Toyota is reportedly planning to roll out a new feature to prevent accidents caused by pressing the accelerator instead of the brake pedal, resulting in unintended acceleration. The safety function will suppress engine output if the gas pedal is mistakenly pressed when there is a person in front of the vehicle, thereby preventing the vehicle from accelerating towards the pedestrian.

Retrofit safety devices that can suppress such cases of unintended acceleration caused by pressing the wrong pedal are already available on the market, but only work when sensors detect an obstacle such as a wall or another car in the direction the vehicle is travelling and often do not respond to pedestrians or bicycles.

The Toyota system would gradually decelerate the vehicle when the accelerator is pressed suddenly, even if there are no obstacles out in front, making it the first major domestic automaker to incorporate this kind of function.

According to sources, the function may be added to Toyota vehicles that have already been sold to customers, the Yomiuri Shimbun reports. The sources add that the company plans for the new feature to be retrofittable into already sold vehicles for a fee, which it aims to set at 50,000 yen (RM1,960) or less, as it believes that response and take-up will be poor if it is too expensive.

The feature is to be introduced starting with models such as the Prius and Aqua hybrids, which are popular among elderly drivers, and will eventually be opened up to other models.

The move has its critics – some in the auto industry believe that suppressing engine output could be dangerous when rapid acceleration is needed, such as moving from an on-ramp to the main lanes on an expressway or trying to avoid a crash in an emergency situation.

However, Toyota has concluded that such a function to suppress engine output is necessary to prevent accidents involving pedestrians and bicycles, and the system will only be installed only for those who want it, the sources said.

The introduction of the new function comes following a spate of high-profile accidents involving elderly people who made mistakes using the gas and brake pedals. In early July, the country’s land, infrastructure, transport and tourism ministry asked Toyota and seven other major domestic automakers to take urgent action regarding sudden acceleration caused by mistakenly pressing the accelerator.