SRS Welcomes New Team Members

Safety Research & Strategies is pleased to welcome automotive diagnostics expert Neil Black and Research Librarian Erica Little to our multidisciplinary research team.

A 2012 graduate of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Illinois with a B.S. in automotive technology, Black specializes in electronic circuitry failure analysis.

“Understanding how circuits are designed to work is paramount to understanding how they can fail,” Black says. “As we create more computer-based automotive systems, the types of problems that exist in electricity – voltage drops, high heat, electrical shorts – can wreak havoc on a system. Each one can manifest a different problem, yet the systems are evolving faster than the understanding of automotive techs, the regulators – even some manufacturers.”

As an associate instructor of automotive electronics, Black trained with Dr. David Gilbert, an associate professor of automotive technology who has trained automotive technicians in automotive electronics for 30 years, and has been hired by automakers, such as Honda to develop technical teaching materials for their vehicle electronics instructors. Black is the author of Diagnosing Relayed Circuits for Undercar Digest, which is pending publication

In addition, Black has two years of hands-on experience, working as an auto technician for a Honda and a GM dealership, as well as an independent facility, where he repaired all makes and models. He is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers and is ASE Certified in a wide variety of topics: engine systems, manual transmissions, suspension and steering, brakes, electrical systems heating and air-conditioning, powertrain electronics, and auto maintenance and repair

Black also holds a graduate degree in education, and was named SIU’s College of Applied Science and Arts Term Teacher of the Year in the 2015-2016 academic year. 

Erica Little melds a strong science background with her research skills, currently being honed in the master’s degree program at Simmons Colleges’ Library and Information Science program. She earned her B.A. from College of the Holy Cross.

Before joining SRS, Little worked for Technic Inc., a Rhode Island-based products testing company, as a quality control lab supervisor. Her duties included performing analytical testing on products, writing product test and training procedures and communicating regulatory information to customers and to in-house staff.

Little says that her previous work with ISO certifications and researching federal regulations has augmented her work at SRS.

“A lot of the principles are the same. This has been a change for me, but I really like learning about technology and I like being part of a company that impacts society,” she says.

SRS Welcomes Automotive Electronics Diagnostic Expert Aaron Beltram

Safety Research & Strategies, a product safety research and consulting firm with a specialty in automotive defects, has added automotive electronics diagnostic expert Aaron Beltram to its interdisciplinary team.

Beltram is an experienced automotive technician, working for six years in Chrysler dealerships. In his last job, Beltram mentored the entry-level technicians, and was the service department’s key technician for high-level electrical issues and transmission service, diagnosis, repair, and overhauls. He also holds Automotive Service Excellence certifications in eight areas and is a Chrysler Master Certified Technician.

Beltram is also a graduate of the New England Institute of Technology, earning an Associate’s degree in Advanced Automotive Technology in 2008, and a Bachelor of Science in Business Management in March of 2015. His studies included courses in Advanced Electricity and Electronics, Advanced Engines and Engine Computer Control Systems

“The Toyota Unintended Acceleration crisis really underscored the need for detailed understanding of vehicle diagnostics,” says SRS president Sean Kane. “It is increasingly important to understand problems at the diagnostic level in order to guide investigations into the myriad of complex problems that are creating defects in today’s vehicles.”  

The GM ignition switch defect that resulted in loss of control and airbag non-deployments in Chevy Cobalts similarly required a better understanding of the vehicle electronics and diagnostics.  Hundreds of individuals were killed and injured in crashes in which the ignition would slip out of the Run position, turning off the power steering, the brakes, and disabling the air bag. A NHTSA Special Crash Team and a Wisconsin state trooper were able to put a 2006 GM Technical Service Bulletin regarding inadvertent turning of key system together with the circumstances of a fatal Wisconsin crash to identify the root cause, but neither the agency nor GM took note of their conclusions. The defect continued to harm vehicle occupants for another seven years.

“It’s critical in the early stages of determining the cause of a crash to have a thorough understanding of the vehicle system and diagnostics to challenge assumptions about the way a system is supposed to work,” Kane says. “With today’s vehicles rapidly becoming computers on wheels, knowledge of automotive electronics is a must. We are confident that Aaron’s experience and education will help us better serve our clients.”  

Beltram’s technical experience rounds out the SRS team skill-set, which includes professionals with backgrounds in engineering, injury biomechanics, library science, law, journalism, and advocacy.


Safety Research & Strategies Wins FOIA Case Against Florida DOT

A Leon County, Florida state judge has found that the state Department of Transportation violated the Public Records Act when it allowed guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries to review thousands of emails involving Florida state officials before releasing them to Safety Research & Strategies.

