Death and Drive-By-Wire: New Evidence Shows Early Deaths were Ignored

We have been watching with great interest as NHTSA has suddenly proclaimed 34 deaths in Toyota sudden unintended acceleration incidents, (when nary but one has been officially counted in eight investigations) and Toyota has doubled down on nothing-is-wrong-but-floor-mats-and-sticky-accelerator-pedals. We are pleased to see that NHTSA, under the current administration, is now taking the fatality reports more seriously and Toyota’s claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Thoroughly Investigated? We Don’t Think So

This morning, Jim Lentz, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales, joined the brigade of executives dispatched to put out the unintended acceleration wildfire currently consuming the company’s sales, stock rating and reputation. As the Today Show’s Matt Lauer tried to corner him, Lentz emphatically insisted that the only two issues affected Toyota vehicles are floor mat interference and sticking accelerator pedals. The company has studied this issue exhaustively and is confident that these fixes will solve the problems, Lentz told Lauer, trying not to shift uncomfortably in his chair.

First, the recent recalls do not, we repeat, do not cover all of the vehicles plagued by SUA. In fact, the most troubled vehicle in Toyota’s fleet – as measured by consumer complaints, the 2002 and 2006 Camry, is not a part of any recall.

Stop the Pedals!

Toyota announced on Thursday that it was recalling about 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals, after investigating isolated reports of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms. Toyota claimed it was a wear issue – even though most of the models recalled included 2009 and 2010 model years. After the news broke, several stories noted that Toyota was continuing to sell the affected models without the remedy already applied.  While it is normal for manufacturers who recall vehicles to instruct their dealers to repair vehicles on their lots before selling them, Toyota’s announcement today covers a number of the best-selling vehicles and the company will halt production at its North American plants until it has a remedy plan. 

They Know Not what They Do

We, here at The Safety Record Blog, understand the hell of a story that breaks at 5 p.m. on a Friday, with every relevant source already on the way to his weekend and unavailable by cell. We do not understand all of the breathless second and third-day stories in which the reporter hasn’t taken the time to understand the context of the issue on which they are writing – to wit, Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration.

Headlines like: Toyota Knew of Sticky Throttle Problem Late Last Year, from USAToday’s DriveOn section, make us wince. Toyota has known that its vehicles suffer from unintended acceleration since May 2003, when the first consumers began demanding that NHTSA investigate this problem. That would be six-and-a-half years ago. Complaint rates, particularly on the popular Camry, coincide with the introduction of the automakers electronic throttle beginning with the 2002 model year.

Well, They Had to Do Something!

We polled a couple of graduates of the Toyota School of Hard Knocks for their reactions to Friday’s sticky accelerator pedal recall, and the consensus was: this wouldn’t address my problem.

Kevin Haggerty, owner of the 2007 Avalon that arrived at the New Jersey dealership in a state of automotive hysteria (the vehicle, not Haggerty), said he surprised by the specifics of this recall, but not by Toyota’s attempt to look responsive.

“They needed to come up with something, but I don’t think it’s going to end the problem. I don’t think the accelerator pedal stuck in my case.”

In a Los Angeles Times article, Toyota disputes this. Spokesman Bryan Lyons said that Haggerty’s experience “matches our recall finding exactly.” Of course, Toyota gave Haggerty’s Avalon entirely new pedal and throttle assemblies, but Haggerty believes that the automaker took the broadest possible repair approach for a reason:

Sudden Unintended Acceleration

Sudden Unintended Acceleration can be rooted in a variety of vehicle defects including ergonomic design flaws, mechanical or electro-mechanical failures, or electronic failures.  The article below, republished from Safety Research & Strategies bi-monthly publication, The Safety Record, is an overview of SUA.

Crib Tents: Another Hazard from the World of Unregulated Child Products

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V6, I1

VINALHAVEN, ME - The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has opened a probe in December 2008 into the strangulation death of a two-year-old who became entangled in the mesh netting of his crib tent.

Noah Thompson of Harvard, Mass., was strangled when his head got stuck between the mattress and mesh covering that was placed over his portable crib. His parents, Marc Thompson and Lisa Rosen, told state police that they had used the netting to prevent their son from climbing
out of the crib.

Millions for Motorcycle Crash Causation Study in Limbo

Reprinted from The Safety Record, V6, I1

WASHINGTON, D.C. - In 2005, Congress funneled $2.8 million to the University of Oklahoma as an earmark in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Transportation Equity Act, a Legacy for Users, to conduct a motorcycle crash causation study. But a series of missteps have caused the study to languish and, ultimately, may result in its demise.

Seat Back Strength an Issue in Rear Seat Safety for Children

Researchers from the Center for Injury Research and Prevention at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia looked at the effect of reported deformation of the front seat back rearward on the injury risk to children seated in the rear in a rear-impact crash.

Dr. Kristy Arbogast, Associate Director of Engineering for The Center for Injury Research and Prevention at CHOP, said that the study evolved from crash investigations conducted by their research team as part of several research projects. Researchers took note of several crashes in which a child seated in the rear of the vehicle suffered facial injuries in a rear-impact crash.

Following the Twisted Trail of Chinese Imports

A 42-year-old Missouri man purchased a go-cart from the local farm supply store for his kids. With less than four hours on the rugged-looking machine, he and a friend were found dead, the machine overturned with a fractured front suspension where a critical weld failed. The defect appears to be just another one of a myriad of continuing quality problems that have plagued the go-cart and other motorized products distributed by SunL, the Irving, Texas importer.

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