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.

In the Ford-Firestone case, it was the marriage of tires with several poor design characteristics compounded by manufacturing problems and the application on an unstable vehicle.  Add in the huge number of Explorers sold and the tires’ longevity, which kept them on the roads long enough to fail, and the result was rollovers, injuries and deaths.  Now comes Toyota, with thousands of unintended acceleration complaints across different models, makes and model years and an easy-one-size-fits-all root cause: floormats.

That explanation is swiftly becoming unraveled as quick-thinking owners – like the 2007 Avalon owner from New Jersey who managed to wrest his out-of-control vehicle right to the dealership, where the evidence was revving and smoking in front of the tech’s eyes and couldn’t be floor-matted away. (see Sudden Acceleration in Reverse).

Now a “Concerned Citizen” in Franklin, Kentucky has offered NHTSA another interesting piece of the puzzle: broke throttle body shafts.

On November 27, about a month after NHTSA closed its latest Toyota unintended acceleration investigation with another pedal interference conclusion, some Kentuckian’s conscience got the better of him/her. Here is the anonymous note addressed the then-Acting Administrator Ronald Medford:

“There are potentially hundreds of Toyota and Nissan vehicles driving American highways with cracked shaft throttle bodies. Japanese management up to and including company president was aware of the cracked shaft problem and told everyone to be quiet about this problem.

The failure mode on DFMEA for broken throttle shaft is no throttle control and potential wide open acceleration. The Toyota floor mats caused American deaths. Will you sit on this information and possibly cause more American deaths? It bothers me that I did not tell anyone sooner. I have another throttle body in same condition that can be sent to Automotive News.

Concerned Citizen”

Coincidentally, Franklin Precision Industry (FPI) in Franklin, KY manufactures throttle bodies for Toyota and Nissan.  FPI is part of Aisan Industry Co. Ltd., a large automotive supplier based in Japan, with its major shareholders Toyota Motor Corporation, at 35 percent and Toyota Industries Corporation at 18 percent.

NHTSA didn’t place the potential whistle-blower’s letter in the public file until Jan. 4.

Dear Concerned Citizen: Thanks for the tip.  We’d like to see that cracked throttle body shaft – and we promise to investigate swiftly.

More on Toyota Sudden Acceleration

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. Continue reading

New Drowsy Driving Report Raises Profile of Emerging Issue

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The National Sleep Foundation has released a report showing that states have made some progress during the last decade in identifying drowsy driving as a hazard to the motoring public, through police training, driving education and legislation. But states still have a long way to go in developing a coherent strategy to reduce drowsy driving and the resulting deaths and injuries.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, drowsy driving results in 100,000 police-reported crashes, 71,000 injuries, and 1,550 deaths each year. But these estimates are thought to be conservative for a variety of reasons: there is no test for drowsy driving, states have inconsistent reporting practices, few police departments are trained to identify drowsy drivers, and self-reporting is unreliable. Data from other nations, such as Australia and England, show that drowsy driving is a factor in 10 to 30 percent of all crashes. According to the NSF, 60 percent of drivers have driven while drowsy in the past year, and 20 percent, or about 32 million people, admit to having actually fallen asleep behind the wheel.

Drowsy driving is often compared to drunk driving because drivers operating while fatigued have slower reaction times, reduced vigilance and deficits in information processing, similar to alcohol impairment. Continue reading