The stipulated Final Judgment, signed on September 16 by Circuit Court Judge Angel C. Dempsey of Florida’s Second Judicial Circuit, awards SRS $13,844.50 in legal fees and acknowledges that:

On April 14, 2014, FDOT produced thirteen files responsive to the Safety Research public records request ("the Request.) FDOT then allowed Trinity Industries, LLC, a manufacturer of ET-Plus guardrail systems, to review thousands of emails which were also responsive to the Request prior to their ultimate production to Safety Research on May 24, 2014.

On February 10, SRS filed a public records request, seeking all communications and documents related to Florida guardrails manufactured by Trinity Industries, as part of its ongoing research into the safety of Trinity’s ET-Plus guardrail end terminals. The ET-Plus design has come under fire for dimensional changes which, its critics charge, prevent the guardrail from operating properly. Instead of extruding the rail through a chute and allowing striking vehicles to safely ride down the crash forces, the ET-Plus guardrail end terminals cause the rail to jam, forming a spear the can penetrate the striking vehicle, critics allege. The American Association of State Transportation and Highway Officials and others have raised questions about its safety performance and its role in motorists’ injuries and deaths. ET-Plus guardrails have been installed along Florida highways, like many U.S. states.

Initially, the FDOT released only 13 files to SRS. When it challenged the FDOT on the completeness of its search, the state agency admitted that it had withheld thousands of emails responsive to SRS’s request, and, in April, offered to send the Rehoboth, Mass. firm a CD of the documents. In early May, when SRS contacted the FDOT asking the whereabouts of the CD, the state agency confessed that it had sent the documents to Trinity for review before sending them to SRS.

On May 22, Safety Research and Strategies filed a civil lawsuit against the FDOT to compel compliance with Florida's Public Records Act and produce the requested public records. The civil suit accused the FDOT of allowing “Trinity, a private company, to perform the government function of reviewing records to determine if requested records are confidential or exempt.”

Trinity is a foreign corporation with no core competency or training in interpreting or applying Florida's laws addressing which records would legally qualify as confidential or exempt. By allowing Trinity to be the sole arbiter of what constitutes an exempt or confidential record, FDOT is violating section 119.01, Florida Statutes, by allowing a private company to, "[impair] the ability of the public to inspect or copy the public records of the agency, the lawsuit alleged.

The FDOT then agreed to release 4,000 emails that were responsive to SRS’s request. In reviewing those emails, SRS found references to other documents, which were not produced.  SRS’s attorney Matthew Gaetz III filed a motion to compel the FDOT to make a corporate representative available for a deposition to determine why it sent responsive documents to Trinity for its review.

In August, SRS and the FDOT negotiated a settlement in which the latter admitted that it gave documents to Trinity for review before releasing them to and agreed to pay SRS’s legal fees.

SRS has also filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Federal Highway Administration for the public release of documents regarding the safety of Trinity guardrail end terminals used on highways nationwide.  The civil lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, District of Columbia, alleges that the FHWA violated the Freedom of Information Act by improperly withholding records and failing to respond to two separate administrative appeals on the failure to release documents pertaining to the agency’s interactions with Trinity and with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. SRS originally sought the documents in November and January.  That suit is pending.

What Good Can Come of Reporting Toyota UA?

Last week, two young clean-cut and preternaturally earnest lawyers travelled from the D.C. and New York offices of Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP to meet with Bob and Kathy Ruginis, the Bristol, RI couple who reported their Unintended Acceleration incident while parking to the Toyota Special Monitor and to NHTSA.  

To recap: On  June 10, Kathy Ruginis was attempting to park her 2010 Toyota Corolla on a town street, when the vehicle surged forward, without any input to the accelerator and crashed into an unoccupied parked Jeep in front of it. Kathy’s foot was on the brake at the time. The car, which had already been remedied under the floor mat entrapment and sticky accelerator recalls, had been briefly surging – usually when the Corolla was operating at higher speeds, since the couple bought the vehicle new in May 2010. Kathy Ruginis, a Catholic school educator, used the Corolla for commuting to her job in Massachusetts. Early in her ownership, she had taken the vehicle twice to the dealership complaining of these surges. The dealership techs drove her car in a circle around a big box store-parking lot and proclaimed that the surges were just the result of downshifting, which strangely, the mechanic never himself experienced during the test drive.

Then came the June 8 crash. A June 24 inspection, performed by a Toyota contractor, included a 16-mile test drive, a visual inspection and a download of the Event Data Recorder, which confirmed the account of Kathy Ruginis and her passenger: the Corolla was surging while her foot was on the brake. It showed in the five seconds of vehicle data before the system made the decision on whether to deploy the airbag: accelerator pedal untouched, brake pedal on, speed and RPMs doubled.  In denying the Ruginis claim, Toyota only considered the results of the “test” drive and the physical inspection: “Based on our inspection of your vehicle it has been determined the incident was not the result of any type of manufacturing or design defect.”

