The Truth About Cars » Unintended Acceleration The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:00:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Unintended Acceleration Toyota Reportedly Near $1B Settlement of Unintended Acceleration Criminal Probe Mon, 10 Feb 2014 12:00:43 +0000 37146460

Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Toyota Motor Corp. and the United States Department of Justice are close to a deal that would resolve a criminal investigation into how it disclosed to government regulators customers’ complaints about unintended acceleration. The Journal is reporting that the settlement would involve Toyota paying as much as $1 billion in fines, ending a four year investigation. Sources say that the deal could still fall apart, or the amount of money involved could change.

A Toyota spokesperson said in an emailed statement, “Toyota continues to cooperate with the U.S. attorney’s office in this matter. And in the nearly four years since this inquiry began, we’ve made fundamental changes to become more responsive and customer focused, and we’re committed to continue to improve.”

The investigation, launched by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, is looking into whether Toyota made false or incomplete disclosures to U.S. regulators about possible car defects. Prosecutors are also looking into possible mail fraud and wire fraud in connection to those disclosures.

The criminal case only adds to what has been a deeply embarrassing incident for Toyota, which formerly had a sterling reputation for reliability with consumers. The company recently settled an economic loss class action suit brought by customers who claimed their cars’ residual values had been harmed by the massive recall Toyota initiated in 2009 in response to the unintended acceleration issue. Toyota still faces hundreds of lawsuits over the matter, including wrongful death suits.

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California Jury Finds Toyota Not At Fault In Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Lawsuit Fri, 11 Oct 2013 15:48:13 +0000 Noriko-Uno-car-after-crash (1)

A Califonia jury ruled that Toyota Motor Corp was not at fault in a 2009 accident in which 66 year old Noriko Uno was killed when her 2006 Camry ran into a tree after being hit by another car. Uno’s survivors blamed the accident and her death on unintended acceleration and Toyota’s failure to incorporate a brake-override system in Uno’s car. This was the first wrongful death lawsuit over accusations that Toyota products could uncontrollably accelerate. The jury found that Uno’s Camry was not defective, instead placing full liability for her death on the driver of the car that hit Uno before she sped the wrong way down a one-way street and into the tree. Uno’s survivors were awarded $10 million.

The Uno case is seen as a bellwether for the outcomes of about 85 addition wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed in California state courts in the aftermath of millions of Toyotas in 2009 and 2010 to address reports of sudden unintended acceleration. Items addressed in those recalls included floor mats getting stuck under the gas pedal and possibly faulty pedal assemblies. 2006 Camrys, like the one Ms. Uno was driving, were not included in those recalls.

A Toyota spokesperson said that the company was pleased with the jury’s verdict. “We are gratified that the jury concluded the design of the 2006 Camry did not contribute to this unfortunate accident, affirming the same conclusion we reached after more than three years of careful investigation — that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle at issue in this case. We believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override.”

Toyota has also won personal injury cases arising from the unintended acceleration issue in New York and in Pennsylvania. Another trial is underway in Oklahoma, and cases are set for trial in Michigan early next year and in federal district court next month in California, where about 200 wrongful death and personal injury suits against Toyota are pending.

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Federal Judge Rules Toyota Must Go to Trial in Camry Unexpected Acceleration Lawsuit Tue, 08 Oct 2013 18:52:03 +0000

Click here to view the embedded video.

Toyota won two out of four of his decisions, but U.S. District Judge James Selna ruled that Toyota still must go to trial for an unexpected-acceleration case filed in federal court, according to a report by Bloomberg.


Judge Selna threw out manufacturing defect and negligence claims but affirmed his earlier tentative decision to allow a claims based on alleged design defects and a failure by Toyota to warn Camry drivers about known dangers to proceed to trial. “Plaintiff has raised triable issues of fact that would allow a reasonable jury to find in his favor,” the judge said in his written ruling. In 2009, Ida Starr St. John, then 83 years old, was hurt when her 2005 Camry crashed. St. John has since died and her family is pursuing the litigation. This is the first personal injury and wrongful death case to go to trail over Toyota’s supposed unintended acceleration of those cases already consolidated in federal court.

The lawsuits were sparked by Toyota recalls in 2009 and 2010 and the company has already settled economic loss claims with a ~$1.6 billion agreement. St. John’s ’05 Camry was not subject to any of those recalls.

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Toyota’s Jim Lentz Testifies in Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Suit Wed, 28 Aug 2013 16:09:49 +0000 37146460

After losing a motion to prevent him from appearing, Toyota Motor Corporation’s CEO for North America, Jim Lentz took the witness stand in a lawsuit filed by the survivors of a woman who was killed when her Camry allegedly sped out of control and hit a tree after it was hit by another car, whose driver is a co-defendant in the case. One issue in the court case is why Toyota did not equip Noriko Uno’s car with a brake override system that automatically closes the throttle when the brakes are applied.

Bloomberg reports that Lentz answered questions posed by the plaintiffs’ attorney in regard to how the company marketed the system when it did start making it available. Toyota branded the system as “smart stop”, apparently rejecting “safe stop”, according to internal Toyota documents plaintiffs obtained as part of the discovery process.

