By Frank James

Toyota Motor Corp. officials didn't exactly say Monday that the Prius driven by James Sikes of California didn't experience sudden unintended acceleration and that he made up the whole thing. But their clear message was that his story didn't add up.

Mike Michels, vice president of external communications, for Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. said:

The self diagnostic system did show evidence of numerous, rapidly repeated on and off applications of the accelerator and the brake pedal.

In other words, the Prius's black-box system recorded repeated pressure being applied to the gas pedal by the driver. The obvious question Toyota wants us all to ask is, if Sikes really wanted to stop the car, why was he stepping on the accelerator?

But the obvious question for Toyota is can the company prove that an an electronic fault of some kind didn't happen and cause the self-diagnostic computer to record data erroneously suggestive of the gas pedal being stepped on repeatedly?

Michels continued:

Now the system was tested under driving conditions and found to be functioning normally, indicating that if the accelerator pedal was stuck, pressing the brake pedal would have resulted in dramatically reduced power to the wheel.
"While our analysis is not finalized, Toyota believes there are significant inconsistencies between the account of the event of March 8th and the findings of this investigation."

There are definitely inconsistencies. But the jury is still out. While Sikes' personal history has caused many to raise questions, it's possible that someone with financial problems actually did have a runaway car.

Paul Niedermayer on TheTruthAboutCars.com blog raises some of the key questions:

The hoax theory is compelling, but why would Sikes put himself at serious risk by destroying his brakes, when he had no way of ascertaining when the police would actually show up, if at all? Why not just drive down the freeway at 85 to 90, and just say the brakes didn't work at all, like others have done? Or run into a wall at slow speed? Somehow, Sikes doesn't strike me as a high-speed daredevil, willing to risk his life at ninety with completely shot brakes. Of course, that could also just as well confirm his stupidity.
The comparison to the Balloon Boy is appealing, but conveniently leaves out one important fact: the Ballon Boy was never in the balloon; it was launched empty. Sikes actually was in his brakeless Prius at ninety, audibly panting hard, so in that regard at least he was either a lot gutsier or a lot stupider than the Ballon Boy perpetrators. And a hell of an actor, to boot.

Update at 8 a.m. ET, March 16. NPR's Carrie Kahn picked up the story today on Morning Edition:

categories: Accidents and Disasters

7:13 - March 15, 2010