Bob and Kathy Ruginis decided to take their case to two higher authorities: the Toyota Independent Monitor David Kelley, a position created by the March Deferred Prosecution Agreement that closed the criminal investigation into Toyota’s lies about its Unintended Acceleration problems, and Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman. The Ruginises requested that the former look into Toyota’s dishonest dealing and the latter into low speed surges in MY 2006-2011 Toyota Corollas.

Past is Prologue

The Cahill lawyers, Sean P. Tonolli and Frederick “Fritz” Vaughan were professional, pleasant, and accessible, running their questions on three tracks: what happened; what the Ruginis family thought about Toyotas in general and knew about Toyota UA specifically; and, the responsiveness Toyota’s customer experience. How long did it take Toyota to return your calls? To whom did you speak?  Were they polite?

Tonolli, a former federal prosecutor, described their charge thus: We want to make sure that there isn’t a repeat of 2009 and 2010 – the height of Toyota’s crisis.

Safety Research & Strategies President Sean Kane, who attended the meeting, told Tonolli he was too late. The Toyota Unintended Acceleration problem continues to unfold exactly as it has since the first Camry with Electronic Throttle Control rolled off the assembly line. Drivers experience a UA; Toyota and NHTSA dismiss their accounts as unreliable and cobble together a driver error or pedal entrapment explanation with whatever is at hand –  no matter how unlikely, illogical or belied by the evidence. Driver gets stuck with a vehicle they are too scared to drive and are reluctant to foist upon someone else.  

The interview elicited more interesting details about the Corolla’s behavior. Kathy Ruginis told the investigators that she experienced these surges, two to four times a month. A conservative driver, she was able to keep control of her Corolla, in part, because by all accounts, it is her habit to leave plenty of space between her vehicle and that in front of it. Over the last four years, she shrugged it off and compensated. They had offered the Corolla to their oldest daughter, who needed a car, but she refused, because, she, too had experienced one of those surges and was unnerved by it.

As Bob and Kathy Ruginis told it, the Toyota customer experience is as crappy as ever. Getting answers was an arduous process that produced no real results. Phone call after phone call, message upon message. The person you needed to speak with was never immediately available to talk to you; you got passed around like a bottle of whiskey at a hobo camp; direct email addresses, verboten. Ruginis, familiar with corporate email address structures, played around until he figured out how to send an email directly to the employee he wished to contact. All in vain. Toyota not only dismissed the EDR readout, they refused to tell Bob Ruginis, an embedded software expert with 35 years’ experience, what they thought his EDR readout showed. In fact, told him that they were not allowed to say what the EDR readout purported to show.

That did not stop Toyota spokesman Mike Michels from telling journalists from The Wall Street Journal, USAToday and Providence Rhode Island news station WPRI who reported on the Ruginises’ petitions, that the EDR showed a case of late braking. A. It doesn’t. B. As Bob Ruginis pointed out: Toyota couldn’t tell us, but Toyota could tell the media?

The Safety Record didn’t know what to make of these customer service questions. Toyota pled guilty to a fraud charge. As part of that plea, the automaker admitted that it committed fraud upon NHTSA, Congress and consumers. Toyota continues to defraud consumers who have had a UA incident unless it resulted in a serious injury or death. (Those cases that charge electronic defects are getting settled faster than you can say Michael Barr.)

Toyota takes a customer’s money in exchange for a defective vehicle. When the defect surfaces, it ignores all evidence of the defect, stonewalls and blames the customer and bids them Good Day. While the Independent Monitor does not and cannot assess Toyota’s technical defects – how exactly will Mr. Kelley write his report to the U.S. Department of Justice on the matter at the heart of the government’s case if he doesn’t address the defects?


Meanwhile NHTSA, an acronym which so often seems to stand for: Not Having The Sense to Ask, has not made a formal response to Bob and Kathy Ruginis’ petition – although a spokesman did publicly opine to the news media that his EDR probably showed a dual-pedal application.

Offline, various representatives of the Office of Defects Investigation have asked Ruginis whether he would be willing to lease his Corolla to the agency for “testing” and could he please give them his list of 163 Vehicle Owners Questionnaire complaints from Toyota Corolla owners who have complained of low-speed surges?

The Safety Record recalls the history of NHTSA’s Unintended Acceleration investigation history and advises: Be skeptical.

We won’t go all the way back to the 1989 Silver Book – we’ll start with Toyota.

When it comes to Toyota UA, ODI investigators don’t believe drivers – or their witnesses.

