Several months ago, a 63-year-old Harvard professor lost control of his 2005 Toyota Highlander, crashed into another car and died, along with two family members. Now the government is trying to decide whether Highlanders of this vintage are prone to sudden acceleration and should be added to the lengthy Toyota recall list.
I drive a 2005 Toyota Highlander, and ever since I read about the case of the 63-year-old Harvard professor, I’ve felt … well, nothing in particular. I mean, I’m sorry about the professor and his family, but I think this whole Toyota thing is overblown.
Let’s do the math.
My back-of-the-envelope calculations (explained in a footnote below) suggest that if you drive one of the Toyotas recalled for acceleration problems and don’t bother to comply with the recall, your chances of being involved in a fatal accident over the next two years because of the unfixed problem are a bit worse than one in a million — 2.8 in a million, to be more exact. Meanwhile, your chances of being killed in a car accident during the next two years just by virtue of being an American are one in 5,244.
So driving one of these suspect Toyotas raises your chances of dying in a car crash over the next two years from .01907 percent (that’s 19 one-thousandths of 1 percent, when rounded off) to .01935 percent (also 19 one-thousandths of one percent).
I can live with those odds. Sure, I’d rather they were better, but it’s not worth losing sleep over. And I don’t think it’s worth all the bandwidth the Toyota story has consumed over the past couple of months.
But lots of Americans seem to disagree with me. Why?