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Parliament to review car crash by suspected unintended acceleration

Petition filed by father of child killed in accident gains consent for parliamentary review

By Kim So-hyun

Published : March 3, 2023 - 13:25

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This photo captured from local broadcaster KBS' news coverage shows a car dashing with smoke on Dec. 6 in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (KBS) This photo captured from local broadcaster KBS' news coverage shows a car dashing with smoke on Dec. 6 in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. (KBS)

In December last year, a sport utility vehicle driven by a 68-year-old woman suddenly raced about 600 meters forward for about 30 seconds before falling into an underpass in Gangneung, Gangwon Province.

The driver’s 12-year-old grandson was killed, while the driver suffered severe injuries.

Lee Sang-hoon, the driver’s son and the child’s father, filed an online petition with the National Assembly, attached to a revised bill written by a lawyer to make the carmaker responsible for proving facts in suspected sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) cases.

The petition gained over 50,000 people’s consent, the threshold for being submitted to the parliamentary National Policy Committee and the Legislation and Judiciary Committee for review.

“My mother never sped over 80 kilometers per hour. There is no way she would have sped over 110 km/h for over 600 meters” especially with her grandson in the passenger seat, Lee said in a CBS radio show on Thursday.

An in-vehicle Event Data Recorder (EDR) test result showed that the gas pedal was pressed 100 percent, to which Lee asked, “Who would do that with her grandson in the car?”

If it were for a brief moment, one could suspect driver error, but to assume that she would step on the gas pedal for 600 meters while frantically calling her grandson’s name doesn’t make sense, he said.

The grandmother has been booked for violation of the Act on Special Cases Concerning the Settlement of Traffic Accidents.

The family has filed a lawsuit against the car’s manufacturer, alleging it was an SUA due to vehicle defect, and called on the company to prove what caused the accident.

Suspected SUA accidents constantly occur in vehicles with autonomous driving functions, but an SUA is practically impossible to prove for nonexperts because software defects do not leave any traces, Lee said.

“But under the current product liability law, the driver or the bereaved family who are nonexperts have to prove vehicle defect in case of suspected SUA accidents,” he said.

“Such unreasonable and unfair clause should be revised urgently so that the car manufacturer is responsible for proving that its vehicle didn’t have defects that caused the SUA.”

The family has said there is a tendency in Korea to blame most accidents from suspected SUA on driver error.

The fact that the driver tried to avoid colliding with other cars at least twice while the vehicle was racing by itself shows that it was not a case of driver error, the family said. They also pointed to the roaring noise and spurts of white liquid from the car as another reason to suspect a vehicle defect.

“Regardless of whether we win or lose, I think the causes of the suspected SUA accident must be clearly determined,” Lee said.

In a voice recording from the car’s black box that was shown on local television, the driver is heard exclaiming “Why isn’t this working?”

The family claims that the SUV, which has Level 2 autonomous driving functions, had defects in its electronic control unit software and an automatic emergency braking malfunction. It also did not have an Acceleration Suppression System or a roof that can withstand high impact. Level 2 autonomous driving means the car can control steering and accelerating or decelerating, but requires the driver to monitor it at all times and be ready to step in if needed.