The Toyota Owners Left Holding the Bag

John Biello was not ready for the cruise control malfunction that sent his 2009 Tacoma careening down an exit ramp, then skidding into a rollover last June. But Tuesday, when he and his wife Diane appeared before the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Division of Insurance Board of Appeals to fight an automatic rate increase mandated by state law, Biello was fully prepared to educate the hearing officer about Unintended Acceleration problems in Toyotas.

As the great tide of cash washes from Toyota into the pockets of the U.S. government, attorneys, research institutions and some death and injury victims to settle fines and claims without an admission that the automaker’s electronic throttle control system is defective, owners like John and Diane Biello represent those left to deal with Toyota’s mistakes on their own. The Rehoboth, Massachusetts couple had no counsel, just a compelling account and a binder of public documents showing that Toyota Unintended Acceleration problems continue today and that juries and technical experts recognize what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not: Toyota’s badly designed electronic architecture can cause UA.

“I knew that there had been this unintended acceleration problem. I had read about it a couple of years ago,” John Biello says. “But I thought it pretty much done. I thought the problem was fixed and I didn’t really think my vehicle was involved because I got no Unintended Acceleration recall notices.”

Who Owns Your Black Box Data?

When a crash triggers the Event Data Recorder, who has a right to the information? The police, the automaker, the insurer, the driver, and crash victims may all clamor for a peek into the black box to find out what really happened. Privacy advocates are launching a grassroots campaign to ensure that the black-box crash data stays securely in the hands of the vehicle owner. The National Motorists Association is calling on the public to sign a White House petition to include a provision in the new transportation bill that mandates a lockable cover to the EDR’s data port.

The NMA has until May 22 to gather 25,000 signatures, the threshold required to solicit a response from President Obama on the proposal to amend Senate Bill 1813. This measure within the federal transportation bill, which has had an agonizing and slow birth, requires all vehicles manufactured after September 2015 to be equipped with an EDR capable of capturing a wide range of data points under a specific list of crash conditions and within certain parameters of accuracy. The bill requires automakers to make third-party data readers available to the public and contains language covering the ownership of the data. Currently, 13 states address the privacy aspect of EDR data in their laws, but there is a lot of variability in what protections they afford vehicle owners.

“We say that when the customer drives off the lot with a new vehicle, the customer owns more than the vehicle -- they own the data that the vehicle generates. Under this law, there are no ways or means for customer to control it,” says Thomas M. Kowalick, chairman of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers’ (IEEE) global standards development for Motor Vehicle Event Data Recorders.

No Black Box Exoneration for Toyota, Part II

After the Wall Street Journal plastered the front page a few weeks ago claiming NHTSA had “black box” (aka Event Data Recorder or EDR) data to support that driver error, not electronics, was the cause of the unintended acceleration issues in Toyotas, the headline is back yet again following a NHTSA Congressional briefing yesterday.

The WSJ in a subsequent story identified George Person, recently retired head of the recall division at NHTSA, as the source.  (see No Black Box Exoneration for Toyota and Lawsuits Fill in Outline of Toyota Sudden Acceleration Cover-Up)

No Black Box Exoneration for Toyota

The Wall Street Journal made a splash yesterday when it reported that the US DOT had analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota vehicles in crashes blamed on unintended acceleration and found that the throttles were open and brakes were not applied.  These findings support Toyota’s position that SUA events are not caused by vehicle electronics, the Journal claimed.  The Journal apparently based its report on information leaked by Toyota, because NHTSA is denying any involvement.

Toyota’s efforts to place the story with the Journal seem to be paying dividends –  literally. The automaker’s stock rose 1 percent on the news and reporters scrambled to repeat the Journal piece with no independent sources.

EDR: Toyota’s Electronic Doubt Receptacle

Earlier this week, police in Auburn, New York concluded that a fatal crash involving a 2010 Camry that plowed through a red light was caused by the driver, who suffered a medical condition.

Law enforcement based this in part on the results of the Camry’s Event Data Recorder (EDR) – aka, “black box” – readout, which appeared to show that the driver Barbara Kraushaar never hit the brake in the five seconds before her Camry struck a Ford Taurus, and killed driver Colleen A. Trousdale.

A news report in Syracuse’s Post-Standard quoted Auburn Police Lt. Shawn Butler, thus: