Toyota vehicles have been having a problem with sudden, uncontrollable acceleration lately. It's been variously attributed to faulty circuits and driver error, but the real culprit might be radiation from beyond the skies.
Every day, the Earth is bombarded with trace amounts of radiation from space. It poses no threat to humans—at least, no direct threat. But the radiation has been known to cause glitches in circuitry, including the kind found in airplane navigation systems. And now, Toyota is looking into the possibility that the same radiation might be causing their cars to speed out of control.
Apparently, an anonymous tipster contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to let them know that Toyota might be using software that's unusually susceptible to ambient radiation. A body of published scientific work lends some credence to this theory, so federal regulators are now talking about devising a test to check Toyota's radiation immunity—which might involve booting up a particle accelerator and bombarding the hell out of some floor models.
Toyota maintains that radiation has nothing to do with the sudden-acceleration phenomenon. Thus far, the official and most widely accepted story is that something's wrong with the car's hardware or software—wiring, circuitry, something like that. A number of columnists, though, have been openly questioning whether careless drivers might not be to blame. The Wall Street Journal's Holman Jenkins Jr., in particular, has been hitting this note for a while on the op-ed page. But if the radiation theory turns out to be valid, Jenkins might have to turn his erudite wrath on the very sky itself.
Are cosmic rays really causing Toyota's woes? [Free Press]