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Report Finds No Electronic Cause of Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas

The New York Times reports, “Federal investigators found no evidence that” Toyota’s “cars are susceptible to sudden acceleration from electronic failures,” but instead, “the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded that the sudden acceleration was caused by mechanical problems in some Toyota models…that it had previously identified as causes.” LaHood said, “The jury is back,” adding, “The verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period.” Michael T. Kirsch, a principal engineer with NASA’s Engineering and Safety Center “was slightly less categorical but still emphatic,” saying, “It’s very difficult to prove a negative,” but explained that it “would require two separate sensors to fail simultaneously in such a way that neither created an ‘error code’ in the vehicle’s onboard computer,” and “there were relatively few instances of even one sensor failing.” LaHood said, “NHTSA…was right all along.”

The Washington Post reports, “Government investigators have rejected claims that electronic defects caused Toyota cars and trucks to accelerate out of control.” Their “report, based on work by NASA engineers, deflates accusations by drivers suing Toyota,” and “supports the industry trend of entrusting critical engine operations to ever more sophisticated electronics and microprocessors.” LaHood’s appearance is described as “sometimes defiant,” as he is quoted saying, “There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period.” Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety faulted the study as testing too few cars. Meanwhile the report “was quickly embraced both by Toyota and by regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.” NHTSA “is continuing to study the operation of electronic engine controls,” and “is also weighing rules requiring cars to have brake override systems.” The Post also says that “NASA engineers were more guarded” than LaHood or officials from NHTSA and quotes Kirsch saying, “Our detailed study can’t say it’s ‘impossible’ but rather ‘unlikely.’”

USA Today reports, “Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood unequivocally ruled out electronics as the cause of unintended acceleration incidents in Toyota (TM) vehicles Tuesday, but the NASA engineers who wrote the report on the subject weren’t so sure.”

Attorneys maintain skepticism. The Los Angeles Times reports some attorneys representing plaintiffs in sudden acceleration cases “have hired a team of engineers and scientists to conduct their own investigation into Toyota electronics, and believe they have found significant problems in the throttle system.” Milwaukee lawyer Don Slavik said, “The fact that NASA didn’t find anything doesn’t mean there’s nothing there. Toyota is going to walk in the courtroom and say ‘we’ve been exonerated’ and we’ll say ‘no you haven’t.’”

The Wall Street Journal also notes skepticism over the findings, quoting former NHTSA official Joan Claybrook faulting the study and asserting that there must be a defect in the car. Claybrook said, “I think it’s a failure of evaluation because there are so many cases where there was no problem with the floormat and it was clear the vehicle had runaway on its own.” She concluded, “It has to be some vehicle related malfunction. The failure to find that is a failure of analysis.” The Journal also notes a significant finding that many of the reported incidents seemed to be caused by drivers stepping on the gas and not the brake.

A New York Times editorial called the report “good news for Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But it doesn’t dispel concerns about the weaknesses of the nation’s vehicle safety regulation.” So, the paper urges Congress to approve “the Motor Vehicle Safety Act, which would have increased the safety agency’s financing and raised the maximum fine it could impose on carmakers to $200 million or $300 million, in addition to mandating safety improvements like the brake override and the event recorder.”From the American Association for Justice news release.From the American Association for Justice news release.

From the American Association of Justice press release.

Bob Kraft

I am a Dallas, Texas lawyer who has had the privilege of helping thousands of clients since 1971 in the areas of Personal Injury law and Social Security Disability.

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