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A closer look at Toyota's "sudden acceleration" problem

by Mark Kleis

In light of a recent tragedy in which an off-duty CHP officer and three members of his family were killed, many have raised questions about what the true cause may have been.



According to a recent article in the Los Angeles Times, there may be more to the story than first explained by Toyota. Toyota issued a statement pointing to the installation of an improper floor mat from another vehicle, as we previously reported, as the cause of the crash. Then just one month after the crash involving the Saylor family, Toyota issued the largest recall in company history, affecting 3.8 million vehicles dating back to 2004.

Yet some believe that the issue goes beyond the floor mats - and lands likely in what many believe to be a flawed design with the highly computerized engine control system which lacks a fail-safe mechanism for emergency situations. The need for a fail-safe mechanism is being currently considered as a possible solution by Toyota, putting them in a position of implicit agreement.

In addition to the attorneys of victims, survivors, press organizations, and Toyota considering alternatives, there have also been nine different federal inquiries and investigations since 2000. Of the nine cases involving federal probing, only two cases pointed to the floor mats as the definite cause. Of the remaining cases, five have dismissed Toyota of fault, one pointed to a loose part, and one case is still open.

At the current time the only way to shut the vehicle off in a similar emergency would be to follow the directions outlined within the owner's manual, which reads, "If you have to make an emergency stop, press and hold the "˜power' switch for more than three seconds." A Toyota spokesperson points out that this will also disable power assisted steering and braking.

In a case such as Saylor's where the owner is unfamiliar with the vehicle, relying on the driver's in-depth knowledge of the owner's manual is not practical, pointing to the need for a more obvious solution. Safety experts also pointed out the fact that modern brake-assist systems operate with a vacuum powered assistance - a vacuum that is reduced or eliminated under full throttle. The result is that considerable force on the brake pedal may result in minimal stopping power.

To demonstrate the problem of relying on power-assisted brakes in the case of sudden and uncontrollable acceleration, the attorney for Guadalupe Gomez explained the details of his client's case, "He [Gomez] was held hostage for 20 miles on a Bay Area freeway by a 2007 Camry traveling more than 100 mph. Gomez was unable to turn off the engine or shift into neutral and then burned out his brakes before slamming into another car and killing that driver."

According to The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there is still an open investigation into sudden acceleration events involving Toyota vehicles.