This may be one of those things behind that "sudden acceleration" we've been hearing the past decade, especially among people not quite tip top shape or fit at the moment (especially from tiredness, drink, other impairment).
If I am remembering correctly what I read, for those Toyotas in particular there was a problem in the powertrain module's programming that would not allow the vehicle to be shut off or taken out of gear while the computer sensed acceleration. Coupled with a physical problem with the drive-by-wire sensor that the gas pedal actually is in those vehicles, the pedal would malfunction and cause the car to accelerate and no other input from the driver could override this.
The problem with drive-by-wire is that if something goes wrong it can be very difficult to figure out. Was it code? Was it the pedal? Was it something interfering with the pedal? Was it some kind of communications cross-talk in the wiring? Was some other input being detected like the cruise control? Was that some other thing malfunctioning? Why didn't the signal from the brakes override?
Now consider how tech is going to continue to advance until Tesla and those electric motors puts the power of a Veyron into the hands of anyone who can sign for a car loan but doesn't know that that kind of speed belongs only on the track. A 1979 Toyota Tercel has no business with a modern 5.2 L Flat Plane Crank V8 bolted onto it, particularly because the suspension and steering can't handle the power and the driver of such an abomination is probably a goddam fool, likely to pound down a few six-packs before heading out for Zombie night at Applebees. The only razor-thin silver-lining in the article reported by the OP is they didn't mow down a sidewalk-full of bystanders before the smeared themselves.
If tech advances until torque and horsepower become trivial, we will have to have governors built-in to cars because the road has to be shared and driving like an idiot will become not a matter of a broken leg but something a lot more permanent. On the track or the salt flats, do what you want. On the streets there's a point where basic transportation becomes a suicide machine, and I don't want to share those streets with overpowered idiots.
You really don't have any idea how automotive history played out. The late seventies to the early nineties are an abberation where there were relatively few powerful production cars. From the thirties onward, the push was for ever increasing amounts of power. In the late sixties we hit the peak with American car manufacturers cramming well over 400hp into cars that had absolutely atrocious handling and road-grip. Take a Plymouth with a 426 Hemi, you had almost 70% of the mass over the front non-drive axle, you had skinny bias-ply tires, you had firm torsion bars because of the mass of the engine. For weight savings on cars like the Roadrunner and GTX you often had antiswaybar-delete, such that the cars really suffered body roll in turns.
Fuel availability problems from the manufactured oil crisis of the mid seventies, coupled with a slow ratcheting of environmental requirements and fuel economy requirements, forced horsepower down. This is certainly partially responsible for the American attempts with turbocharging in the eighties and early nineties and attempting to add power to the small FWD chassis despite initial development as economy cars, and it was only when automakers finally fully embraced symmetrical multiport fuel injection with computer control, multiple stages of catalytic conversion, and high-gear-count transmissions that power, fuel economy, and emissions were all achievable, albeit with cars that are significantly more complex and expensive.
We are not a loved organization, but we are a respected one. -- John Fisher