I suspect Toyota was cursing a corporate blue streak when this came before a jury.
An old lawyer friend once expounded on the "Deep Pocket Doctrine of Jury Trials", which reduces to "The side perceived as having the money will pay, regardless of the facts of the case." The jury is likely not competant to evaluate the facts anyway. There are unlikely to be engineers on the jury, and the jury will listen to prosecution and defence witnesses, then vote with their gut. "Gee! A woman was injured and another was killed because of a Toyota! Sock 'em!" That driver error might be at fault is not a conclusion the jury will endorse. I'm actually surprised at how lightly Toyota got off this round.
There is more to come, and I'll be curious to see followup reports, but I don't expect jury trials to answer the question of whether Toyota's electronic controller was the problem.
With an automatic transmission, pushing forward on the gear selector will pop the transmission into neutral. This works both with gear selectors on the steering column or on the floor. In a panic situation you can just slam the lever forward and it will put the transmission in neutral. You don't have to push a button or carefully select anything. This is a saftey feature built into most if not all automatic transmissions.
If the accellerator is stuck, you put the transmission into neutral, disengaging the engine from the driveline. The engine will race, but you will not lose power steering or power brakes so you can at least have a chance of safely getting the car slowed and to the edge of the road.
If the accellerator is truly stuck, what options do you suggest that are better? As others noted, you can overpower the engine by standing on the brakes. The car will slow down, but not as fast as with the transmission in neutral.
One of my observation is, in US, people doesn't go to driving school to learn how to drive. They typically learn from their parents or, mostly, friends. A parent teaches a teenager kid is already difficult enough. An inexperienced driver teaches a buddy may simply pass down any bad habbit. On the other hands, how many people understand how a car operates given automatic transmission is so popular and convenience. I am pretty sure anyone who knows how to drive a stick shift will know what a neutral means. Slamming a brake in neutral may be found dangerous in most cases. I would not do so unless this is the last resort.
Back in the early '80s I worked for an oil-well-drilling metrology company. We were required to qualify for NASA-level soldering before being allowed to work on the down-hole boards.
Quite a few things were breaking out of obscurity at that time: fretting wear on PC board fingers in the grip of spring contacts and dendrite formation at low voltages among them. One of the things I remember quite clearly was Hewlett-Packard reporting that conformal coating was not a universal solution to dendrite (whisker) formation, because the boards themselves retained enough moisture to allow growth under the coating.
One of the premier approaches to no-lead solder in PCBs has been using the nickel-phospherous electroless gold coating process. At another company, I witnessed a tremendous amount of loss and delay being caused by the PCB company's attention to their electroless bath components. It was described to me as being akin to Chrome Plating baths: if it's a bit low, you heave in a chunk or bucket full and presume that it all dissolves and evenly distributes. In the case of our boards, this approach allowed the phosphorus content to rise above the acceptable amount, which formed a "black pad" coat of the nickel under the gold plate. The black pad syndrome caused leadless solder to fail under light stress. Bad stuff in a high-vibration environment.
In both of these cases, I see plenty of reason to question the absolutes of our profession. Is leadless really a viable approach where lives are at stake, as they are in automotives? The Airforce refused (at least had still refused as late as 2005) to adopt the nickel/gold electroless approach, preferring silver solder throughout. Has anyone gone beyond the philosophical and back-of-envelope presumptions that outlawed lead-content solder? Likewise, have we learned nothing from real-world problems and failures that simple fixes for dendrite formation (polycrystalline wax formulations, spread on the surface of the boards worked very well in the 80's... now I can't even find signs of the research!) have simply slipped off the design table, in favor of fail-proven approaches?
You would think that a fail-safe system for emergency braking is a brilliant new idea when it comes to electronic systems in cars.
GM cars going back to at least the '70s had fail-safe systems for their electronically controlled vacuum actuated cruise controls. In addition to having a linkage with a non-tangle ball chain to the throttle, the brake pedal actuated an electric switch to kill the power to the accelerate solenoid and remove power from the decelerate solenoid which released vacuum from the vacuum actuator. To back that up there was a mechanical vacuum switch that released all the vacuum from the vacuum actuator when the brake pedal was depressed.
Why did it take multiple deaths before Toyota incorporated a similar time proven fail-safe system to back up its electronics?