LTA probes 'unintended acceleration' in Hyundai cars

There has been a spate of accidents involving ComfortDelGro's Hyundai cabs that may be due to sudden unintended acceleration.
There has been a spate of accidents involving ComfortDelGro's Hyundai cabs that may be due to sudden unintended acceleration.ST FILE PHOTO

Move arises from videos showing Hyundai cabs in crashes that suggest drivers were not in control

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is investigating a phenomenon known as sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) in Hyundai cars that may have caused a spate of accidents involving taxis in Singapore.

The move arises from footage captured by car cameras showing Hyundai cabs operated by ComfortDelGro in dramatic crashes that suggest the drivers were not in control of their vehicles at the time.

In one video, a taxi reversed hard into a parked vehicle in an HDB carpark. It then moved forward, only to reverse again - this time mounting a kerb and crashing tail first into a block of flats.

In another video, a cab reversed into a vehicle near a carpark gantry, then bolted forward at high speed and collided with more than one vehicle.

The Straits Times spoke to a cabby of 13 years, who claimed his Hyundai Sonata cab surged forward when he was in a taxi queue at Resorts World in March.

Cases of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) have been well documented, although not all can be proven to be mechanical in nature. Some are attributable to drivers stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and, in panic, depressing the accelerator further. BusinessKorea, a news portal in Seoul, reported that 417 accidents between 2010 and 2014 were suspected to have been caused by SUA.

"My first instinct was to steer away," said the relief driver, who declined to be named. "The cab mounted two kerbs before it came to a stop. I believe I stepped on the brakes, but it was not hard enough."

In response to a query, the LTA said it is "looking into the reported cases of Hyundai vehicles having an unintended acceleration in reverse gear". But a spokesman added that "it is premature to draw any conclusions at this point in time".

Cases of SUA have been well documented, although not all can be proven to be mechanical in nature. Some are attributable to drivers stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake pedal and, in panic, depressing the accelerator further.

BusinessKorea, a news portal in Seoul, reported that 417 accidents between 2010 and 2014 were suspected to have been caused by SUA.

Cars from Hyundai and sister brand Kia accounted for nearly 60 per cent of the lot, it added.

In 2012, the Korean authorities investigated the cases, leading Hyundai to say it would introduce a "brake pedal throttle override" function in its cars.

However, it is unknown how many models have been equipped with this feature, which cuts off the throttle when brakes are applied.

Hyundai admitted to Road & Track magazine that "with virtually all cars using electronic throttle control today, there remains the remote possibility for an unforeseen electronic throttle control malfunction, causing a vehicle to accelerate contrary to driver input".

In 2014, an in-depth investigation by the Korean Broadcasting System (Seoul's equivalent of the BBC) found that a version of the Hyundai Sonata had a defective engine control unit that caused SUA.

Meanwhile, neither ComfortDelGro nor Hyundai distributor Komoco will comment on the purported cases of SUA in Singapore.

Hyundai is not alone in this. In 2014, Toyota settled a multibillion-dollar suit involving SUA in its cars, which were deemed to have caused fatal crashes. Following that, Toyota introduced a throttle override similar to Hyundai's.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 17, 2016, with the headline 'LTA probes 'unintended acceleration' in Hyundai cars'. Print Edition | Subscribe