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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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Toyota Sudden Acceleration Report Expected Today

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The Department of Transportation and NASA are expected to release their report on Toyota sudden acceleration today. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been tight lipped on the report, but experts do not expect dramatic findings.

From the Los Angeles Times:

"If they had found something already, we would have heard about it," said Jim Mucciola, an automotive electronics consultant in Detroit and a member of an electronics compatibility committee on the Society of Automotive Engineers. "So far, it has been very quiet."

At the same time, the report probably "will leave the door open" to potential problems with electronic systems, said Sean Kane, an auto safety consultant who has extensive contacts in the field. Kane also believes the report will not produce a smoking gun.

Toyota has recalled more than 11 million vehicles worldwide to address two confirmed causes of the Toyota sudden acceleration problem: gas pedal entrapment and "sticking" accelerator pedals. Toyota has paid nearly $50 million in fines for its botched handling of two recalls and recently paid $10 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the Saylor family after a Lexus loaner vehicle accelerated out of control, killing all occupants.

[More on Toyota]

[More on Sudden Acceleration]

While two sources of Toyota sudden acceleration have been confirmed (pedal entrapment and "sticky" throttled), automotive experts around the world have suggested a third possibility: a malfunction or glitch of Toyota’s electronic throttle controls. The NHTSA/NASA report is expected to address this third potential cause of sudden acceleration. Many experts believe there may be several problems or a number of problems acting in combination to cause the sudden acceleration defect.

A telling example suggesting other sources of Toyota’s sudden acceleration occurred to Kevin Haggerty. Haggerty owned a 2007 Toyota Avalon that experienced at least 5 different sudden acceleration events. Haggerty did not have accessory floor mats and his OEM mats were secured in place. Sticky pedals couldn’t have caused the problem because he didn’t have his foot on the pedal. On Haggerty’s final incident, he was actually able to drive the vehicle while the engine was racing out of control into his local Toyota dealership.

He got to the parking lot, shifted to neutral and stopped the car with its brake smoking and engine racing out of control. He got out of the car and the engine was still racing (no pedal misapplication) Service technicians were able to look at he car and confirm the unintended acceleration was not caused by floor mats, sticking pedals or driver error. They also confirmed no computer error codes (meaning the computer was not detecting whatever was causing the problem).

Regardless of the cause of Toyota sudden acceleration, engineers and experts across the country have agreed that a simple fix would have prevented unintended acceleration from all sources: brake override ("smart brake") technology.

In fact, back in November 2009, I wrote that Toyota should have installed brake override systems on all of its vehicles:

Why has it taken Toyota so long to install a failsafe braking system when other manufacturers have been doing it for years? Now that Toyota is finally getting with the program, why are only some Toyota vehicles getting the fail safe "smart brake" system while others are not? Do the drivers of different Toyota vehicles deserve different levels of safety?

In January 2010, I documented that Toyota could have installed brake override systems for less than $1.00 per vehicle:

According to USA Today, "smart brake" technology has been around for more than a decade, are effective, and would cost less than a dollar per vehicle to design and install.

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Other manufacturers have provided the "smart brake" system for years. This system overrides the throttle input when the brake is applied and makes sure that the car is able to stop. Toyota refused to provide this critical safety feature for years despite the ongoing sudden acceleration problems.

I addressed brake overrides again in response to Ted at POL in July 2010:

(9) The bottom line is that people are dying when they shouldn’t. Toyota could have prevented the fast majority of these deaths – whether from floor mats, sticky pedals, electronics or even driver error – by installing a simple, cheap brake override system that has been in use by other car companies for more than a decade. It would have costs less than $1 per vehicle. Toyota didn’t do it.

In fact, I’ve talked about "smart brake" technology, brake override systems, and other brake issues dozens of times since covering the Toyota sudden acceleration recalls.

Others have covered the brake override issue as well:

With a new brake override system that puts the engine at idle if the computer detects that the driver is applying the brakes but the car isn’t slowing. That way, no matter the cause of the unintended acceleration, the car won’t drag itself forward.

This week, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood addressed a Senate Commerce Committee hearing trying to determine how the government can do a better job identifying safety risks in cars. "We’re looking at the possibility of recommending the brake override system in all newly manufactured automobiles," LaHood said.



Already in place in many vehicles, the "smart pedal" system is essentially a programming alteration in which a car’s computer instructs the vehicle to give preference to the brake pedal in the event of unwanted acceleration or the simultaneous depressing of the accelerator and brake pedals.

Mo matter what NHTSA’s report finds or does not find, Toyota could have have prevented unintended acceleration from any defect by installing a $1.00 brake override system like many other car companies have done for at least a decade.

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(c) Copyright 2011 Brett A. Emison