According to various news reports like this one in the New York Times, initial National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) analysis of data from 58 crashes involving Toyota vehicles indicate that driver error rather than sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) caused by faulty electronics were to blame.
The findings were part of NHTSA's interim report into its investigation into SUA in Toyota vehicles.
Upon release of the findings, Toyota immediately said in a press release:
"Toyota's own vehicle evaluations have confirmed that the remedies it developed for sticking accelerator pedal and potential accelerator pedal entrapment by an unsecured or incompatible floor mat are effective. We have also confirmed several different causes for unintended acceleration reports, including pedal entrapment by floor mats, pedal misapplication and vehicle functions where a slight increase in engine speed is normal, such as engine idle up from a cold start or air conditioning loads."
"Having conducted more than 4,000 on-site vehicle inspections, in no case have we found electronic throttle controls to be a cause of unintended acceleration. Toyota is committed to listening more attentively to our customers and continuing to investigate unintended acceleration concerns."
Toyota's press release basically reiterated what it said last month.
Last week, says this story in USAToday, Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s chief quality officer in North America, pressed the company's case further when he told the audience at a seminar hosted by the Center for Automotive Research that:
"Look, we're engineers; we're scientists. We thrive on finding something wrong. I am 100% confident that there is nothing wrong with our electronic throttle control systems."
The New York Times stated that NHTSA reported that while it had received over 3,000 complaints involving sudden unintended acceleration, its investigators could only find fifty-eight crashes to study. The event data recorders in the vehicles indicated that in thirty-eight of the vehicles, the brakes were not applied before the crash. The Times story says this suggested "the possibility that the drivers had mistakenly floored the gas pedal instead of the brake."
In fourteen crashes, the brakes were applied, but in nine of those cases, the brakes were applied late. In one crash, both the brake and the gas pedal were applied. In the remaining seven cases, no useful data could be found.
Furthermore, the Times story notes, "... the government investigators, by examining the vehicles and interviewing the drivers in addition to downloading data, found one instance of the accelerator pedal’s becoming stuck under the floor mat, and no cases of a sticky pedal."
Critics pointed the NHTSA findings shouldn't be viewed as the final answer to the question of SUA in Toyota vehicles, since the event data recorders aren't designed to provide information indicating sudden unintended acceleration in non-crash situations, and the NHTSA data may be biased.
NHTSA itself said to be careful about interpreting the initial findings. This LA Timesarticle says that:
"Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration head David Strickland told three members of Congress in the briefing that the agencies had drawn 'no conclusion' on the causes of sudden acceleration and noted that investigations by NHTSA, NASA, and the National Academy of Sciences were ongoing, with final results a year or more away."
And one can expect the court cases against Toyota in regard to SUA to drag on much longer than that.
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.