  • ODI investigators tried to persuade Jeffery Pepski, the Lexus ES350 owner who petitioned for a defect investigation in April 2009 after a very frightening high-speed UA, that his event was a case of floor mat entrapment. Pepski’s vehicle did not have a stacked all-weather mat – the type that NHTSA linked to pedal interference. They showed him how a carpet floor mat could entrap a pedal. Then, Pepski showed them how easy it was to release the pedal by manipulating it with his foot – as he did during the event. Toyota claimed there were witness marks on the carpet. Pepski countered that their inspection came five months after the event, so the notion that witness marks remained in the carpet were ludicrous.
  • ODI suggested to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department that the January 2004 Yago incident could be a case of pedal misapplication. George and Maureen Yago rocketed off a fourth-floor parking garage in their 2002 Camry XLE. Two witnesses following the Yagos into the garage said that they saw the vehicle pull slowly into a space and come to a stop, (observing that the Camry’s brake lights were lit) when the vehicle suddenly took off.
  • ODI told William Kronholm, who experienced two UA in his 2008 Tacoma that his was a case of dual-pedal application caused by his ski boots. Kronholm actually tried to hit both pedals at once and said that he would have to angle his foot into a memorably unnatural position to achieve that.
  • In 2010 ODI postulated that the four UA events experienced by Andrew Shultz in his 2009 Tacoma was a dual pedal application incident, caused by military-style boots. Shultz works for the military as a civilian and did not own a pair of military-style boots.


NHTSA misuses VOQ data to support their institutional bias against causes of UA that are anything but mechanical or driver related:

  • In denying Pepski’s petition, the agency deliberately mischaracterized the narratives of VOQs he had gathered to bolster his petition. The agency deemed some of the incidents floor mat-related, even when the driver said things such as: “On two prior occasions the vehicle accelerated from speeds between 20-30 mph, to speeds up to 50-60 mph. On 9/11/07, the vehicle accelerated at speeds up to 80-90 mph. We are aware of the Lexus notification of floor mat interference, so we removed the mats after the first two times, but the last and most frightening, occurrence happened without the mat in the vehicle.”
  • In 2011, the agency used VOQs to dismiss the only physical evidence found in the joint NHTSA-NASA investigation into electronic causes of high-speed UA events in Toyota – the presence of tin whiskers in the acceleration pedal position sensor that could cause a short circuit and a wide-open throttle. NHTSA employed some bizarre methodology that counted the number of warranty claims for an accelerator pedal-related problem against the number of VOQs. NHTSA believed that if the number of warranty claims was greater than the number of complaints, this would mean that electronics was a root cause. But if more consumers complained to NHTSA about Toyota UA than received a warranty repair, then that would be proof that electronics was not a cause. Too many people complained to NHTSA, so the agency concluded cause wasn’t electronic.
  • Or, too many people complained to NHTSA, so it wasn’t the result of people having actual problems, it was all due to the media hype effect – another NHTSA statistics fail. Read What NHTSA’s Data Can Tell Us about Unintended Acceleration and Electronic Throttle Control Systems  – we’re too tired to explain.


Even when ODI witnesses Unintended Acceleration with no input from the driver with their very own eyes, they dismiss it.

  • In May 2012, two ODI engineers witnessed a 2004 Prius, owned by Joseph McClelland, high-ranking government official, accelerate on its own several times while on a test drive with the owner, without interference from the floor mat, without a stuck accelerator pedal or the driver’s foot on any pedal. They videotaped these incidents and downloaded data from the vehicle during at least one incident when the engine raced uncommanded in the owner’s garage and admonished the owner to preserve his vehicle for further research. “They said: Did you see that?” McClelland recalled in a sworn statement.  “This vehicle is not safe, and this could be a real safety problem.” Three months later, the agency dumped the investigation. Investigators told McClelland that they weren’t interested because it thought that it was an end-of-life issue for the hydrogen-fuel cell of the battery and told The New York Times that it wasn’t a safety issue: [NHTSA] also noted that the vehicle “could easily be controlled by the brakes” and “displayed ample warning lights” indicating engine trouble.” (seeGovernment Officials Video Electronic Unintended Acceleration in Toyota: NHTSA Hides Information, SRS Sues Agency for Records)


NHTSA really has no clue how to test for these problems.

  • In 2010, Southern Illinois University automotive electronics professor David Gilbert visited NHTSA’s Vehicle Research and Test Center in East Liberty, Ohio to see how they were testing vehicles for unintended acceleration problems. He found that NHTSA did not have sophisticated diagnostic equipment, was not looking at the right vehicles and  had not done enough in-depth electronics research, investigation, or testing to determine how electronics can affect vehicle performance. “Simply plugging in scan tools and reviewing data is not going to be enough to truly investigate the SUA issue,” he wrote in a letter to NHTSA.  


What Good Can Come of Reporting Toyota UA?

