The recent Toyota runaway acceleration cases may have a bit in common with the Audi cases from the 1980′s. Back then Audi took a huge public relations hit after a few well-publicized cases that were later determined to be driver error. Now similar reports are surfacing about Toyotas. Here are excerpts from a recent article in USA Today.
A government analysis of vehicle data has found people were mashing the gas pedal and not the brake at the time, according to a person with knowledge of the data who did not want to be identified because the information is not yet public. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is doing the probe, had no comment.
Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the automaker hadn’t seen NHTSA’s data, but “certainly, pedal misapplication” is among issues the company has discovered in its own investigations of more than 3,000 reports of unintended acceleration.
It isn’t yet clear how many of the thousands of incidents involve pedal misapplication because NHTSA hasn’t analyzed them all. And however many, it will not clear Toyota of already known vehicle problems that created acceleration risks.
The automaker agrees it had a problem with ill-fitting floor mats that could trap poorly designed gas pedals. It also has acknowledged that gas pedals in some vehicles can stick open. Toyota has recalled 7.7 million vehicles in the U.S. for those problems.
Electronic data recorders (EDR) on some Toyota vehicles are providing NHTSA with definitive information about driver error in some otherwise unexplained incidents. “The EDR will tell you whether the brake light was on, whether the throttle pedal was depressed, what the throttle angle was,” and other details, Hanson says.
He says Toyota gave about a dozen EDR readers to NHTSA so the agency could independently recover and analyze crash data from Toyota vehicles.
Driver errors in some cases also don’t rule out that other still-to-be-discovered problems caused other incidents, says Andy Chou, chief scientist with Coverity, a company that tracks down defects in software programs. “It’s very hard to rule out software as a cause. I don’t think by looking at a little bit of data you can rule out a software defect.”
NHTSA and government scientists also are analyzing whether software could be causing runaway vehicles. No report is expected soon.
Pedal misapplication ultimately was found to be the cause for acceleration complaints that plagued the 1978-86 Audi 5000 sedan and nearly drove Audi out of the U.S. A NHTSA report in 1989 blamed driver error, though it said better pedal design would help avert it. Canadian officials had blamed driver error in a 1988 Audi report.