Lawmakers Eye Electronics in Toyota Unintended Acceleration Probe

Toyota has been accused of making misleading statements regarding what has caused unintended acceleration in some of its vehicles. According to The Washington Post, the congressional investigators making those accusations also faulted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for conducting “cursory and ineffective” investigations of Toyota defects.

Since September, Toyota has recalled nearly 8 million vehicles worldwide for issues involving unintended acceleration. As we’ve reported previously, the NHTSA has now received more than 2,000 complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration with Toyota and Lexus vehicles that involve 34 deaths and hundreds of accidents since 2000. Toyota has blamed the problems on faulty floor mats and defective accelerator pedals.

But according to The Washington Post report, members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee – one of three congressional committees investigating the Toyota debacle – are skeptical of Toyota’s explanations, and believe the unintended acceleration issue stems from a problem with the vehicles’ electronic throttle control system.

In letters to James E. Lentz, President of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich) assert that documents submitted by Toyota appear to show that:

• Toyota dismissed the possibility that electronic failures could be responsible for incidents of sudden unintended acceleration.

• The one report that Toyota has produced that purports to test and analyze potential electronic causes of sudden unintended acceleration was initiated just two months ago and appears to have serious flaws.

• Toyota’s public statements about the adequacy of its recent recalls appear to be misleading.

According to the lawmakers, in June 2004, the automaker and NHTSA officials discussed a chart showing that Toyota Camrys with new electronic throttles had 400 percent more complaints regarding “vehicle speed.” Among other things, the letters point out that approximately 70 percent of the sudden unintended acceleration events in Toyota’s customer database involved vehicles that are not subject to recalls.

The letter also claims that, based on a preliminary review of NHTSA documents, it appears that NHTSA lacks the expertise needed to evaluate defects in vehicle electronic controls, and its response to complaints of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles appears to have been seriously deficient. Among other things, NHTSA officials told investigators that the agency doesn’t employ any electrical engineers or software engineers.

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