Experts find deadly software flaws in Toyota code

When Jean Bookout attempted to exit the highway one day, her Toyota Camry raced out of control and the brakes wouldn’t work. Her passenger, Barbara Schwarz, asked that Jean use the emergency brakes. That didn’t work, either.

The car left the exit ramp and crashed, killing Barbara Schwarz and injuring Jean Bookout. By 2013, their court case went to trial in the Bookout v. Toyota case. Despite attempts to claim driver error, the evidence was stacked against Toyota. Embedded electronics software expert, Michael Barr, and his team had poured through hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of lines of software code and found the flaws.

Toyota had admitted in court that it did not perform thorough tests on its code. Michael Barr identified that Toyota not only had 80,000 lines of spaghetti code (code that easily hides more bugs than “clean” code), but that it had:

  • a “memory leak” in a critical piece of the electronic throttle control system software and that
  • the safety override for the code containing the memory leak was tucked inside the code that might fail.

This is like having two pairs of keys for a special closet. You keep one key inside the closet and when you’re locked out of that closet and can’t find your normal key, you can’t get the other one because it’s locked inside the locked cabinet.

Two Toyota Camrys were tested with the software and proved that Sudden Unintended Acceleration must be addressed.

You may recall that NASA had briefly looked at the code and claimed that they could not find the software flaw. However, in their report, they also pointed out that just because they didn’t find the problem, it didn’t mean that it didn’t exist.

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