Government Finds No Electronic Flaws With Toyotas
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
The U.S. government released a much-anticipated report today: the results of its investigation into cases of unintended acceleration experienced by drivers of some Toyota vehicles.
It turns out the electronics in the cars' engines did not play a role. The findings uphold the company's contention that floor mats and sticky accelerators caused most of the problems.
NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR: In the study, NASA engineers, assisted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, did everything from analyze hundreds of thousands of lines of software code to bombard Toyotas with electromagnetic radiation.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the findings were conclusive.
Secretary RAY LaHOOD (Department of Transportation): The jury is back. The verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas, period.
NAYLOR: The investigation was launched after a number of fatal crashes in 2009 involving Toyota and Lexus models that apparently sped up for no reason. Those led to highly-publicized congressional hearings, in which Toyota executives testified, leading to thousands more complaints of sudden acceleration.
The company eventually recalled some eight million vehicles in the U.S. and millions more worldwide to correct problematic accelerators and floor mats. Toyota also paid some $49 million in fines levied by the government, which charged Toyota tried to hide defects.
Beyond the findings that the sticky accelerator and sliding floor mats caused Toyota's sudden acceleration problems, the government is pointing the finger at one other culprit: driver error. NHTSA deputy administrator Ron Medford.
Mr. RON MEDFORD (Deputy Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration): We found when the complaint alleged that the brakes didn't work or that the incident began when the driver stepped on the brake, what most likely happened was pedal misapplication: the driver stepped on the gas rather than the brake or in addition to the brake.
NAYLOR: The government is considering requiring auto manufacturers to install systems to override the accelerator, which Toyota is already doing. Officials also want automakers to standardize keyless ignition systems to make it easier for drivers to turn off their engines and install so-called black boxes on cars.
And in a reversal of his suggestion last year that consumers should stop driving Toyotas, which he later withdrew, LaHood passed on advice he gave his daughter, who was shopping for a minivan.
Sec. LaHOOD: I told my daughter that she should buy the Toyota Sienna, which she did. So I think that illustrates that we feel that Toyota vehicles are safe to drive.
NAYLOR: Still underway is a National Academy of Sciences report into sudden acceleration in all cars and trucks, due this fall.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, Washington.
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