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One of the fiery moments in Tuesday’s hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was Rep. Steven Buyer’s (R-Ind.) prosecutorial turn on SRS founder and President Sean Kane. Buyer attempted to undermine Kane’s testimony, and that of Dr. David Gilbert, whose early research into Toyota’s accelerator pedal position sensor showed that Toyota’s fail-safe strategy was supremely flawed, by suggesting that they had been tainted by their ties to litigation.

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.

Breaking! Roll Out the Recalls!

In a curious twist of timing, Toyota announced another massive recall related to Sudden Unintended Acceleration – this time 2.3 million late model Toyotas plagued with “sticking accelerator pedals.” The timing is suspiciously pre-emptive – the company’s feet were about to be singed an hour later by ABC World News Tonight, followed by a Toyota SUA story on ABC Nightline.

But that is hardly the only odd thing about the recall. In its announcement, the automaker said that it had received “isolated reports” of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms:

“The condition is rare, but can occur when the pedal mechanism becomes worn and, in certain conditions, the accelerator pedal may become harder to depress, slower to return or, in the worst case, stuck in a partially depressed position.”

It’s Complicated: Concerned Citizen Drops a Dime on Toyota

As we all should have learned nine years ago from the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire maelstrom, it’s not often just one thing that creates a catastrophe of epic proportions.  Defect issues that rise to the top of the charts are frequently the result of a multitude of problems that align to create a widespread hazard.

Toyota Sudden Acceleration in Reverse

Earlier this week, The Safety Record reported another Toyota SUA incident involving a 2007 Avalon and a New Jersey driver who managed to get his over-accelerating vehicle to the dealership with smoking brakes and an engine at full throttle. For those of you who missed it:

This owner had experienced several unintended acceleration incidents – incidents in which the vehicle accelerated without driver input.  The most recent occurred on Dec. 29 as he drove on the highway. The man was unable to stop the vehicle with the brakes alone, but he was able to shift the vehicle into Neutral. As the engine continued to race to full-throttle, he immediately called the local Toyota dealer, about two miles away, to alert them he was bringing the vehicle to their lot.  He drove the car to the dealer by shifting from Neutral to Drive, foot on the brake, with the engine at full throttle.

Strickland Sails through Confirmation Hearing

Former Democratic Commerce Committee staffer David L. Strickland received gentle questioning by his former employers on his goals and intentions as the prospective NHTSA Administrator. The agency has been without an appointed leader since January, when David Kelly departed with the Bush administration.

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Toyota Pedal Fix Dress Rehearsal

In early December 2005, Toyota learned of two early model Lexus IS250 with accelerator pedals “out of tolerance” – meaning the pedal could become stuck. One instance occurred during a dealer pre-delivery inspection and a second was reported by Toyota Canada during transportation at the port facility. The automaker had received no complaints in the U.S. or Canada.

Nonetheless, Toyota was on it like a shot:

Toyota announces a Fix for Sudden Acceleration: Focus on Stuck Mats

After years of applying band aids to its Sudden Unintended Acceleration problem, Toyota will finally offer a vehicle-based remedy to fix SUA problems involving floor mats that can entrap the accelerator pedals in eight Toyota and Lexus models.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this morning that

Toyota plans to reconfigure the accelerator pedal on 3.8 million vehicles going back to the 2004 model year.  Other fixes include modifying the floor area around the pedal and in some models, installing a brake-to-idle override that allows the driver to quickly stop a vehicle in an unintended acceleration incident and newly-designed replacement driver- and front-passenger side all-weather mats.

Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, Baby! The Pneumatic Tire

Have you heard the one about The Pneumatic Tire? If you’re involved in tire litigation, the defense may have waved this august tome in front of a judge claiming that it is the Tire Bible handed down from on high by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, itself.

And this would be somewhat true. In 2005 NHTSA did contract J.D. Walter and Alan Gent of the University of Akron to act as assembling editors for a low-budget update of the 1981 edition of the Mechanics of Pneumatic Tires. With a total project cost of $89,575, Walter and Gent recruited top-level executives in the tire industry – including the good folks at Cooper Tire—to serve as authors and members of the editorial board.  The work was to have been thoroughly vetted at the agency, but according to several sources, NHTSA passed a very light hand over the project and the final version consisted of a wholesale borrowing from the original, complete with decades old data, with some new chapters added to reflect technological advances.

Not So Fast…

Toyota’s metaphorical accelerator apparently jammed yesterday in its rush to declare itself not guilty on all charges of sudden unintended acceleration in its mass market and luxury lines. The automaker issued a letter affirming its innocence to its customers on the occasion of NHTSA dropping yet another investigation into SUA in Lexus vehicles and blaming the problem on accessory floor mats.

But NHTSA was just as quick in its reaction. Yesterday afternoon, it delivered the smackdown.

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