Lentz said that the reason why the company chose “smart” instead of “safe” was to avoid promising more than they could deliver. “I made clear to the marketing department that it had to be something that didn’t overpromise,” Lentz said. “Safe stop or sure stop was overpromising because it wouldn’t necessarily stop the acceleration in all cases.”

The Uno case is the first of about 85 personal-injury and wrongful-death lawsuits filed against Toyota in California courts regarding supposed unintended acceleration. The company has already settled an economic loss class action suit at a cost estimated to be $1.63 billion. That suit was about the value of used Toyotas declining due to the massive recalls the company initiated to address the issue.

Among other actions in the recall, Toyota installed brake override system software on the recalled models and started equipping all of its new production cars with the override system. The plaintiffs pointed out that Toyota had started installing the system on some of its European modes in the early 2000s and questioned Lentz on why it was not featured on its U.S. models. Lentz said that he only knew of one European Toyota that featured a brake override.

Also testifying Tuesday was an expert witness who testified that Uno was hospitalized for vomiting blood and being dizzy and light-headed on two separate occasions before her fatal accident. Toyota argues that Uno’s cognitive abilities were impaired by her diabetes and liver conditions. Before she hit the tree, following the initial collision with another car, she drove the wrong way down a one-way street.

Toyota has said Uno’s diabetes and liver conditions impaired her cognitive abilities and caused her to drive down a one-way residential street into oncoming traffic after being hit by another vehicle.

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First Toyota Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Trial Begins Fri, 09 Aug 2013 14:23:48 +0000 Noriko-Uno-car-after-crash

The first wrongful death lawsuit concerning the sudden acceleration of Toyota cars to go to trial has started with opening arguments. According to Bloomberg, the lawyer for Noriko Uno’s family said that Toyota knew that their gas pedals could get stuck and that the company was liable for her death because Uno’s 2006 Camry did not have a brake override system. The Toyota that Uno, 66 at the time of her death, was hit by a car that ran a stop sign. Her Toyota subsequently accelerated down the wrong side of the road for 30 seconds before hitting a tree, causing her death.

Last month Toyota agree to settle, for $1.63 billion, an economic loss class action lawsuit filed by owners of Toyotas who claimed their vehicles’ value had depreciated after Toyota recalled over 10 million cars to address the unintended acceleration issue. While the car company has settled out of court with some claimants, the Uno case is the first to actually make it to a courtroom. About 85 personal injury and wrongful death suits have been consolidated in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Noriko Uno

Noriko Uno

The Uno family is seeking $20 million in damages, claiming that Toyota should have installed a brake override system that forces the engine’s throttle to return to the idle position when both the brake and gas pedals are depressed. When Uno’s car was manufactured, Toyota had already implemented brake overrides on models sold in Europe.

Toyota’s lawyers insist that Uno was at fault because she stepped on the gas, not brake, pedal and that a brake override system wouldn’t have prevented her death, the automaker claims, because she never tried to use her brake. In his opening statement, Toyota lawyer Vince Galvin said, “This is not a stuck-pedal case, it’s an alleged stuck foot case.” The plaintiffs allege that Uno’s right foot got stuck between the gas and the brake pedals, causing her to accelerate as she tried to brake with her left foot, a claim that Toyota says is not possible.


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Toyota Unintentional Acceleration Wrongful Death Trial Begins Mon, 22 Jul 2013 20:16:59 +0000 52166200

Noriko Uno was killed in 2009 when her 2006 Toyota Camry sudenly accelerated to 100 MPH, resulting in her leaving the roadway and hitting a telephone pole and a tree in the median. Today, jury selection begins in a California lawsuit filed by her survivors.


The lack of a brake-override system on her Camry, a device that Toyota has since implemented, is expected to be a major issue raised by the plaintiffs. Brake-override systems deactivate the throttle when the brake pedal is pressed. While it is not clear if any car sold today has brakes that cannot stop the car even when the engine is at full throttle, car companies, government safety agencies and consumers have embraced brake-overrides to prevent unintended acceleration, or at least make consumers feel safer. The Uno is considered to be a bellwether as it is the first unintended acceleration case filed against Toyota to go to trial. A previous case, involving two fatalities in a 2008 Camry was settled out of court. Last week, Toyota agreed to a billion dollar settlement over economic losses to owners of Toyota cars, losses supposedly caused by the recalls Toyota initiated to address the unintended acceleration issue.

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Toyota, Lawyers, Court Agree on Settlement Over Depreciation Caused by Unintended Acceleration Recalls Mon, 22 Jul 2013 12:30:45 +0000 7bb2da11404638720115c97471157bd7 (1)

A U.S. District Court judge gave final approval of the settlement of a lawsuit filed against Toyota on behalf of owners of Toyota vehicles who claimed that the car maker’s recalls related to unintended acceleration caused their cars to depreciate in value.


