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NHTSA:60 unintended acceleration cases post recall fix, new Toyota EDR study shows inconsistencies

by Mark Kleis

According to NHTSA, what was initially reported as 6-10 complaints of Toyota owners experiencing unintended acceleration problems after having their vehicles serviced for the recent recalls has now grown to over 60 complaints. Toyota is currently recalling 5.4 million vehicles due to possible floor mat entrapment, and an additional 4.1 million vehicles with accelerator pedals that can stick.

These complaints have now been confirmed by NHTSA in terms of count, but not in their validity in regards to the source of unintended acceleration. If any of the cases are determined to be true, the results would indicate that there may be a source of unintended acceleration outside of the vehicles' pedals and floor mats.

Following the discovery of the first ten cases of unintended acceleration of vehicles that had already been serviced as part of Toyota's recent recalls, NHTSA officials commented on the situation and began to take action. "NHTSA has already started contacting consumers about these complaints to get to the bottom of the problem and to make sure Toyota is doing everything possible to make its vehicles safe, " said David Strickland, NHTSA administrator.

But some analysts worry that the recent media attention on Toyota Motor Company has instilled the idea that unintended acceleration is more common than it really is, causing drivers to be constantly weary of the possibility and even potentially jumping to false conclusions. For instance, some vehicles have displayed check engine warning lights on the dashboard after having their vehicles serviced for the recall - which may or may not be related to the repairs at the dealership.

"There is already doubt out there that the solutions Toyota has put forward really fix the problem of unintended acceleration," said Aaron Bragman, auto industry analyst at IHS Global Insight, to the LA Times.

Bragman went on to caution that all complaints should be investigated before conclusions are drawn.

Given the extremely high number of complaints (60) to arise in such a short period of time, it is extremely unlikely that all reports involve the same type of severe unintended acceleration typically associated with the description. The numbers are also far above the rate reported prior to the recalls, suggesting drivers are either reporting cases that previously went unreported, or drivers are associating other events with the occurrence of unintended acceleration.

The increased attention to Toyota vehicle problems has also brought with it a skyrocketing of complaints to NHTSA since January. NHTSA says it has also increased the number of fatalities associated with unintended acceleration to 52 - up from 34.

Toyota addresses the complaints

As of yesterday, Toyota spokeswoman Celeste Migliore said Toyota was not aware of any complaints filed by Toyota owners with NHTSA following service for the two pending recalls. "We very much would like to have any of those individuals who claim they've had unintended acceleration after the fix to go back to the dealership. If there was an accident, we want to see the vehicle and the driver and the accident report," Miligore said to the LA Times.

The recent complaints alleging unintended acceleration after being serviced for the recalls pertain to the Avalon, Camry and Matrix - models set to be given brake override software as part of the recall. Toyota has also announced that it will expand the vehicles for the override upgrade to include the Tacoma, Sequoia and Venza.

NHTSA official address the complaints

Strickland said, "If Toyota owners are still experiencing sudden acceleration incidents after taking their cars to the dealership, we want to know about it."

NHTSA announced tonight that if it determines that the repairs are not actually solving the problem it may order Toyota to develop a new solution - potentially starting a new recall.

"We are determined to get to the bottom of this," said Strickland.

New report concerning Toyota black box (EDR) policies

Today, the Associated Press released a collaborative report outlining its findings regarding Toyota's alleged secretive policies regarding its event data recorder (EDR).

The AP reports that Toyota's actions and policies have been inconsistent and even contradictory at times in regards to disclosing what their EDR records, including whether or not it records whether or not both the accelerator and brake pedals were being depressed when the vehicle crashed. The report also found that Toyota's policies were in direct contrast to other automakers who have consistently open policies in regards to their EDRs.

When the AP investigators questioned Toyota about what exactly the EDR records, Toyota directed them to a statement released last Thursday that says the EDR records five seconds leading up to an accident, and the two seconds following the accident. The statement also said that vehicle speed, accelerator angle, gear shift position, seat belt engagement and the angle of the driver's seat are recorded.

With no mention of brake input in the statement, investigators went back to Toyota and specifically questioned them in regards to braking system data, to which Toyota replied, "Data on the brake's position and the anti-lock brake system" are recorded. The investigators point out that this answer does not conincide with findings from other documented cases.

In a 2004 deadly crash involving a 2003 Camry which accelerated into a building, as well as a recent case in which an Avalon ended up landing upside down in a pond and killing all four people inside, reports suggested that data on the vehicles brakes and/or accelerators was not available from the EDR readout.

In the case involving the 2003 Camry, before the driver died she told relatives she was "practically standing with both feet on the brake pedal but could not stop the car."

Records confirmed that the woman was found with both feet on the brake pedal when they arrived at the scene. When the woman's family questioned Toyota about the EDR, a Toyota attorney replied that there is "no sensor that would have preserved information regarding the accelerator and brake positions at the time of the impact."

Toyota's official reply was documented in the summary of the case provided by Safety Research & Strategies Inc., a company that specializes in vehicle safety research for attorneys, engineers, government entities and more.

In the case involving the Avalon, Toyota's EDR readout which was obtained by law enforcement listed information recording for both the accelerator and brake pedals as "off."

"Because the EDR system is an experimental device and is neither intended, nor reliable, for accident reconstruction, Toyota's policy is to download data only at the direction of law enforcement, NHTSA or a court order," a Toyota statement said.

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