Another Toyota SUA Fatality?

The Whittier Daily News reported yesterday on the death of 26-year-old Rosie Manzanares, a bicyclist who was struck and killed yesterday by a Toyota driver backing out of a parking space.

According to the California Highway Patrol of Santa Fe Springs, Angelica Cuevas, 78, was backing her 2012 Camry from a parking spot as Manzanares rode by:

“Halfway out of the parking stall, Mrs. Cuevas stopped her vehicle. As Ms. Manzanares was riding directly behind Mrs. Cuevas’ vehicle, Mrs. Cuevas rapidly accelerated her vehicle for unknown reasons.”

Given Cuevas’ age, we know that NHTSA and Toyota would chuck her case into the driver error file without a backward glance. We’re not so sure. We don’t know all the facts in the Manzanares incident, but it appears to have the key ingredients of a Toyota Unintended Acceleration parking lot incident.

These scenarios were not the subject of NHTSA’s most exhaustive research effort ever undertaken anywhere, by anyone, about anything. But, they are common. Even though the NHTSA-NASA Super Team didn’t bother to study surges at low speed, the agency noted their frequency in Technical Assessment of Toyota Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) Systems:

“Further review of the stationary and low speed incidents (combined) found that parking lot entry and exit accounted for the largest share of these incidents (40% of VOQs 64% of crashes. Many of the parking maneuver narratives reported incidents characterized by high engine power either after the driver applied the brake or immediately after shifting the transmission.”

In the case of older Toyotas with Potentiometer-type pedals one of the known electronic reasons was shorts caused by tin whiskers. The NASA scientists running tests on defective Camry pedals found that there is one scenario in which a resistive short in the Accelerator Pedal Position Sensor could lead to a surge without setting a diagnostic trouble code:

“If the resistive short occurs while the vehicle is off, starting the vehicle with the accelerator pedal partially depressed will not set a DTC. The accelerator responds as described above,” i.e. “the vehicle has a jumpy response, and is capable of full throttle without throttle brake override.”

That appears to line up neatly with a sequence in which the unsuspecting driver turns on the vehicle and has the accelerator pedal partially depressed, because he is easing into or out of a space. After Toyota killed the potentiometer pedal design, parking lot UAs have continued to occur – even in new Toyotas. We found 11 reported to NHTSA involving 2011 and 2012 Toyotas. (We’re sure Toyota knows about a bunch more.) Here’s one involving a 2011 Camry:

“Pulling in to ballgame last night on the grassy area to park car. Foot on the brake not on the gas, car accelerated so hard it threw my head back against the head rest, thank God there were no children in front of me.”

Here’s one involving a 2012 Camry:

“I enter into a parking lot behind a cluster of homes, a car was behind me and the driver indicated that I was going at less than 3-5 miles per hour. I park the car and all of the sudden the car accelerated, went over the parking bump and over a wood safety wall, over some bushes and landed 2 feet down, damaging the homes and a couple of heating units. I pressed the brake but the car kept on accelerating. This car should not be in the market.”

Then, there’s Tanya Spotts, owner of a 2011 Lexus ES350. Spotts was pulling into a second-floor space in parking garage in Reston Town Center, with her foot on the brake. With about three feet to go before coming to a complete stop, her vehicle surged and slammed into the concrete wall in front of her. Spotts looked down and saw her foot firmly on the brake. In fact, she was braking so hard that she sprained and bruised her foot, requiring treatment.

And until all the reasons why Toyotas suddenly surge are known – and remedied, stories about them will stubbornly, against Toyota’s best public relations efforts, continue to sully our airwaves and disgrace the pages of our nation’s fine newspapers.