Toyota recalled over 10 million vehicles around the world in 2009-2010 to check for sticky throttle pedals and out of position floor mats. The cash payout for Toyota to settle the economic-loss action will be close to a billion dollars, with individual payments ranging from $9.74 to $10,000, depending on what Toyota model, and whether it was bought, leased or rented, a total of $757 million. Plaintiff attorneys in the class action lawsuit will get another $227 million in fees and costs, and Toyota will retrofit, at no charge, some car models with brake override systems. The retrofit and other non-monetary benefits are valued at $875 million. In Tokyo, Toyota announced that the company will be taking a one-time $1.1 billion charge to cover the costs.

All of the lawyers involved seemed pleased with the settlement. U.S. District Judge James V. Selna, said during the final hearing, “I reaffirm my conclusion that this settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable. I find this settlement to be extraordinary because every single dollar in the cash fund will go to claimants.” That must mean that the plaintiff attorneys were paid from a different fund of cash.

One of those attorneys, Steve Berman, of the Hagens Berman firm which just last week filed a proposed class action suit in federal court against Ford over glitches in the MyFordTouch control and infotainment system, said that in regard to the Toyota suit, “Those people who submitted claims are getting 100 percent of their claims in this settlement.”

Toyota’s lawyer was happy as well. “This settlement is focused on getting the maximum amount to our customers,” John P. Hooper said. Though he said he was confident that Toyota would have won at trial, he said the company settled because it was “trying to find a resolution that would be of value to Toyota customers and put this litigation behind us.”

This lawsuit is unrelated to the property damage, personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits filed in connection with alleged sudden unintended acceleration by Toyota vehicles.

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Senator Chuck Grassley Wants NHTSA To Re-Open Toyota Sudden Acceleration Case Fri, 13 Jul 2012 18:56:38 +0000

Here we go again…Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is asking NHTSA to re-open the investigation into the Toyota unintended acceleration case.

Grassley claims he was approached by unnamed whistle blowers who were unsatisfied with the scope of the investigation. According to CNN

” the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked the NHTSA in a letter to look into the phenomenon of “tin whiskers” — or crystalline structures of tin — that theoretically could lead to the unintended acceleration.

The whistle-blowers also provided Grassley with documentation about the investigations by NHTSA and NASA into the Toyota vehicles, including one NASA report that stated: “Because proof that the (electronic throttle-control systems) caused the reported (unintended accelerations) was not found does not mean it could not occur.”

Tin whiskers are able to cause shorts in electrical systems, and have been known to disrupt devices like pacemakers. Pure tin solder is often a culprit for it; lead was previously added to solder to help eliminate the issue, but with jurisdictions banning the use of lead, the problem has re-occurred in certain products.

Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons told CNN that the tin whiskers problem was a non-issue, stating that

“…no one has ever found a single real-world example of tin whiskers causing an unintended acceleration event, nor have they put forth any evidence of unintended acceleration occurring in a Toyota vehicle because of tin whiskers forming inside an accelerator pedal position sensor.”

Clearly, being exonerated by NASA isn’t enough, if a scandal can be exploited in an election year.

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Inspector General: NHTSA Needs To Rethink Defect Investigation Mon, 14 Nov 2011 17:49:00 +0000

Remember the uproar over Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas? After more than a year of investigation, NHTSA has yet to find a definitive cause for the furor… although the experience was not an entire waste. In fact, the most interesting result of the entire situation was that it cast light on NHTSA’s inefficacy as much as it did embarrass Toyota’s quality control. And to help clarify what exactly the lessons of the Toyota flap were, the DOT’s Inspector General has released a report detailing its criticisms of the federal safety regulators. According to the report [PDF], NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) has not

  • Adequately tracked or documented pre-investigation activities.
  • Established a systematic process for determining when to involve third-party or Vehicle Research and Test Center (VRTC) assistance
  • Followed timeliness goals for completing investigations or fully implemented its redaction policy to ensure consumers’ privacy. [Ed: gee, you think?]
  • Established a complete and transparent record system with documented support for decisions that significantly affect its investigations.
  • Developed a formal training program to ensure staff has the necessary skills and expertise.

In his response, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland largely concurred with the audit’s findings, and is working with the ODI to improve investigation processes, transparency, privacy controls, staffing, training and more. In short, the government has reached the same conclusion that I reached on the day of the angst-filled Toyota testimony before congress, to wit:

Congress holds hearings like these to uncover shocking evidence and to impress its constituents with its dedication to their safety and well-being. Having been enticed into believing that sinister conspiracies exist in Toyota’s software code and the halls of the NHTSA, the House Energy Committee uncovered only one actionable solution to the ongoing scandal: [improving] NHTSA’s investigative capabilities. Put differently, after hours of posturing congress finally met the enemy and he was them.

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Witchgraph Tue, 04 Oct 2011 18:51:03 +0000  

Remember when cars, especially Toyotas, suddenly had a mind of their own, started accelerating, leaving their drivers helpless and hapless? It was in the beginning of 2010. The media cited scores of allegedly killed people. Source: The NHTSA complaint database. When complaints skyrocketed, the media wrote about a dramatic increase of complaints. Now, have a look at the graph above.

