What Caused Toyota’s Acceleration Problems?February 8, 2011
We know today the answer isn’t the electronic throttle control.
A 10-month U.S. Department of Transportation study into Toyota’s unintended acceleration issues found nothing wrong with the vehicles’ electronics systems. The exhaustive study, conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) with NASA scientists and engineers, included flooding cars with electromagnetic radiation and searching the computer code for errors. The electronic throttle control, a common feature in newer vehicles that allows the gas pedal to electronically communicate with the engine to control speed, was one possible culprit for acceleration problems. The first suspected feature was the gas pedal.
Since 2008, Toyota has recalled nearly 8 million cars for problems with unintended acceleration, mostly related to gas pedals sticking or becoming obstructed by floor mats. The recalls came on the heels of Toyota’s nearly $50 million payment of civil fines to settle NHTSA’s accusations that the automaker didn’t address the defects quickly enough. Despite the recalls, many believed a defective gas pedal wasn’t the only cause of unintended acceleration. Recent NHTSA investigations into 58 cases of unintended acceleration suggested the drivers may have been partly at fault.
Whether a malfunctioning part or the driver is to blame, Toyota has suffered from this bad press—and more than just its sales numbers. The company is facing hundreds of lawsuits stemming from unintended acceleration auto accidents. Toyota has already settled several wrongful death cases.
The good news is Toyota’s problems may improve future vehicle safety. Toyota has already implemented a brake override system on its new vehicles, which cuts power to the engine when the brake is pressed. The NHTSA plans to propose a requirement that all new vehicles install such an override system. The NHTSA also plans to propose rules for standardized operation of keyless ignition systems and for installation of event data recorders. Research will also be conducted on the design and placement of the gas and brake pedals.
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