The Los Angeles Times reported that safety investigators ignored hundreds of reports of Toyota sudden acceleration problems since 2001.
More than 1,000 Toyota and Lexus owners have reported since 2001 that their vehicles suddenly accelerated on their own, in many cases slamming into trees, parked cars and brick walls, among other obstacles, a Times review of federal records has found.
The crashes resulted in at least 19 deaths and scores of injuries over the last decade, records show. Federal regulators say that is far more than any other automaker has experienced.
Owner complaints helped trigger at least eight investigations into sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the last seven years. Toyota Motor Corp. recalled fewer than 85,000 vehicles in response to two of those probes, and the federal agency closed six other cases without finding a defect.
But those investigations systematically excluded or dismissed the majority of complaints by owners that their Toyota and Lexus vehicles had suddenly accelerated, which sharply narrowed the scope of the probes, the Times investigation revealed.
Federal regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration eliminated broad categories of sudden acceleration complaints, such as:
- instances in which the driver said they could not stop the vehicle using their brakes;
- sudden acceleration incidents lasting more than a few seconds; or
- reports in which the driver could not or did not identify the possible causes of the problem
NHTSA officials used the exclusions as part of their rationale to close at least five of the investigations without finding any defect, because — with fewer incidents to consider — the agency concluded there were not enough reported problems to warrant further inquiry. In a 2003 Lexus probe, for example, the agency threw out all but one of 37 customer complaints cited in a defect petition. It then halted further investigation, saying it "found no data indicating the existence of a defect trend."
This is what happens when a key government safety agency is run by people who work for the very companies the agency is supposed to regulate. Safety regulators who were supposed to be looking out for the public ignored the vast majority of sudden acceleration defect claims while people were dying.
The Times located federal and other records of 19 fatalities involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles from the same model years in which sudden or unintended acceleration may have been a factor, as well as more than 1,000 reports by owners that their vehicles had suddenly accelerated. Independent safety expert Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies, said he has identified nearly 2,000 sudden-acceleration cases for Toyota vehicles built since 2001.
You can learn more about safety expert, Sean Kane, and his organization at SafetyRearch.net. In addition to the more than 2000 sudden acceleration incidents identified by Safety Research & Strategies, a 2007 NHTSA survey of Lexus owners shows that 10% complained of sudden acceleration problems.
Safety regulators at NHTSA and the management at Toyota and Lexus owe it to the public to figure out and fix the Toyota sudden acceleration defect. It is clear that the limited Toyota recall due to floor mat incompatibility is not enough. Too many people have died already and Toyota is putting the rest of the public at risk by keeping these defective vehicles on the roadways.
If you own a Toyota vehicle, ABC News and Consumer Reports have created an informative video that tells you what you can do if your vehicle experiences the sudden acceleration defect. You can view the video and learn more here.
You can learn more about the Toyota sudden acceleration defect by reading these previous reports of Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem:
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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.