This graph was compiled by Edmunds. It is a simple report. It shows the number of all complaints about all cars of any manufacturer per month. We see that in February 2010 the number of complaints exploded, it was high in March, and then consolidated at a slightly higher level than at the end of 2009. In a straight line analysis, the complaints should be approximately where they are.

Then why the jump in February and March 2010? It was the height of the witch-hunt. The height of the fakery on ABC News. It was the fools hearings on the hill.

When that was over, suddenly, as if driven by ghosts, the cars behaved again. After Toyota had been declared ghost-free by the NHTSA in February 2011, there was even a little dip in the reports. Then, all fell back to normal.

For those who are still desperate to read something into this crowd-sourced list, here a little table, also courtesy of Edmunds. It shows the YTD complaints trough August 2011, along with the rolling 12 month market share, for the top ten recipients of complaints. As you can see, things are pretty much as they should be. People seem to complain a lot about Chrysler though…

Brand YTD Share
Ford 3,303 15.9%
Chevrolet 2,820 14.0%
Toyota 2,092 11.2%
Honda 1,157 8.4%
Nissan 1,484 7.3%
Dodge 1,757 5.4%
Hyundai 788 5.0%
Jeep 1,547 3.1%
Volkswagen 581 2.4%
Chrysler 842 1.6%

Witch-hunts had been with us since ancient times. In Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Saudi Arabia, people are still tried and sentenced for witchcraft. The graph you are looking at shows that witch-hunts are alive and well in America.




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Mercedes Tackles Unintended Acceleration With New Cruise Control Stalk Fri, 15 Jul 2011 18:39:03 +0000

Unintended acceleration has been a huge topic in automotive circles over the last year or so, as the Toyota Recall Scandal brought new attention to that man-machine-interface problem. But did you know Mercedes has been receiving its own complaints about UA? Neither did we, as a post-Toyota Recall survey of NHTSA complaints showed Mercedes enjoying one of the lowest rates of UA complaints of all manufacturers. But, reports WardsAuto, the problem was indeed real.

Just about anyone who has driven a Mercedes-Benz in the past decade has experienced it: unintended sudden acceleration because of awkward placement of the cruise-control stalk on the left side of the steering wheel.

A driver may think he is signaling to turn right, when inadvertently he has pushed the cruise control lever upward to the “accel” position, occasionally sending the vehicle bolting forward instead of slowing down to turn at an intersection. This could happen if the cruise control was on but not active.

Left turns were somewhat less problematic because pushing the lever downward put the cruise-control system into “decel” mode.

And, starting with the new M-class SUV, the brand is tackling the problem head-on.

Nevertheless, with the all-new ’12 M-Class cross/utility vehicle going on sale in September, Mercedes has corrected the problem once and for all by placing the turn indicator at the 10 o’clock position and the cruise-control stalk at 8 o’clock.

Until now, those placements were reversed in virtually all Mercedes vehicles, triggering complaints.

The turn-indicator stalk, which also controls the windshield wipers and high-beam headlamps, is longer than the cruise-control lever, and Mercedes engineers are hopeful the new configuration will eliminate any confusion.

In determining that human error was the main cause of unintended acceleration, federal regulators have put a new emphasis on designing-in features that prevent the misuse of pedals, stalks and shifters. Between the Toyota scandal and a recall of its own earlier this year, for 137,000 M-Class SUVs that would not disengage their cruise control when drivers tap the brakes, Mercedes seems to be learning from history. Hopefully more manufacturers will use Toyota’s embarrassing ordeal as motivation to similarly re-examine the ergonomics of their future vehicles. After all, it’s clear that unintended acceleration is an issue that comes up again and again unless manufacturers go the extra mile to “idiot-proof” their cars.

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Livechat With Jeff Liker And Timothy Ogden, Authors Of “Toyota Under Fire” Tue, 19 Apr 2011 16:46:15 +0000

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Toyota Trials Start In 2013 Sun, 16 Jan 2011 16:14:19 +0000

The first of some 400 lawsuits pending against Toyota in the wake of the unintended acceleration scandal will go to trial by 2013, reports Bloomberg. U.S. District Judge James V. Selna has asked plaintiff lawyers to select “bellwether” cases from the hundreds of personal-injury, wrongful-death and economic-loss suits pending against Toyota to go to trial by 2013. Selna didn’t specify what types of cases would become bellwethers, cases which crystallize the case’s arguments and provide precedent for damages in other cases, but he did state that evidence discovery for them should be wrapped up in 2012. But before any of the federal trials open, there are still state-level trials to be heard. According to Bloomberg

Selna told the lawyers today that two state-court cases involving sudden-acceleration allegations are scheduled to go to trial in Texas in February and March of next year. Wylie Aitken, who is the attorney maintaining a liaison with state cases, said during a break in the hearing that both of those cases are personal injury claims.

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Toyota Whistleblower Dimitrios Biller Slapped With $2.6m Judgement Wed, 05 Jan 2011 23:08:12 +0000

The story of Dimitrios Biller has been one of the more colorful sideshows in last year’s media-scourging of Toyota, complete with a “book of secrets,” accusations of corporate criminality, counter-accusations of mental instability and a congressional pissing match. But with the Toyota media circus long gone, it now seems that l’affaire Biller was just another distraction from the mundane truth of the unintended acceleration scare. As the Detroit News reports, Biller and Toyota’s legal struggle is over… and Toyota, not Biller, is going to get paid.