If NHTSA, People Blaming People™, can’t really figure it out because it lacks the expertise and the will to do so, and the Independent Monitor wants to know if Toyota bought you dinner before it screwed you, why report Toyota UA all?

The Safety Record says just do it because, the problems have not been fixed. Drivers continue to experience UA events that cannot be attributed to pedal entrapment or driver error. Do it to create the record of the reality, not the fairy tales the agency and its regulatory partner, Toyota, want to peddle.

Eventually, the pretzel logic the authorities have attempted to apply to this frustrating, intermittent, and dangerous electronic problem will crumble into a pile of salty crumbs. 

Here’s where you can report your Toyota UA to Independent Monitor David Kelley:


Toyota Independent Monitor

c/o Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP

80 Pine Street

New York, NY 10005-1702


Toyota’s Gone Fishin’

In December 2009, as Toyota faced increasing scrutiny from Congress and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the wake of the horrific unintended acceleration crash in that killed California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law, the automaker’s image-makers were prepared to go on the offensive. According to an April 2013 article in Corporate Counsel, a Toyota public relations staffer named Masami Doi wrote this email:
There are at most around 10 people who are the sources of negative tone communications. If they can be suppressed, I think we will be able to manage it somehow. Like you said, let’s go with an intention of destroying each individual person’s ability to oppose us, one by one. (To do or not to do is a separate question.)
We do not know who exactly suggested destroying each individual, but we know they tried. We know that the list at least doubled. And we know that Toyota is using Betsy Benjaminson, a private translator-turned-whistleblower who released sensitive internal Toyota documents to Corporate Counsel magazine and Iowa Senator Charles Grassley during the Toyota Unintended Acceleration crisis, as a battering ram to get at more of them.
On August 20, Benjaminson is scheduled to be deposed in the Los Angeles offices of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and to produce a slew of documents, including all communications with 20 people who have challenged Toyota’s narrative that there were no possible electronic causes of the unintended acceleration. They range from SRS president Sean Kane, to British automotive electronics experts Keith Armstrong and Antony Anderson, NASA scientists Norman Helmhold and Henning Leidecker to journalist Junko Yoshida, to Michael Barr, an embedded software specialist whose withering assessment of the safety, testability, and functionality of Toyota’s software resulted in the first jury verdict against Toyota in a UA case.
Ostensibly, Toyota is searching for the link between Benjaminson and a presentation Barr made to that jury, entitled “2005 Camry L4 Software Analysis.” While a public version, with redacted slides of some sub-routines is available, Benjaminson has posted the presentation in its native format on her website, and that has provided the opening for Toyota to go fishing for retaliatory evidence against its critics. (A legal defense fund has been set up for Benjaminson This latest legal move is of a piece with Toyota’s aggressive stance toward entities that have dared to challenge the automaker’s public relations.    
Like some corporate version of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, Toyota first tried to take out Kane and Southern Illinois University automotive electronics professor David Gilbert. SRS had begun reporting on the problem in 2009, before the Saylor crash, produced several reports,
based on public documents, on the roots of the crisis. Kane also testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the National Academies of Science that the record didn’t support Toyota’s assertion that electronics were not to blame for some of the complaints.
Gilbert got in Toyota’s crosshairs when he conducted a preliminary study for Safety Research & Strategies that showed that a short circuit in the Accelerator Pedal Position Sensor could cause Toyota’s Electronic Throttle Control to go to a wide-open condition, without setting a Diagnostic
Trouble Code. Gilbert also presented his findings to Congress.
Toyota hired the Benenson Strategy Group, a prominent public relations consultant, to develop the best lines of attack against the two. And they tested the messaging, via an online poll that asked the survey takers to judge Kane’s and Gilbert’s credibility.
Toyota criticized Gilbert’s work in a web-based press conference. Toyota, which had donated vehicles, provided internships and networking opportunities for SIU’s Automotive Technology students, sent its attorneys to Southern Illinois University Carbondale to discuss their concerns with university officials.  Terry Martin, manager of customer quality at Toyota and Neil Swartz, an SIUC alumnus and corporate manager for distribution in Toyota’s North American Parts division, resigned from the department’s advisory board. Mark Thompson, an SIU alum and a Toyota Motor Sales employee, e-mailed the school’s chancellor to suggest that Gilbert be fired and that Toyota might pull its support from the program.
