The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a strong - but also highly ambiguous - message to Toyota yesterday.
In a story reported nationally on ABC World News, the NHTSA said that Toyota's recall of 3.8 million floor mats which can pose a danger of creating a "runaway car" (see my blog posts here and here) did not close the issue:
"This matter is not closed until Toyota has effectively addressed the vehicle defect by providing a suitable remedy.”
The NHTSA also said, according to the report, that it was discussing “what the appropriate vehicle remedy or remedies will be."
The NHSTA did not state what the "vehicle defect" is or the potential remedies, although many owners of Toyota vehicles experiencing sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) speculate that there is something wrong with the software and or electronics that involve their car's throttle control. Some owners involved in SUA accidents have brought lawsuits against Toyota blaming the underlying cause of the accidents on an unspecified computer error; the NHTSA statement yesterday will no doubt spur more lawsuits.
Toyota has vehemently denied software or electronics is the cause (see a video by Toyota Motor Sales Senior Vice President Bob Daly on the subject here), pointing out that the NHTSA has conducted six investigations of SUA and has never found a software or electronic cause.
For Toyota's part, it had better be correct that software or electronics are not involved in the SUA some of its car owners' have experienced. If it turns out to be the case, expect Toyota to suffer a public backlash significantly worse than Ford did during its Firestone tire fiasco.
ABC News has “helpfully” posted a video on how to stop a runaway car here.
Don’t expect this controversy to die anytime soon.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.