Biller, a California attorney who worked at Toyota Motor Sales USA for four years, from 2003 to 2007, and Toyota had agreed to have their disputes settled by binding arbitration, which limits the grounds for appeal.

Biller had sued Toyota for defamation and fraud, while Toyota had sued him for violating confidentiality and severance agreements.

Gary Taylor, a retired judge serving as the arbitrator, concluded in a final award that Toyota should receive $2.5 million in damages from Biller for 10 disclosure violations, plus $100,000 in punitive damages.

“The evidence showed that Toyota suffered, and will continue to suffer, multiple harms from Mr. Biller’s contract breaches,” Judge Taylor wrote.

He also ordered Biller to return documents, including attorney-client documents, he’d taken from Toyota and allow the company to inspect his computers.

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Breaking: Toyota To End NHTSA Investigation With $32m Fine Tue, 21 Dec 2010 03:58:02 +0000

The AP [via Google] reports that Toyota’s board has voted to pay $32.4m on top of the $16.4 it already paid the US Department of Transportation in connection with its handling of several recalls. The first involved Toyota’s handling of gas-pedal entrapment by floormats in its vehicles that were part of the Unintended Acceleration scandal earlier this year. The other involved steering rods in certain 4Runners and T-100 pickups that were not recalled despite a 2004 Japanese market recall for the same parts on Hilux pickups.

In both cases, Toyota has agreed to pay the maximum fine, adjusted for inflation, giving Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cause for ebullience.Mr “Stop Driving Your Toyota” enthuses:

Safety is our top priority and we take our responsibility to protect consumers seriously. I am pleased that Toyota agreed to pay the maximum possible penalty and I expect Toyota to work cooperatively in the future to ensure consumers’ safety

Otherwise they can expect another run-in with the only Americans who can’t be sued for slander. Even though investigations by DOT and the National Academy of Sciences into the causes of Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas won’t release their conclusions until late next year. Still, Toyota is putting a pragmatic face on a fine that pales in comparison to its $3.58b first-half profit this year, saying

These agreements are an opportunity to turn the page to an even more constructive relationship with NHTSA

That’s the spirit!

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Lawsuit Alleges Toyota UA Coverup Fri, 29 Oct 2010 16:21:32 +0000

Bloomberg reports that a lawsuit accuses Toyota of a widespread coverup of unintended acceleration in its vehicles. The suit alleges that

“Toyota technicians” confirmed that vehicles were unexpectedly accelerating and the company bought back the vehicles, had customers sign confidentiality agreements and didn’t disclose the problems to regulators… In testimony about acceleration defects before Congress, Toyota Motor Corp. didn’t disclose that the technicians had replicated instances of sudden unintended acceleration not caused by pedals or mats… The company also didn’t report the customer agreements to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration… Toyota ordered employees to remove names of executives from acceleration related e-mails and to stop using specific acceleration terms in e-mails to prevent damage to the company in litigation

Toyota’s response:

Steven Curtis, a spokesman for Toyota’s U.S. sales arm in Torrance, California, said today in an e-mail that no technicians for the company or field specialists confirmed unintended acceleration in vehicles. He said the plaintiffs’ lawyers are referring to service technicians employed by dealerships, which are independent businesses… the claims are based on anecdotes and fail to identify any specific defects in the vehicles.

Plaintiffs claim that dealer techs are “agents of the company” and that vehicle repurchases and confidentiality agreements are proof positive of a coverup. Toyota admits that it investigated and repurchased two vehicles after dealer techs found “acceleration events,” but says its factory technicians were unable to replicate any problems. If this sounds like a complicated mess of he-said-she-said, consider that this suit is just one of 300 currently pending against the world’s largest automaker. The lawyers will probably be busy with this one for decades.

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Allstate Sues Toyota Over Unintended Acceleration Claims, More Insurance Suits Likely Tue, 05 Oct 2010 18:06:13 +0000

The day after Toyota announced that it still hasn’t found an electronic cause for unintended acceleration in its vehicles and that UA complaints are down 80%, Consumer Affairs reports that Allstate Insurance filed a $3m suit against the Japanese automaker, claiming it “essentially hid the problem.” The suit, filed in the Southern Californian district court that is hearing all UA-related suits against Toyota alleges

This has resulted in numerous claims of instances of property damage and injuries, including in some instances fatalities

Furthermore, the suit claims that it had to compensate UA-related claims because Toyota hadn’t fitted a brake-override to its vehicles, a feature that is not yet required by law. Toyota is adding brake-override to all of its 2011 models, but claims that Allstate’s charges “have no basis.”

