(Toyota representatives examined a crashed Toyota Prius in March in Harrison, N.Y.)
The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that the throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash, people familiar with the findings said. The early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyotas and Lexuses surged out of control were mistakenly flooring the accelerator when they intended to jam on the brakes.
But the findings—part of a broad, ongoing federal investigation into Toyota’s recalls—don’t exonerate the car maker from two known issues blamed for sudden acceleration in its vehicles: “sticky” accelerator pedals that don’t return to idle and floor mats that can trap accelerators to the floor. The findings by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration involve a sample of the reports in which a driver of a Toyota vehicle said the brakes were depressed but failed to stop the car from accelerating and ultimately crashing.
The U.S. Department of Transportation found that throttles were wide open and brakes not engaged on Toyotas involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration, said people familiar with the matter. Mike Ramsey discusses. Also, Joe White and Ashby Jones discuss the U.S. Court ruling striking down certain FCC rules against broadcast indecency. A NHTSA spokeswoman declined to comment on the findings, which haven’t been released by the agency. The data recorders analyzed by NHTSA were selected by the agency, not Toyota, based on complaints the drivers had filed with the government. Toyota hasn’t been involved in interpreting the data. The initial findings are consistent with a 1989 government-sponsored study that blamed similar driver mistakes for a rash of sudden-acceleration reports involving Audi 5000 sedans.
The Toyota findings appear to support Toyota’s position that sudden-acceleration reports involving its vehicles weren’t caused by electronic glitches in computer-controlled throttle systems, as some safety advocates and plaintiffs’ attorneys have alleged. More than 100 people have sued the car maker over crashes they claim were the result of faulty electronics. It is unknown how many data recorders NHTSA has read so far. The agency’s investigators have been reading the data only since Toyota provided the agency with 10 reading devices in March. Since then, investigators have responded to accidents involving sudden acceleration when the driver claims to have been stepping on the brakes. Because the data recorders can lose their information if disconnected from the car’s battery or if the battery dies—as could happen after a crash—the agency is focusing only on recent accidents, said a person familiar with the situation.
However, NHTSA has been able to verify that only one of those fatal crashes was caused by a problem with the vehicle, according to information the agency provided to the National Academy of Sciences. That accident last Aug. 28, which killed a California highway patrolman and three passengers in a Lexus, was traced to a floor mat that trapped the gas pedal in the depressed position. Toyota has since recalled more than eight million cars globally to fix floor mats and sticky accelerators. The NHTSA spokeswoman said the agency wouldn’t comment on its Toyota probe until a broader study is completed in conjunction with NASA, which is expected to take months.
Daniel Smith, NHTSA’s associate administrator for enforcement, told a panel of the National Academy of Sciences last month that the agency’s sudden-acceleration probe had yet to find any car defects beyond those identified by the company: pedals entrapped by floor mats, and accelerator pedals that are slow to return to idle.
“In spite of our investigations, we have not actually been able yet to find a defect” in electronic throttle-control systems, Mr. Smith told the scientific panel, which is looking into potential causes of sudden acceleration.
“We’re bound and determined that if it exists, we’re going to find it,” he added. “But as yet, we haven’t found it.”
Some Toyota officials say they are informally aware of the NHTSA data-recorder results. Toyota officials haven’t been briefed on the findings, but they corroborate its own tests, said Mike Michels, the chief spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales.
Toyota says its own downloads of data recorders have found evidence of sticky pedals and pedal entrapment as well as driver error, which is characterized by no evidence of the brakes being depressed during impact. Still, since the start of Toyota’s troubles late last summer, the Japanese company hasn’t blamed drivers for any of the sudden-acceleration incidents, though in many cases the company couldn’t find another cause. Toyota President Akio Toyoda has said the company won’t pin the blame on customers for its problems as part of its public-relations response. An attorney who represents four drivers who sued Toyota in state courts over sudden acceleration said the NHTSA finding doesn’t mean much for his litigation. “Toyota has always taken the position that the electronic data recorder system is not reliable,” said Tab Turner, the Little Rock, Ark., lawyer.
A Toyota spokesman said the company considers the device “a prototype tool. It wasn’t designed to tell us exactly what happened in an accident. It was designed to tell us whether our systems were operating properly.” One case studied by U.S. regulators involves Myrna Marseille of Kohler, Wis., who reported in March that her 2009 Toyota Camry accelerated out of control and crashed into a building.
Ms. Marseille sticks by her story. “It makes me very angry when someone tells me, ‘She probably hit the gas pedal instead,’ because I think it’s a sexist comment, an ageist comment,” she said.
via (Wall Street Journal)