Toyota unleashed the Cracken on James Sikes, a California Prius owner, who had the audacity to experience a UA on a San Diego highway in March 2010 as Toyota was conducting its press conference trashing Gilbert’s work. Sykes, a 61-year-old Prius owner alleged that his vehicle accelerated suddenly and would not respond to hard braking. His struggles to regain control of his vehicle were observed by a California Highway Patrol officer, who was called to the scene, and recorded on a 911 tape. The police report noted that the Prius’ brakes were burnt out and that an examination of Sykes’ vital signs by emergency medical personnel immediately after the event showed he had very high blood pressure and heart rate. The police did not charge Sykes. Toyota held another press conference to announce that a preliminary examination showed that Sykes had depressed the brakes 250 times. Toyota officials suggested, without saying so, that Sikes faked the event. Meanwhile, news outlets also reported many unflattering details of Sykes personal life, alerted by “anonymous tipsters.”  His lengthy 911 call is a sound portrait of a man in extreme stress, and if he was perpetrating a hoax, he should consider a career in acting.
Sikes, an easy target, faded from public view; Gilbert was not fired; SRS continued to report on Toyota UA, but in large measure, Toyota was successful in fending off challenges to its version of reality. NHTSA, itself compromised by serial fruitless investigation into the problem, opted for a political solution by engaging the NASA Engineering Safety Center to validate its technical failures and make the whole thing go away. Various ill-informed commentators amplified the message. Toyota won some civil cases and settled the ones with fact patterns that would be hard to defend before a jury.
Then came the Bookout verdict and it was suddenly game over. In September 2007, Jean Bookout and her friend and passenger Barbara Schwarz were exiting Interstate Highway 69 in Oklahoma in a 2005 Camry, when it experienced an unintended acceleration. Bookout tried to stop her car by pulling the parking brake, leaving lengthy skid marks. Her Camry continued to rocket down the ramp, stopping only after its nose was embedded in an embankment. Schwarz died of her injuries; Bookout spent two months recovering from head and back injuries.
Toyota, perhaps, thought it would play the confused old lady card at trial. But last October, an Oklahoma jury heard testimony from Barr, who spent nearly 20 months reviewing Toyota’s source code at one of five cubicles in a hotel-sized room, staffed by security guards, who ensured that entrants brought no paper in or out, wore no belts or watches. And his testimony forced Toyota to hastily settle the suit – hours after the jury determined that the automaker acted with “reckless disregard,” and delivered a $3 million verdict to the plaintiffs – but before the jury could determine punitive damages.
Barr testified about the specifics of Toyota’s spaghetti source code, based on his 800-page report. 
There are a large number of functions that are overly complex.  By the standard industry metrics some of them are untestable, meaning that it is so complicated a recipe that there is no way to develop a reliable test suite or test methodology to test all the possible things that can happen in it.  Some of them are even so complex that they are what is called unmaintainable, which means that if you go in to fix a bug or to make a change, you’re likely to create a new bug in the process.  Just because your car has the latest version of the firmware — that is what we call embedded software — doesn’t mean it is safer necessarily than the older one.  And that conclusion is that the failsafes are inadequate.  The failsafes that they have contain defects or gaps.  But on the whole, the safety architecture is a house of cards.  It is possible for a large percentage of the failsafes to be disabled at the same time that the throttle control is lost. 
Barr explained that many of the vehicle behavior malfunctions could be caused by the death of tasks within the CPU — in particular, the death of a proprietary-name task, called Task X at trial. The name of this task was kept secret, but its functional failures took center stage at the Bookout trial. Barr dubbed it “the kitchen-sink” task, because it controlled a lot of the vehicle’s functions, including throttle control; the cruise control – turning it on, maintain the speed and turning it off – and many of the failsafes on the main CPU.  Barr testified that Toyota’s watchdog supervisor design – software to detect the death of a task – “is incapable of ever detecting the death of a major task. That’s its whole job. It doesn’t do it. It’s not designed to do it.” Instead, Toyota designed it to monitor CPU overload, and, Barr testified: “it doesn’t even do that right. CPU overload is when there’s too much work in a burst, a period of time to do all the tasks. If that happens for too long, the car can become dangerous because tasks not getting to use the CPU is like temporarily tasks dying.”  Barr also testified that the operating system contained codes that would throw away error information, ignoring codes identifying a problem with a task.
In March, Toyota paid a 1.2 billion fine and admitted to criminal wrongdoing – hiding defects and lying to everyone from the government to its customers. Toyota paid the money and took a deferred prosecution deal on a single wire fraud charge to end a four-year federal criminal investigation. At the time, the chief legal officer for Toyota’s North American division said: “Entering this agreement, while difficult, is a major step toward putting this unfortunate chapter behind us.”
So, all this comes down to a Powerpoint presentation? We don’t think so. NHTSA has finally begun to post Toyota’s submissions to its Timeliness Query investigation (TQ10-001) on its pedal entrapment recalls – another case in which the automaker paid the government millions to put the matter to rest. So, any enterprising researcher can take a stroll through, and learn more about Toyota’s machinations. The only people who have not been able to buy their way out of the problem are the owners of Toyota vehicles controlled – or perhaps uncontrolled by the crappy and mysterious Task X.
Unfortunately, this “unfortunate chapter” is not behind us.

