So far, it had only been the usual people “familiar with the findings” that whispered to the WSJ that the NHTSA has found bupkis in their search for the ghosts in Toyota’s machines, and that there is growing suspicion of the NHTSA that it could have been the wrong foot on the wrong pedal again.
Now, the Financial Times writes for the first time that “US government officials have acknowledged that they have so far found no fault with the carmaker’s electronic throttle controls. They have suggested that many complaints of unintended acceleration that have dogged Toyota stem from driver error rather than defective equipment.”
Daniel Smith, an associate administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, addressed a meeting organized by an independent committee set up by the National Research Council to probe the causes of unintended acceleration. In the meeting, Smith said that “despite several investigations of Toyota’s electronic throttle control system, NHTSA has not been able to find a defect.”
Richard Boyd, acting director of NHTSA’s office of defects investigation, told the NRC meeting that most sudden acceleration incidents investigated over the past three decades “probably involve the driver unintentionally pressing the accelerator when braking was intended.”
According to the FT, Toyota has not received details of NHTSA’s test findings. But Toyota says their own tests point to a variety of causes, including “pedal misapplication” and other driver errors.
To me, this is Audi all over again. I worked as a consultant for Volkswagen, and was very close to the proceedings. There is one difference. During the Audi scandal, is was mainly the hysterical media, led by CBS 60 Minutes in November 1986, that kept the flames on high. The NHTSA had acted professional, with restraint. After careful analysis, NHTSA much later concluded that the majority of unintended acceleration cases were caused by driver error such as confusion of pedals. The findings came 2 ½ years after the 60 Minutes program. In January 1989, the Canadian government issued a report attributing sudden acceleration to “driver error.” Two months later, a NHTSA report blamed “pedal misapplication.”
This time, it’s different. This time, the government has two car manufacturers and a big a conflict of interest. This time, it was the NHTSA and Transportation Secretary LaHood who fanned the flames and politicized the matter. It was the NHTSA that used their faulty database to spread horror stories about vehicular mass murder. This may also explain the rather rapid speed with which the NHTSA seems to suddenly distance itself from the matter. With Audi, it took years. This time, it’s months. It’s a classic case of hit and run.