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Toyota cleared on acceleration

By Claes Bell ·
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Posted: 7 am ET

Remember that whole unintended acceleration thing that supposedly happened with Toyota cars? No, not the one caused by the accelerator pedal getting stuck down; that was legit. I'm talking about the allegation that Toyota cars were plagued by faulty electronics that could cause them to accelerate on their own.

Toyotas like this second generation Prius were found to be free of deadly electronic defects.

Toyotas like this second-generation Prius were found to be free of deadly electronic defects.

Well, turns out the claims were baloney, at least according to a 10-month government investigation. From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:

NASA engineers found no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents. The two mechanical safety defects identified by NHTSA more than a year ago -- "sticking" accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats -- remain the only known causes for these kinds of unsafe unintended acceleration incidents. Toyota has recalled nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States for these two defects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas."

For owners of the cars alleged to have been faulty, this is a win. Not only can they get behind the wheel of their cars without worrying their car will go berserk, but their resale values won't take the hit that would have come had the investigation gone the other way.

This finding probably comes as cold comfort to Toyota, which has seen its reputation and sales numbers seriously damaged by the aforementioned massive recalls. Toyota's U.S. sales were down 16 percent year-over-year in January, and it's hard to see how this verdict will change things, at least in the short term. I mean, it's not like you can sell a lot of cars by saying, "Remember those out-of-control Toyota crashes in the media the last couple of years? Not all of them were our fault!"

Still, Toyota can finally put some of its nagging safety concerns behind it and go forward, and maybe the media won't give so much credence to every Toyota critic who comes out of the woodwork claiming they can prove Toyotas are animated by an evil robot intelligence that seeks to run its passengers into the nearest concrete barrier. This verdict is a stark reminder that not every allegation of dangerous faults in autos should be assumed to be true, and those of us who cover autos in the media would do well to remember that.

On the other hand, the company probably never would have been the target of this 10-month probe, authorized by Congress, had it been more forthcoming about its original gas pedal issues, and been less aggressive about trying to put off investigators and evade responsibility for its mistakes. I hope Toyota's learned from the struggles it's had these last few years and will someday return to the kind of bulletproof reliability that once defined its vehicles.

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Claes Bell
February 09, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Tonowando, just to be clear, no one is saying Toyota didn't make cars that didn't have serious issues with gas pedals getting physically stuck in the down position. Their cars however, have been cleared of having unintended acceleration issues stemming from faulty electronics by the NHTSA after a 10-month study using NASA scientists, which seems pretty persuasive.

tonowando smith
February 09, 2011 at 12:35 pm

Toyota cleared ???
Aug. 28 , 2009 was the day MARK SAYLOR , his wife , his daughter and his brother-in-law , all 4 died in a 120 MPH crash of a NEW 2009 LEXUS ES350 !!
MARK was a veteran CHP [ California highway patrol ] officer.
the state of California has released the last 50 seconds of a 911
call made from inside that car .
before dieing in a fiery crash the occupants of that Toyota
made product gave details of their situation .
for those who are not familiar with the training of CHP officers , they all receive special high speed and defensive driving training .
the last 50 seconds of MARK'S life was more than enough time
to take the steps that his experience and training had taught him!
[1] pull the accelerator pedal up with your hand or foot .
[2] pull up the floor mat and throw it to the passenger side .
[3] put the gear shift in neutral .
[4] apply the the emergency brake .
[5] turn the ignition key off .
only MARK knows if he tried every possible option ??
but with the lives of four people in the balance , you bet your
life that he did .
even if these four were the only lives lost in a questionable
Toyota crash , i don't think Toyota has been cleared of anything ??

Claes Bell
February 09, 2011 at 11:49 am

Yeah I tried to get that across in the blog. I often wonder, too, if there wasn't a little bit of nationalism involved in the backlash as well. After all, American cars have had plenty of safety issues and American automakers have done their fair share of evasion of responsibility, but the response didn't seem to be as vehement.

Claes Bell
February 09, 2011 at 11:28 am

Interesting point. It would be nice if something constructive, such as safer pedal placement, came out of this whole episode.

American Rover
February 09, 2011 at 11:24 am

The issue causing Toyota backlash wasn't the fault with the car, but the non compliance in reporting the problem to the Fed's

February 09, 2011 at 11:14 am

Could it be that the entire Toyota debacle as inspired by those in our government who were desperately trying to revive the pathetic American made auto industry? Some of those congress men and women from Michigan were so busy defending their turf by spreading lies about Toyota should be held liable for their actions.

February 09, 2011 at 11:13 am

The final cause of the unintended acceleration was found to be misapplication of the brakes due to the placement of the pedals. Because the brake and gas pedals are very close together on many cars and because ABS systems tend to create a soft brake pedal it is very easy to step on the accelerator and think you are stepping on the brake. This isn't just a Toyota problem, they just got the publicity. I have had it happen to me with my big feet on a non-Toyota.

It is interesting to look at the NHSTA database and see which makes are getting hit. GM seems to be conspicuous by their absence which may be real or may be a conflict of interest. I have always believed that what happened to Toyota was a witch hunt simply because the media was so quick to condemn them before the engineers had a chance to analyze what really happened.