Still, CA reckons other insurance firms are “likely” to follow Allstate’s example and add to the pile of civil suits that is stacking up against Toyota (estimated at as much as $10b in liabilities). And Allstate’s Christina Loznicka tells Moneycontrol

We are expected to be one of several insurance companies that are taking this action

Meanwhile, Toyota’s latest response to UA debacle is to put more Americans in leadership positions in the US, including the lead design spots for new versions of the Venza, Tundra and Avalon.

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Toyota Settles Saylor Crash Case Sat, 18 Sep 2010 16:54:45 +0000

Toyota and the families of four people who died when dealership loaner Lexus ES crashed after a reported unintended acceleration event, have settled out of court reports Bloomberg. The crash gained national attention and helped spur on the media frenzy around unintended acceleration in Toyotas. Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda had previously apologized to the family of the driver, Mark Saylor, during congressional testimony. Needless to say, Toyota is not disclosing the terms of its settlement, saying only that

Through mutual respect and cooperation we were able to resolve this matter without the need for litigation.

Considering it was a Lexus dealer who had put non-standard mats in the Saylor car, and had previously been warned that it had a sticky accelerator, Toyota’s willingness to settle seems driven more by PR considerations than liability.

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Toyota Admits To Black Box Reader Error But Insists It’s Not A Defect Tue, 14 Sep 2010 16:44:54 +0000
Toyota is admitting that its black-box recorder readers have an error that can cause erroneous speed readings, as demonstrated by a 2007 Tundra crash in which the black box indicated a 170 MPH crash speed.  Toyota R&D boss Takeshi Uchiyamada tells Automotive News [sub]
Toyota has acknowledged previously that the event data recorders are not accurate. We have been able to determine that there is no defect in the event data recorders… we have found that there was a software bug in the event data recorder readers that download data. The bug had to do with data that indicated speed
Though this is a far cry from the “ghost in the machine” that many seemed to think was causing Toyotas to run out of control, it does cast some doubt on NHTSA’s finding that brakes were not applied in “dozens” of cases… but not directly. After all, just because the black box readers misread recorded speeds doesn’t mean that none of their readings can be trusted.  Still, yet another problem with Toyota’s gear will only further cloud the appropriate conclusion from the Toyota Unintended Acceleration scandal: that driver error was the main cause of the frenzy. And because of Toyota’s strange pre-scandal black-box reader policies, this latest revelation only heightens the mystery surrounding what should be a fairly open-and-shut case.
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Toyota Studies Pedal Design Wed, 18 Aug 2010 14:53:13 +0000

I am looking under every rock and asking the question: Is there anything wrong or unusual about our pedals? We are continuing to look to see if there is something that we could do differently.

Toyota’s Steve St. Angelo tells the WSJ [sub] that Toyota is reviewing its pedal designs in search of a cause for its recent Unintended Acceleration scandal. Thus far, Toyota’s UA issues have been traced only to sticky pedals and floormat interference. Attempts to trace UA to malfunctioning throttle units have thus far been abortive, with a government research panel finding that brake misapplication occurred in many of the Toyota UA incidents.

And Toyota isn’t the only party studying pedal placement in Toyota vehicles. According to the WSJ

A few months ago, Consumer Reports began studying pedal designs in vehicles made by Toyota and others. The magazine measured the distance between the pedals and the floor as well as the position of the steering wheel and seats but so far hasn’t found anything unusual about Toyotas, said David Champion, the director of automotive testing.

St. Angelo echoes CR’s frustrations, saying nothing has yet jumped out as a potential cause for UA.

When I look at the data, it shows our pedals are right in the middle. They are plain and boring. Frankly, I was hoping that there would be something different, so I could solve the problem

Pedal misapplication has been blamed for the Audi UA scandal of the late 80s and early 90s, and Audi was forced to redesign its pedals in the aftermath of that scandal. But with Toyota and Consumer Reports unable to find any objective problem in Toyota’s pedal design, the hunt for a cause for Toyota’s UA issues remains inconclusive.

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Driver Freed In Minneapolis “Toyota Murder” Case Mon, 09 Aug 2010 21:34:22 +0000

Koua Fong Lee, who had spent over two years behind bars for his role in a collision that killed three people, was freed today when a judge vacated his sentence. The reason: ineffective legal counsel, and evidence that suggested Lee’s 1996 Toyota Camry could have been driving out of control. The Ramsey County (MN) prosecutor has decided against re-trying Lee, making him a free man. Meanwhile, the fact that 1996 Toyota Camrys have not been recalled for faulty brakes or throttle units leaves a huge question mark hanging over this case.

CNN explains the basic conflict in Lee’s trial thusly:

Lee was driving home from Sunday services with his pregnant wife, father, daughter, brother and niece. He told investigators that he pumped the brakes as he exited Interstate 94 in St. Paul, Minnesota, and approached an intersection, said his new lawyer, Brent Schafer.

But Ramsey County prosecutors said at trial that Lee had his foot on the gas as he approached cars waiting at a red light. The car was moving at 70 to 90 mph when it struck the other vehicles.

