COLLEGE PARK, Md. (WUSA) -- Video recently released by Toyota shows engineers testing cars for electromagnetic interference. That's one theory behind cars suddenly speeding up without warning.
Dr. W. Rance Cleaveland directs the Center for Experimental Software Engineering at the University of Maryland.
He says electromagnetic interference or EMI occurs when electrical devices interfere with each other.
"There is electromagnetic interference everywhere, everywhere in our environment," he says.
Your iPod, cell phone, even the towers you drive by could send confusing signals to your vehicle.
Dr. Cleaveland drives a Toyota Prius. When he plugs in his iPod into the cars' audio system, he encounters EMI.
"This hiss is EMI could similarly interrupt or confuse the messages that the gas pedal is sending to the engine," says Dr. Cleaveland.
The Center For Auto Safety
Machines at Toyota's EMI testing chamber simulate a driver in the car, subjecting the gas pedal to various sources of EMI.
EMI comes from components already in your car, even the little electric motors that power your windshield wiper system. But University of Maryland professor says replicating can be difficult.
"Software is there, and you can look at it. EMI is here today and gone tomorrow. It leaves no trace," Dr. Cleaveland says.
In fact, he speculates the issues with runaway cars could be linked to a software glitch.
Consumer Federation of America
"If it's a software problem, that's much easier to solve." says auto expert Jack Gillis.
Gillis, author of The Car Book, says whether EMI is at play or not, finding the root cause of the problems could be a challenge.
"To discover what caused the problem is a mystery that may not be solved," he says.
But this is one mystery that millions of Toyota drivers hope engineers will be able to unravel soon.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
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Until that happens, auto experts say if you own a Toyota, the most important thing you can do is to practice putting your car in neutral.
Go to a parking lot, and practice this maneuver, so that if your car does suddenly take off, you will know what to do.