NHTSA logoThe National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is proposing that all vehicles be equipped with a brake throttle override to prevent runaway cars that result from both the brake and gas pedals being depressed at the same time.

Angela Greiling Keane writes in Bloomberg Businessweek that according to NHTSA, the rule, which would update an existing auto-safety regulation, would cost next to nothing, because most automakers already meet the requirement. “The agency developed the proposed rule and a recommendation issued in December to standardize keyless ignitions to let drivers turn off cars faster after a driver and family members died in a 2009 crash of a runaway Lexus ES-350 that didn’t have a brake-override feature,” Keane writes.

James R. Healey reports in USA TODAY:

Incorrect floor mats jammed open the gas pedal on a Lexus ES 350 loaner car in August 2009, sending the car out of control and killing driver Mark Saylor, 45, a 19-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law riding in the car. NHTSA’s investigation showed that Saylor used the brakes heavily, but was unable to stop the speeding car, which did not have a brake-throttle override system.

In the proposal, NHTSA said that since 2000, it has received “thousands of complaints” about unintended acceleration, some involving stuck accelerator pedals that a brake override system is designed to counter in vehicles with electronic throttle controls, Keane writes. The brake override system cuts power to the engine when the throttle and brake are pressed at the same time, which can happen with a jammed accelerator or if a driver slams on the wrong pedal by mistake.

Healey reports that officials can’t say how many deaths and injuries the rule would prevent, as most 2012 cars already have the brake override systems. The NHTSA gives the public 60 days to comment on the proposed rule. You can read the proposal and find instructions for commenting here (PDF).

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement:

America’s drivers should feel confident that any time they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles — especially in the event of an emergency. By updating our safety standards, we’re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake.

Image by NHTSA, used under Fair Use: Reporting.