SRS Sues Florida DOT for Guardrail Docs

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Safety Research & Strategies, an automobile and product safety research and consulting firm based in Rehoboth, Mass. filed an open records lawsuit in Florida state court, alleging that the state’s Department of Transportation violated the Florida Public Records Act when it withheld documents pertaining to its relationship with guardrail manufacturer Trinity Industries pending a review by the company.

The lawsuit, filed today by Florida State Representative Matthew L. Gaetz  (R-Dist. 4) asks the Circuit Court of the Second Judicial Circuit for Leon County to compel the FDOT to release the materials SRS requested on February 10,  associated with inquiries, investigations, and communications between FDOT and Trinity regarding the design, manufacture, failure, purchase and testing of Trinity ET-Plus guardrail systems. SRS also asked for documents related to any motor vehicle accidents involving ET-Plus and consumer complaints about the safety of the system.

The Dallas, Texas-based manufacturer, a globally dominant producer and seller of guardrail systems has been under fire since 2012, when a competitor, SPIG Industries, of Bristol, Va. charged that sometime between 2002 and 2005, Trinity modified the design of its guardrail end terminals, causing it to perform poorly in crashes and injure and kill occupants in striking vehicles. These allegations have been the subject of numerous news stories abroad and in the U.S., including the Florida media. Continue reading

ABC Exposes Broken Tire Safety System

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Yesterday, ABC’s Nightline and Good Morning America took two issues that Safety Research & Strategies has been chipping away at for a decade, and gave them big play: the broken tire recall system and tire age. Producer Cindy Galli and investigative reporter Brian Ross, working with reporters at local ABC affiliates, bought recalled and very old tires, told victims’ stories and skewered the Rubber Manufacturer’s Association.

The stories raised a number of key issues:

• The tire recall system doesn’t work: Recalled tires aren’t always caught by retailers and there is no quick, easy or efficient way for any consumer or tire technician to check the recall status of a tire.
• Aged tires are sold and put into service unknowingly because the date code is buried in the Tire Identification Number, and expressed in a non-standard format. Tire age recommendations by vehicle and tire makers are not well known to service professionals or consumers.
• The tiremakers’ trade group, the Rubber Manufacturers Association (RMA) has conceded that the tire recall system does need improvement, but continues to maintain that tire age has no bearing on safety, and has fought off regulations to keep old tires off the road.

ABC highlighted the National Transportation Safety Board’s first tire safety investigation into a February crash that killed two and injured seven members of the First Baptist Church in New Port Richey, Florida, when a two-year-old left rear recalled BF Goodrich tire suffered a tread separation. The tire had been recalled in July 2012. The NTSB is also investigating a second fatal incident involving an aged tire. With its investigative powers and advisory role to other regulatory agencies on safety policy, the NTSB’s recommendations have the potential to be a game-changer. Will the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration listen? Continue reading

Safety Research & Strategies Sues FHWA for Guardrail Documents

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Safety Research & Strategies, an automobile and product safety research and consulting firm, has sued the Federal Highway Administration for the public release of documents regarding the safety of guardrail end terminals used on highways nationwide. The ET-Plus model end terminals, manufactured by the Dallas-based Trinity Industries, have been allegedly linked to deaths and severe injuries, leading state and federal highway officials to question their efficacy and safety.

The civil lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court, alleges that the FHWA violated the Freedom of Information Act by improperly withholding records and failing to respond to two separate administrative appeals on the failure to release documents pertaining to the agency’s interactions with Trinity and with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. SRS originally sought the documents in November and January. 

Guardrail designs have evolved since the 1960s. Earlier designs used blunt ends that acted like a spear, penetrating the vehicle occupant compartment in a crash. The turned-down twist design of the 1970s buried the exposed ends, but acted like a ramp in a crash, causing vehicles to rollover. Today’s preferred design on some highways is the Energy-Absorbing End Terminal, which absorbs the crash energy, bends the end terminal away from the vehicle, and extrudes it through a slot into a flat metal ribbon. In the early 1990s, Texas A&M designed the ET-2000 in cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation. Originally manufactured by Syro, Inc., the ET-2000, a variant of the Energy Absorbing End Terminal design, addressed some of the safety failures of earlier guardrail designs. The FHWA first approved the ET-2000 in the early 1990s, and its field performance was satisfactory. Continue reading

Toyota’s Billion Dollar Web

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Back in 2010, after Toyota announced that a federal grand jury in New York had subpoenaed the company on June 29 for documents regarding relay rod failures in Toyota truck models, we asked if the automaker would be the first to be prosecuted under the Transportation Recall Enhanced Accountability and Documentation Act (TREAD).

