It appears that Toyota’s “sticking” gas pedals are electronic, not mechanical. Apparently a lot of automobiles use this approach nowadays. But is this approach safe? Are there redundancies, as on airplanes?

“Fly-by-wire” has been around a while for airplanes, famously with the Airbus, which was an early adopter of the approach. Presumably “fly-by-wire” would not be implemented unless it leads to cost savings. I remember thinking, when the Airbus first came out, that conventional control systems might well be less prone to problems than the electronic ones.

The idea with “fly-by-wire” is that there are no mechanical and/or hydraulic connections between a control, operated by a pilot, and the component that moves in response, such as a wing flap or brake. Electronic pulses varying with the position of the control stick can operate a motor that moves a wing flap, for example.

With aviation, however, there are requirements for redundancies. Independent control systems have to be in place. If one system fails, another still works to make things happen.

But do the newer automobiles with analogous “drive-by-wire” systems have any redundancy in the form of a backup system that comes into play if there’s a problem with the primary one? If not, then we may be seeing some very serious retrofits of many of the newer automobiles.


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