Time Magazine published a time line of Toyota’s checkered history of safety problems. Some highlights:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA") orders its first recall of Toyota vehicles because of "speed control" problems.
Toyota internally deals with an "unwanted acceleration" incident that occurred during production testing of the Sienna. Toyota would not report the incident to the safety officials at NHTSA for another five years.
The Center For Auto Safety reported about sudden acceleration problems in 2002-03 Toyota Camrys and solaras and the 2002-03 Lexus ES 300. The Center pointed to the electronic throttle, which was a relatively new technology at the time, as the most likely culprit.
March – July 2004
NHTSA conducts what would be the first of many defect investigations regarding speed-control problems, all of which would lead to the current furor (partially about Toyota and the NHTSA’s neglecting to pay attention to the abnormal number of investigations). The first three investigations primarily involve the Camry, Solara and Lexus ES models.
August 2005 – January 2006
NHTSA conducts a second evaluation after Jordan Ziprin, a Camry owner, reports "inappropriate and uncontrollable vehicle accelerations." In a subsequent questionnaire sent out to owners, hundreds of people report problems with acceleration and braking, but the NHTSA determines that their concerns are of "ambiguous significance" given the variety of defects described.
NHTSA begins a fourth investigation into uncontrollable-acceleration problems with Lexus vehicles. In its preliminary evaluation, it suspects the floor mat to be the culprit.
Troy Edwin Johnson is killed when a Camry accelerating out of control hits his car at approximately 120 m.p.h. The driver had been unable to slow the car for 23 miles leading up to the crash. Toyota eventually settles out of court with Johnson’s family for an undisclosed amount.
NHTSA upgrades the investigation to an "engineering analysis," meaning it will do full-fledged vehicle testing instead of just reviewing complaints or single vehicles and crunching questionnaire numbers as it had done in the past. This leads to a floor-mat recall of the Camry and Lexus models in September.
January 2008 – August 2008
NHTSA denies the petition of a Toyota Tacoma owner who has asked the agency to investigate the unwanted sudden acceleration he experienced.
Toyota learns about the "sticky" gas pedal problem in its European vehicles and begins work on a fix. Toyota would not acknowledge the same problem in America until January 2010.
April 2008 – January 2009
Another investigation, regarding the Sienna, overlaps with the Tacoma petition review for four months. This one gets bumped up to an engineering analysis, which leads to a recall of Siennas. In the event that the clip securing the floor-carpet cover is missing, the NHTSA report reads, the accelerator pedal can become stuck. It is the same problem that had been noticed and dismissed by Toyota in 2003.
NHTSA receives another petition, this one to investigate throttle-control problems unrelated to floor-mat issues in Lexus ES vehicles.
An off-duty highway patrolman and his family are killed when they rent a Lexus ES350 and have a runaway crash. The NHTSA and the California Highway Patrol investigate the incident and believe the floor mat snagged the pedal, causing the uncontrollable acceleration.
Also in August, Toyota changed production of its European models to repair the very same "sticky" pedal problem it would continue to deny in American until January 2010.
Toyota recalls 3.8 million vehicles on the grounds that floor mats can trap the pedals.
Toyota publicly apologizes to the NHTSA after reporting that the administration found that "no defect exists." Even when closing the book on a complaint, the NHTSA includes a disclaimer in each report explaining that its determination not to look into an issue doesn’t constitute a finding that there’s definitely no safety-related defect.
NHTSA officials go to Japan to discuss the recall process. A press release from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood’s office states that the "NHTSA indicates that it expects improvement in [Toyota’s] responsiveness in the future."
January 16, 2010
Toyota informs the NHTSA that the pedals themselves have a dangerous "sticky" habit. It’s not just the floor mats, after all.
January 19, 2010
NHTSA meets with Toyota in Washington to discuss the sticking-pedal business, and Toyota calls the administration later that day to announce its plans for a wider recall.
January 21, 2010
Toyota recalls approximately 2.3 million more vehicles because of sticking pedals.
January 26, 2010
Toyota stops selling eight models as part of the recall, which leads to thousands of losses in unit sales.
January 27, 2010
Toyota announces the recall of an additional 1.1 million vehicles because of pedal-entrapment problems.
February 1, 2010
Toyota announces that it has a "fix" for the "sticky" gas pedal problem. However, Toyota keeps the replacement parts for itself, sending units to its own factories rather than to dealers across the country to replace defective vehicles already on the road.
Also on February 1, Toyota USA’s president makes demonstrably false statements on national television about Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem.
February 3, 2010
Toyota announces worries about brakes in Prius models. As of Feb. 4, 458 complaints would be filed on the NHTSA’s website regarding the 2010 Toyota Prius. By Feb. 8, there would be 1,310 complaints. (The 2010 Honda Insight, by comparison, has just two.)
Also on February 3rd, Toyota is called out by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood for being "a little safety deaf" on its sudden acceleration problems.
February 4. 2010
Toyota announces antilock problems as the source of brake issues with the Prius.
February 9, 2010
Toyota announces that it will recall 437,000 hybrid cars worldwide, including the Prius, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, the Sai and the Lexus HS250h, to fix a problem with the brake systems.
February 10, 2010
Toyota’s North American president, Yoshi Inaba, is set to testify with other company bigwigs about Toyota’s safety record at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. LaHood has said civil penalties are a strong possibility.
I have been documenting the Toyota sudden acceleration and "sticky throttle" problems for months and you can learn more at our auto safety blog.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.