(CNN) — Early evidence points to driver error as the reason a 2005 Prius sped into a stone wall on March 9, according to federal investigators.
“Information retrieved from the vehicle’s onboard computer systems indicated there was no application of the brakes and the throttle was fully open,” according to a statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The statement suggests the driver may have been stepping on the accelerator, instead of the brake, as she told police.
Note to CNN: Information retrieved from an onboard computer is not reliable in cases where the computer itself is a suspect in the crime. No one is claiming that ghosts are causing the cars to go out of control. And there is no evidence yet that a mechanical failure is the culprit, despite the NHTSA looking hard for that evidence. Alcohol is also not a factor in these specific cases (or else we wouldn’t even be talking about them). That leaves two big possibilities: sober experienced people are suddenly forgetting how to drive OR something is wrong with the software or electronics that controls the cars.
If the software that reads the control inputs has the right kind of fault in it, it may occasionally lose the ability to read and react to control inputs. It is easy for a computer programmer to imagine a situation where the part of the system that records the control settings is working fine, while the part that acts on them is failing. That would be consistent with the facts of this case. Moreover, the problem may be transient, leaving no evidence that it happened.
We don’t know what happened. We may never know. But there is no reason to assume that the computer is infallible. Computers are designed by fallible people.