A woman in the United Kingdom who testified that her Nissan suddenly accelerated on its own was recently cleared of killing a pedestrian.
Ann Diggles, an 82-year-old retired nurse, was parking her Nissan Qashqai in the town of Leyland in 2014 when, she said, her car suddenly shot forward. The vehicle plowed into a curb, hitting and killing 53-year-old Julie Dean. The case received significant attention in the British press, as the Qashqai is Britain’s fifth best-selling car, according to the Daily Mail.
That specific Nissan model is not sold in the United States. However, Nissan is one of many car makers whose United States drivers also complain of sudden unintended acceleration (SUA), or the phenomenon in which a driver says their car took off on its own as the brakes failed.
Other Nissan models target of SUA complaints
A search of “Nissan” and “unintended acceleration” in the United States Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s voluntary complaint database turns up 23 reports. The most recent report, from January 31, describes an accident in which a 1993 Nissan Altima suddenly accelerated as the driver was going into reverse. “THE CONTACT SUFFERED FROM HEAD, ARM, SHOULDER, AND LEG INJURIES,” the report says.
In 2015 Nissan agreed to recall 298,747 of its Versa and Versa Note models over sudden acceleration concerns. The NHTSA had begun a probe into the cars’ engineering and sudden acceleration a year earlier. Rather than blame the sudden acceleration on a mechanical or software issue, however, Nissan linked the problem to drivers’ shoes.
“Nissan says the right edge of the driver’s shoe may catch the edge of the center console lower trim panel,” causing the accelerator to become depressed, according to a report from the Detroit News.
Computer issue vs. driver error
"If you're turning into a parking space, you have a lot of stress on the front drive system,” Samuel Seco, an electrical engineer who has studied sudden acceleration in cars for over 20 years and provides expert testimony in civil and criminal cases involving the issue, told ConsumerAffairs. “Since everything is based on running through the computer, including sensors on your drive systems, any one of those could carry onto the system, carry on to the on-board computer and attack it."
But the automotive industry, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have maintained that sudden unintended acceleration is caused by driver error, not the computerization of vehicles. Preston Crown Court attorneys prosecuting the Diggles case, working with experts from Nissan, told jurors that there were no problems with Diggles’ car. Nissan’s Deputy General Manager Takuma Nakamura even flew in from Japan to testify for the Crown Court prosecutors and vouch for the safety of Diggles’ vehicle.
Attorneys for Diggles said that a malfunction in the car’s electronic throttle, in which a computer controls the throttle opening settings, had caused the “uncommanded acceleration” in her car. Nakamura claimed in his testimony that the car’s computer has a “self-diagnostic feature” which would allow the car to record any such malfunctions.
Other Nissan owners come forward
Two other Nissan owners contacted Diggles’ attorneys after reading about her case in the news. On short notice, they agreed to testify about their own experiences with sudden acceleration at her criminal trial.
On February 7, shortly after jurors cleared Diggles of killing Julie Dean, the trial judge reportedly said that the two witnesses “are to be commended for the efforts that they individually took to contact the defense and come to court at very short notice.”
Nissan’s spokespeople have not returned messages from ConsumerAffairs.