On the heels of Toyota's apparent problems with unintended acceleration, today, General Motors announced that it would make brake override systems standard on all of its passenger vehicles by the end of 2012. It's another move that indicates that such systems are likely to become the de facto standard in automobiles long before any government mandate.
GM calls its system "enhanced smart pedal" technology. It means that on cars with automatic transmissions and electronic throttle controls if the driver pushes down on the accelerator and the brake at the same time, the car's computer will assume the driver is attempting to stop and disconnect the throttle. It's an extremely important safeguard because it also means that should the car for any reason–stuck accelerator pedal, conflicting computer commands, jammed floor mat–detect that both pedals are depressed, it will bring the car to a safe stop (during which time the throttle is usually reduced to idle speed).
BMW and several other car makers use such brake override systems. And they are smart enough to know the difference between trying to take off brake-stand-style and cases in which you want to stop the car.
In a brief press release on the announcement, GM went to pains to basically say, but there's nothing wrong with our cars now…we just think this will make them safer.
While brake override is important, it should be noted that it will not prevent some accelerator related accidents, such as pedal misapplication or misidentification. This occurs when a driver thinks they are pressing down on the brake but are actually pressing down on the accelerator. It can be an all-too tragic occurrence particularly with older drivers, and even advanced auto braking systems, such as that about to be introduced in the Volvo S60, cannot prevent such mistakes.
Still, brake override–like backup rear view cameras and electronic stability control systems–are a step in the right direction.
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