Experts from both the prosecution and the defense both inspected the vehicle in question during Lee’s 2007 trial, and found nothing wrong. Since then, Lee’s new lawyer explains that more information has come to light

We found out, actually, it was known back in 2006, not long after this accident occurred, that if you were to look at the brake filament, you would have been able to tell that the brake lamp was illuminated at the time of the impact, which basically was evidence in support of Koua’s story that the car was out of control and that he did everything to stop it. So, in fact, his foot was on the brake. That evidence was known prior to the trial. By looking at the filament, it was clear — and I don’t think any experts disagree with this — that the brakes were on at the point of impact.”

In addition, there was evidence at trial that this car did not have ABS brakes, which was a big part of the state’s case. Because there were no skid marks, they concluded Koua was not on the brakes, and that was simply false testimony and I think that was also a key issue that led to his conviction

Of course, criminal procedure is designed to prevent wrongful imprisonment, and surely nobody wishes to undermine the joy that Lee’s family must certainly be feeling right now, but if Lee is not guilty, one must assume that his car is. Given that 1996 Camry’s have no known record of unintended acceleration, that no recalls have taken place for issues related to unintended acceleration, and that Lee’s vehicle in particular was found to have no malfunctions, it’s obvious that the 1996 Toyota Camry is having the burden of proof shoved squarely on its shoulders.

Should Lee or the family of those who died in that terrible accident sue Toyota, this case will get a lot more interesting. In the meantime, it shows just how nebulous and yet far-reaching the idea of unintended acceleration has become… and how ill-prepared our justice system is to deal with it.

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Pedals For Dummies Wed, 04 Aug 2010 15:29:59 +0000

Imagine yourself going down the road with your foot on the brake pedal all the time. This is a Japanese inventor’s idea to stop driver error and unintended acceleration. To accelerate, you move your foot sideways against an accelerator bar. To brake, you stomp on the brake. A horrible thought – if you are a personal injury lawyer.

“We have a natural tendency to stomp down when we panic,” says the inventor, Masuyuki Naruse. What’s more, in an accident, you are very likely to accelerate, because of the impact. In the split second it takes to change from gas to conventional brake pedal,  with the new pedal, you are already braking.

There is little chance to hit the wrong pedal with the new setup.” When the pedal is pushed down, it always activates the brakes,” writes the New York Times.

Naruse developed the pedal 20 years ago, after he mistakenly stepped on the gas – as many others did, but often not admitted. Naruse did something about it. Natuse holds patents for the pedal in Japan, the United States and six other countries.

Naruse is not the only one who have designed a single pedal solution to prevent accidents caused by pedal misapplication. Regulators in Sweden are testing a single-pedal prototype by the inventor Sven Gustafsson.

Katsuya Matsunaga, an engineering and psychology specialist at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka City says: “Simply speaking, the conventional pedal setup, which forces drivers to switch back and forth between pedals, is dangerous.  Mr. Naruse’s pedal works because it takes into account how our bodies work. It makes sure that when we make a mistake, the car stops.”

According to Naruse, Toyota engineers tested a prototype in 2000, but did not like the design. In May, Naruse invited Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota, to try a Lexus sedan fitted with the latest version of his pedal. Mr. Naruse said he had received no response.

Tip of the Skype to you-know-who. 

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What’s Wrong With This Picture: Toyota Owners And Their Floormats Edition Fri, 23 Jul 2010 15:51:01 +0000

An anonymous Toyota Tech sent us these recent images of a 2008 Prius and its highly questionable pedal-floormat interface. Did nobody tell this guy that Toyota has had some problems with floormat pedal interference, and that there had been a recall? Did he somehow miss the months-long media frenzy? This is yet more proof that there is literally no way to completely prevent unintended acceleration, even if the problem has been identified and a recall has been issued. Remember folks, when it comes to cars only you can keep you safe.

Unintended Acceleration In Toyotas: The Ghost In The Data Fri, 16 Jul 2010 19:33:50 +0000

We didn’t make it down to the first meeting of the NHTSA-National Research Council panel tasked with studying unintended acceleration, but apparently we weren’t the only ones. A scan of the MSM confirms that a number of “more study is needed” stories were filed for the occasion, a good two weeks ago now, but we’ve been pointed towards the presentations for that meeting [available for download here, all 128 slides in PDF format here], and we feel comfortable drawing a few conclusions from them. In fact, we’d even argue that this data puts a lot of the controversy over unintended acceleration in Toyotas to rest.

As the slide above indicates, there have always been three possible outcomes to the hunt for a ghostly electronic problem with Toyota’s throttle control units: either there’s a problem, there’s not a problem, or there’s a weakness that can be learned from. Remember, NHTSA has already fined Toyota for a slow recall of sticky pedals… for this study, we’re looking at instances of electronic issues. So, have NHTSA and the NRC found anything that indicates any kind of problem?

On the face of it, they have. Looking at the Vehicle Owner Questionnaire reports filed in the NHTSA database, it’s clear that complaints of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyotas have increased massively since 2008. But one slide alone doesn’t tell the whole story… first we must look at how this data came about.

