Re­port: Foot­work, not cars, at fault in many wrecks in­volv­ing Toy­otas

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS & PERSONAL FINANCE - By D.C. Deni­son and Erin Ail­worth

Govern­ment in­ves­ti­ga­tors and Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp. have re­port­edly found that driver er­ror, not sud­den un­in­tended ac­cel­er­a­tion, may have caused dozens of ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing Toy­ota ve­hi­cles.

The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported Wed­nes­day that a fed­eral anal­y­sis of data from dozens of crashes blamed on sud­den ac­cel­er­a­tion sug­gested that some driv­ers who lost con­trol of their ve­hi­cles were mis­tak­enly floor­ing the ac­cel­er­a­tor when they in­tended to hit the brakes.

Thou­sands of cases of un­in­tended ac­cel­er­a­tion are be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the Na­tional High­way Traf­fic Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion, in con­junc­tion with NASA.

Af­ter the Jour­nal’s re­port, Bloomberg News quoted Toy­ota Mo­tor Corp. spokesman Mike Michels as say­ing “vir­tu­ally all” of 2,000 cases of re­ported un­in­tended ac­cel­er­a­tion the au­tomaker has re­viewed re­sulted from driv­ers step­ping on the gas pedal in­stead of the brake.

Michels said in an in­ter­view with The Bos­ton Globe that his com­ment re­ferred only to “crashes in which the driver re­ported that his or her foot was on the brake,” but would not say how many in­ci­dents fit that de­scrip­tion.

NHTSA has re­ceived 3,000 re­ports of sud­den ac­cel­er­a­tion in Toy­ota and Lexus au­to­mo­biles, and Toy­ota has re­called 8.5 mil­lion ve­hi­cles world­wide to al­ter gas ped­als that might stick or re­move floor mats that in some cases have trapped gas ped­als and made it im­pos­si­ble for driv­ers to stop.

Safety agency of­fi­cials would not com­ment on the Jour­nal re­port and said their in­ves­ti­ga­tion

is con­tin­u­ing.

Toy­ota said that its in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the ac­ci­dents have de­ter­mined “a num­ber of ex­pla­na­tions or causes,” but in­sisted that “in no case have we found elec­tronic throt­tle con­trols to be a cause.”

Among the causes cited by Toy­ota are “pedal en­trap­ment by floor mats or other ob­jects, stick­ing ped­als, pedal mis­ap­pli­ca­tion, en­gine idle up.” In some cases there was “no trou­ble found.”

Safety ad­vo­cates in­clud­ing Joan Clay­brook, for­mer NHTSA ad­min­is­tra­tor and pres­i­dent of ad­vo­cacy group Pub­lic Cit­i­zen, ques­tioned driver er­ror as a cause.

“That is to­tally lu­di­crous,” Clay­brook said of Toy­ota’s find­ings. “They should be look­ing at the elec­tron­ics in their cars, and ev­ery­one knows it.”

But at­tribut­ing some sud- den ac­cel­er­a­tion cases to driver er­ror makes sense be­cause “it hasn’t been a sum­mer of ca­reen­ing Toy­otas” af­ter pub­lic at­ten­tion fo­cused on the is­sue last year, said James Bell, ex­ec­u­tive mar­ket an­a­lyst for Kel­ley Blue Book, a con­sumer auto buy­ing web­site.

NHTSA said in May that Toy­ota ve­hi­cles in­volved in un­in­tended-ac­cel­er­a­tion crashes may be linked to 89 deaths in 71 crashes since 2000.

The auto-safety agency pre­vi­ously in­ves­ti­gated re­ports of un­in­tended ac­cel­er­a­tion in Audi 5000 sedans and in a 1989 re­port con­cluded that hu­man er­ror was of­ten the cause.

In the two decades since that re­port, more ve­hi­cles have been equipped with brake-over­ride technology, de­signed to stop a car if the brakes and ac­cel­er­a­tor are ap­plied si­mul­ta­ne­ously. Toy­ota has said it will in­stall brakeover­ride soft­ware in all new ve­hi­cles by model year 2011.

Alex Bran­don AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Af­ter con­duct­ing a re­call of 8.5 mil­lion ve­hi­cles world­wide to mod­ify sus­pect ac­cel­er­a­tor ped­als, Toy­ota has found that ‘vir­tu­ally all’ of the cases of un­in­tended ac­cel­er­a­tion in­volve driver er­ror.

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