Toyotas -- Erratic By Design and the Case of the Duplicated Condition

Safety Research & Strategies’ continuing investigation into Toyota SUA is building momentum as new defect issues emerge from murky, unregulated vehicle electronics.

We have also found a document that suggests that Toyota lied to the driver in one of this issue’s most hotly debated incidents.

Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration: We’ve Got the Numbers!

Safety Research & Strategies has completed our latest review of Toyota unintended acceleration complaint data, and they confirm that Toyota owners are still reporting SUA incidents – even those who had taken their vehicles in for the recall repairs.

Our database consists of incidents from the following sources:

- Consumer complaints to NHTSA through January 5, 2011

- Toyota-submitted claims from several NHTSA investigations into unintended acceleration

- Incidents reported by media organizations

- Consumer contacts made to our organization and others that are reporting incidents that they have received.

Every effort has been made to identify duplicate records and combine them.  However, often the reports do not provide enough detail to link incidents to other reports.  There are likely some duplicates among our records – if there are, they are few.

Bigger Bags, Better Glass

Forty years after automakers fought off regulations that would have actually tested rollover occupant protection, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has published a final ejection mitigation rule, which favors the installation of bigger and more longer-deploying  side airbags and takes a half-step forward on improving side glazing.

The rule establishes a new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 226 Ejection Mitigation. FMVSS 226 applies to the side windows next to the first three rows of seats in motor vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,000 pounds or less. The performance-based standard would institute a compliance test in which an impactor would be propelled from inside a test vehicle toward the windows. The ejection mitigation system would have to prevent the impactor – based on the mass imposed by a 50th percentile male’s upper torso on the window opening – from moving more than a specified distance beyond the plane of the window.  Each side window would be impacted at up to four locations around its perimeter at two time intervals following deployment, to ensure that the airbags remain deployed for the beginning and end stages of a rollover.

So What About the Defects?

In 2010, NHTSA levied nearly $50 million in fines against Toyota for flouting the recall regulations in three separate instances. The total represents the largest single fines in the agency’s history – and, (although we haven’t checked) quite possibly more than the agency has ever collected from any and all automakers in 40 years of existence.

This tough stance on recall timeliness is welcome – but does not resolve the larger issues raised by Toyota unintended acceleration – namely how defects are defined in the era of automotive electronics and how such defects are investigated when they are rare, multi-root-cause, and potentially deadly?

The dribble of documents released by the Multi-District Litigation and Congress so far show that UA has been duplicated by Toyota technicians and, contrary to attempts by Toyota advocates and agency investigators to pass off all incidents as driver error, sticky pedals, big shoes and floor mats, there are instances when reliable technical personnel take the vehicle for a test spin and experience UA with no pedal involvement. In fact, we have discovered that Toyota techs were able to duplicate UA in one of very public and widely debated case – but lied to the consumer about it. (We’ll feature that story in a future post.)

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