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Faulty Toyotas safe, CMU professor says

| Friday, Feb. 26, 2010

Sure, driving a recalled Toyota is risky.

But so is riding a bike, being a cop for three days — even walking a mile is 19 times more dangerous than driving a faulty Toyota that distance, according to a risk expert at Carnegie Mellon University.

"There's been a lot of flash about how dangerous driving these cars are," said professor Paul Fischbeck. "Some of it was really over the top. ... But the risk is really low."

Fischbeck, who delights in calculating the odds of dying in various ways, decided to calculate the death risk factor of driving a faulty Toyota.

His findings: Drive a recalled Toyota for one year and the chance of dying because of the accelerator problem is about two in a million.

"This is the same as flipping 19 coins one time each and getting 19 heads," said Fischbeck, who acknowledged owning a two-headed coin.

"Being a cop also increases your chances of death," he said. "Being a cop for three days is just as risky as driving a recalled Toyota for a year."

Fischbeck assessed the Toyota risk factor, he said, by considering that in the United States, there is just over one fatality for every 100 million miles driven, and the average vehicle logs about 13,000 miles per year. Based on these averages, he said, for the 2.3 million Toyotas recalled, there are about 340 fatalities every year for causes unrelated to the accelerator. The accelerator problem adds six deaths per year to the total, "meaning that the accelerator problem is increasing the driving risk by about 2 percent."

Local Toyota dealers referred calls for comment to Toyota officials in southern California. A company spokesman there declined to comment on the study.

Fischbeck said he does not work for Toyota or own stock in the company, although his wife drives a Toyota. He encouraged owners of recalled cars to get them fixed.

Still, he suggests "perspective."

Indeed, many seemingly mundane activities actually are significantly more dangerous than driving a faulty Toyota, Fischbeck contends.

For example, walking is a huge killer in America, said Fischbeck, who said he walks everywhere rather than drive a car.

"I used to bike, and then I kept getting hit by cars," he said. "About once a decade I got hit by a car. I've had broken bones, and I have gotten stitches, but I've never been killed, so that's good."

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