Toyota debacle brings out the worst in America

May 6, 2010 — by Kevin Mu

In January, Toyota announced a recall of 10 million of its vehicles as the result of floor mat and gas pedal defects that could cause spontaneous and uncontrolled acceleration. Since then, dozens of reports of runaway Toyotas have surfaced in the press, and unhappy drivers are looking for compensation from the car-manufacturing giant.

Is this sudden increase in the number of reports all just a coincidence, or are sneaky consumers deliberately trying to take advantage of the situation?

Before answering that question, consider California resident James Sikes, who recently claimed that his Prius had accelerated out of control to 94 mph on a San Diego freeway. The incident sparked a media frenzy, and analysts even suggested a Prius recall. But private and independent laboratory results found that the situation that Sikes had described could not be reproduced. When both the accelerator and the brakes are pressed, the Prius automatically shuts down the engine of the car in a failsafe override.

In other words, it is possible that Sikes’ story was entirely falsified, perhaps in an attempt to gain money or fame. Does this sound familiar to anyone else? Hey, look! It’s a balloon!

Indeed, incidents like these can bring out the worst in people. When greed takes over, they will do anything and risk everything to sue a large company for profit. But these acts are extremely disrespectful to the families of those who have actually suffered because of Toyota’s defect, not to mention unfair to Toyota itself—these inconsiderate choices often cause millions of dollars in damage to the accused companies, even if they are false. The falsified information also makes the investigation of the actual problem more complicated, which endangers even more drivers. That is not to say Toyota is any less guilty for this recall debacle: The fact is that a defect in their vehicles, whether mechanical or electronic, has hurt or even killed innocent drivers, and it needs to be fixed as soon as possible.

However, it is disgusting to see such claims being thrown around about such a sensitive topic that has seriously affected many families. But it is not surprising. This same scheme has been used over and over again by people looking to turn a quick profit. Perhaps some will remember the infamous “Finger Lady,” who found a cooked finger in her Wendy’s chili and sued the fast-food chain. She was found guilty of setting up the scam and sentenced to almost a decade in prison, but the incident still hurt Wendy’s, who suffered an estimated $21 million in losses, according to the San Jose Mercury News.

Unfortunately, this kind of deception has been ingrained into our capitalistic culture and cannot be fully prevented. One possible solution is to impose harsher penalties for hoax attempts in order to deter potential opportunists, but instilling fear into would-be criminals still does not solve the root of the problem. The true problem lies with society, where a person is often defined by dollars and cents rather than his or her personal values. In order to truly solve this issue, people must reverse their own greed and begin to once again view integrity as a valuable trait.

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