudden acceleration on demand.

Such a contrivance has no relevance to real-world conditions and will create “sudden acceleration” in any vehicle, says Chris Gerdes, a mechanical-engineering professor at Stanford.

Gilbert’s research is funded by Sean Kane, founder of Massachusetts-based Safety Research and Strategies. Kane is an advocate for lawyers suing Toyota, a detail ABC did not mention in its report.

ABC also has admitted footage shown of the tachometer racing to the redline at alarming speed actually was staged when the Toyota test vehicle was parked and not in gear.

Lawsuits over the real-world issues of accelerator entrapment and sticky pedals likely will haunt Toyota for years, but when it comes to electronic ghosts creating demon cars, science and common sense are beginning to prevail over fear and fiction.

Sorry Christine.

dwinter@wardsauto.com