Scott Benjamin

Why is NASA studying car safety?

I'm sure by now you've heard the latest Toyota news: A little less than a week ago, it was announced that "NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations." That's according to Michael Kirsch, the principal engineer and team lead of the study from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.

And if you recall, reports of unintended acceleration were being blamed on three possible factors: sticking accelerator pedals, a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats and electromagnetic interference and/or software flaws. In all, nearly 8 million Toyota vehicles were recalled. In the end, only two of those factors proved possible: sticking accelerator pedals and a floor mat design flaw. There simply was no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused unintended acceleration.

So here's my question -- and it's a question that I'm sure many of you were probably already thinking, too: Why is NASA studying car safety alongside the NHTSA? On the surface, it seems like an odd combination, doesn't it?

But if you take a moment to think about it, you'll realize that NASA employs some of the "best and brightest" software and electronics experts in the world. And so, according to a recent news article from NASA, in addition to the U.S. Department of Transportation's research into the issue, 30 NASA engineers also played a part in the ten-month study to determine the possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

And now it all makes perfect sense, right? Oh, and don't forget that you can keep up with CarStuff on our Facebook page and on our Twitter feed, too. Let us know what you think!