Well, right question, wrong defect.

Under the settlement with the Department of Justice announced today, Toyota is banged for $1.2 billion, and prosecution for committing one count of wire fraud is deferred for three years, for the lies it told about the floor mat entrapment and sticky pedal recalls. According to Toyota’s Statement of Facts, the automaker sought to limit its floor mat recalls, even though the entrapment hazard affected other models, and resisted the sticky pedal recall, even though Toyota had addressed the problem in Europe.

“This sends a mixed message,” says Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies. “On the one hand, a $1.2 billion fine is a very significant hit. But the government’s focus is only on the narrow areas of the floor mats and sticky pedals. The bulk of Toyota vehicles experiencing Unintended Acceleration problems were never recalled.  That billion dollars doesn’t do a thing for Toyota owners stuck with defective vehicles.”

The skeleton of this particular set of lies have been in the public domain for several years. In April 2010, when former Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood announced that the agency had imposed a $16.4 million fine on Toyota for failing to recall 2.3 million vehicles with defective accelerator pedals – then the largest civil penalty NHTSA had levied against an automaker – the Secretary failed to make public the documents laying out his rationale. In May 2011, NHTSA quietly posted the sternly worded demand letter that explained why Toyota got slapped.

To remind our readers, Toyota recalled the CTS supplied pedal in Europe in September 2009, but waited until January 2010 to recall the pedals in the U.S. However, on October 7, 2009, “a staff member of the Toyota Motor Corporation Product Planning and Management Division sent a copy of an Engineering Design Instruction describing the pedal remedy that was already implemented in Europe to someone at Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, Inc. for the accelerator pedal of a RAV 4 manufactured in Canada. Two weeks later “a member of the TMC PPM inexplicably instructed a member of the TEMA PPM not to implement this Engineering Change Instruction. Furthermore, in November 2009, Toyota provided NHTSA with FTRs regarding sticking accelerator pedals on vehicles in the United States but not with information regarding Toyota’s extensive testing and determinations regarding the cause of the sticking accelerator pedals or an explanation of the significance of the FTRs, the demand letter said. Continue reading

Antique Tires!

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When you’re trolling ebay looking for good deals on antiques, don’t forget to peruse the vintage tires. Some enterprising soul doing business as TireNetUSA has put up for purchase nearly 1,000 odd-ball, and very old “new” tires. Check it out:

One (1) New 225/45R16 Hankook Ventus Plus Tire. Free Shipping.  This tire is new, not a blem, and has never been mounted.  Please check fitment before you bid, and e-mail with any questions.  This tire is 1998 production. 

Seventy-nine bucks and free shipping? Such a deal!

Our interest was piqued by an ad we saw in Tire Business. It proclaimed: “We’re not afraid of older discontinued product and will make fair offers to clear out all unwanted product.” Hmm, what would someone be doing with “older discontinued” product? One, two, three, Google and we had our answer. They are being re-sold on ebay.

And that Hankook Ventus Plus? It’s not even the oldest tire for sale. Mr. or Ms. TireNetUSA is offering 14 tires pre-1998, including six items from 1995 production. Yes! 19-year-old tires! There’s a pair of 8.00 – 16.5LT LRD 8 Ply Goodyear Workhorse Tires for the low, low price of $279. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, a bargain at twice the price!

To be fair, only about a tenth of TireNetUSA’s stock at this particular moment is 10 years old or older. Many of the new ties are actually new – 2013 production, and fairly new, 2012- 2010.

This is what happens, dear regulators, when you research and research tire age, continue to publish your research up to the present day, but never take one teeny weeny regulatory step off base. This is what happens, industry age deniers, when you fight tooth and nail for a status quo that has fewer and fewer adherents. And yay, tire manufacturers! Some of you have dutifully issued technical service bulletins recommending the removal and disposal of tires 10 years and older, but not one of you have done a credible job of educating consumers, tire technicians or retailers about these recommendations. All-around epic fail. 

It’s all good, though. Each TireNetUSA ad comes with its very own disclaimer: “If this concerns you at all, please do not purchase this tire.  Tires will not be taken back due to age.” So, you can’t return them. What happens when you use them and suffer a catastrophic tread separation?

Anyway, in the interests of commerce, we thought we’d class up TireNetUSA’s inventory wanted ad. You know, give it a literary uplift. Here goes, with apologies to Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired tires, your poor 11-year-old Pirellis,

Your huddled Hankooks from 1998 yearning to be mounted,

The wretched refuse of your Phoenix warehouse.

Send these, the ancient, tread-tost to me.”

Yes, we’ve re-written the ad. The lawsuits practically write themselves.

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