Starting with 426,911 complaints since 2000, NHTSA eventually narrowed down to UA complaints only, finding nearly 20k incidents, which were winnowed down by “manual review” to about 11,500 complaints. How thorough this “manual review” was is a crucial issue though, because Bertel has pointed out that NHTSA’s database counts a number of cases as “UA-related” even when the circumstances don’t seem to fit the diagnosis. Still, even assuming the data are all relatively kosher, you’re left with Toyota causing about 3,000 of the 11,500 cases of unintended acceleration. This is the first sign that the 2009-2010 data is being skewed.

Another way to look at the data: incidents per 100k units. Already we can see weakness in the claim that Toyotas are uniquely affected by some kind of mysterious problem: Volvo, a company built on its reputation for safety, has had nearly an identical rate of UA complaints per 100k vehicles.

After NHTSA and the NRC “manually reviewed” the complaints (theoretically winnowing out fraudulent claims), Toyota starts looking even better by comparison. Before October of 2009, Toyota’s UA complaints were on-par with GM and Chrysler, and actually lagged behind Ford. Only post October 2009, when the media-fueled scandal started to take off, did Toyota’s UA complaints start getting out of hand. So, what can we conclude from this?

Yes, even NHTSA admits that there’s a “publicity effect” going into the spike in Toyota UA complaints. Given that the rest of the data fail to provide a pattern of UA problems in Toyotas, media and lawyer frenzy are the only plausible explanations for the recent spike in complaints. But we’re not done yet… next, let’s look at these incidents and try to find out what’s going on.

This might just be the most significant slide in the entire string of presentations, as it proves that the overwhelming majority of Toyota UA complaints took place at low speeds (another slide shows that the majority took place in parking lots). Note that these are not the high-speed freeway terror events that the media so blithely latched onto at the height of the frenzy. The fact that nearly all of these complaints happened at low speed is yet another parallel to the Audi 5000 debacle.

Another major factor: age. Extremely young and extremely old drivers are far more likely to experience sudden unintended acceleration… on this basis alone, it should seem clear that driver error is a major factor in most UA cases. Taken with the fact that the majority of these cases took place at low speeds, in parking lots, and that most complaints have been filed since the scandal broke, and the picture becomes fairly clear: the recall has given a green light to complain about any kind of accident that involves a Toyota that is unable to stop. What any car could do that would make it impossible control under 15 miles per hour is difficult to imagine.

This having been said, if you break the data down to incidents involving Toyota Camrys, you do get some interesting results. The fifth-generation Camry’s rates are far lower than the sixth-generation, which is a difficult statistic to square with the publicity effect hypothesis… especially because this graph shows only data for pre-recall complaints.

Finally, the only other correlation to be made from the NHTSA-NRC data is that electronic throttle control does play into the rate of complaints, although because this graph is not weighted for the publicity effect, it’s far from conclusive.

The upshot? Flawed as it is from the get-go (due to its amplification of the publicity effect), the NHTSA VOQ data shows few patterns that indicate an underlying problem unique to Toyota vehicles. Within the subset of Toyota UA complaints, there are patterns pointing to electronic throttles and the Mk.VI Camry, but these (though intriguing) do not explain why complaints of UA in Toyotas have taken off in the last nine months. In fact, the data more broadly suggests that Toyota is one of several manufacturers with elevated levels of UA incidents, and most of those incidents occur in situations where nothing prevents full control of the vehicle and where “accidents” are generally higher.

NHTSA and the NRC should continue to look into UA, and should continue to look into the possible causes for elevated complaint levels about Toyota, Ford, GM, Chrysler and Volvo cars, but the search for a “ghost in the machine” that uniquely affects Toyota products is clearly headed nowhere fast. Don’t expect outcome #1 from the top slide to come about, and even coming up with something conclusive for an outcome #3 seems unlikely.

In his presentation on human factors in UA [in PDF here], Richard Compton, Director of the Office of Behavioral Safety Research estimates that there are 10b “opportunities” for pedal misapplication each day, and he cites research showing that “correcting” pedal misapplication usually makes the situation even worse. His conclusions?

This, in a nutshell, is what the whole Toyota unintended acceleration scandal is boiling down to: either pedal design or some other ergonomic issue makes UA more common, in which case the government can regulate it, or Americans are really becoming worse drivers and are always glad to have a convenient scapegoat for their ineptitude. As unsatisfying as these conclusions are, making peace with them is the only healthy choice at this point. Unless, of course, Government-run “behavioral training and adjustment” sounds like a practical solution to you.

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Questions Arise Over Toyota Black Box Study Thu, 15 Jul 2010 20:35:12 +0000

Carquestions noticed a troubling issue with the latest Wall Street Journal report on the investigation of Toyota’s black-box data: the report cites its anonymous source as saying that “black box” event data recorders (EDRs) can lose their data if disconnected from the battery. Carquestions points out that this is not the case, cites the appropriate regulations and concludes that it sounds like this source doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. Meanwhile, Jalopnik is running with the story that Toyota planted the story… but then, why would Toyota imply that its own black boxes don’t meet regulatory standards? Especially when Toyota’s official comment is that it has yet to draw any conclusions from the investigation. For a story with such a logical conclusion (yes, most people are bad drivers) this is all getting a bit complicated.

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