By on February 9, 2010

State Farm, the US’ largest automotive insurance company, began warning federal regulators in 2007 about unintended acceleration in Toyotas, the
Washington Post reports. Yet the National Highway Traffic Safety did not begin to act for more than a year after State Farm’s initial alerts. This
revelation follows by more than a decade the insurer’s warnings about Ford Explorer rollovers, which the Post reports led to a congressional
investigation, and legislation that “created an “early warning” system for auto safety.” But NHTSA apparently hasn’t been paying attention to the information it has collected. Randy Whitfield, a Maryland consultant, using data from NHTSA, two years ago determined that the 2007 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES 350 had excess injuries due to unexpected acceleration. State Farm insures more than 40 million customers.

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32 Comments on “State Farm Warned Regulators About Toyota Unintended Acceleration As Early As 2007...”

  • avatar
    John Horner

    For several decades the dominant voices in politics said that “government needs to get out of the way of free enterprise”. We are reaping what was sown.

    • 0 avatar

      In Haiti goverment is totally out of the way of the free enterprise. A 7 point earthquake killed 200K people. In the People’s Republic of California government regulates every minor thing in construction by onerous building codes. A 7 point earthquake in the Bay Area in late 90th killed 7 people. Some regulations do save lives.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      I’d be really surprised if deregulation had any identifiable effect on this. It seems much more like a textbook case of the inefficiency of large bureaucracies. I question whether anybody at the NHTSA felt that their job would be at stake if they didn’t handle this situation with the utmost expediency.

      (To ttacfan: I find it difficult to believe that you don’t understand how the endemic corruption of a country like Haiti is different from a system that’s “totally out of the way of the free enterprise”. It seems likely to me that you’re just being disingenuous to score political points.)

    • 0 avatar

      The government has hardly removed its oversight of the automobile business. There are still pages of regulations that cover virtually every aspect of motor vehicle design, not to mention the reporting of defects.

      The simple fact is that past experience has uniformly shown that “unintended acceleration” is the result of operator error. It was that way with the Audi 5000. Also note that, in the 1980s, Audi wasn’t the only manufacturer tarred with this particular type of complaint. The complaints about other manufacturers also turned out to be drivers mistaking the gas pedal for the brake pedal. Cars were not accelerating on their own.

      This time it appears as though it is different. There really is a problem, although one should note that NO ONE has shown that proper application of the brake pedal fails to stop the vehicle.

      This is a turning point for Toyota. The firm’s vehicles aren’t exciting, but they have been reliable. Even more importantly, Toyota has exuded an aura of competence and willingness to put quality ahead of cost. That aura is being shredded on a daily basis.

      If the federal government is guilty of anything, it is following the conventional wisdom on two points – one, that unintended acceleration is the result of driver error, and two, this sort of quality glitch doesn’t happen with Toyotas.

      As for the Haiti example – the recent earthquake disaster proves that government-backed corruption is bad for the average person. The Haitian economy is about as far away from the free-enterprise model as a country can get, except, perhaps, for Cuba and North Korea.

      A little free enterprise is desperately what Haiti needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      “NO ONE has shown that proper application of the brake pedal fails to stop the vehicle”

      The problem is that people panic. That’s why emergency brake assist is being added to new models: people don’t respond well in panic situations.

      If I experienced unintended acceleration in my (non-Toyota) vehicle, the first thing I’d do would be to put the transmission into Neutral. I know from experience that this works as I’ve accidentally done this once or twice while using the manumatic shifter. Please don’t tell the Acura warranty department on me! :-)

      Most people don’t plan ahead for an emergency situation, though. Driving happens on autopilot, and whether the situation is unintended acceleration or another driver behaving erratically, many drivers find themselves without an “out” when they ought to have one.

    • 0 avatar

      NHTSA had a fiscal year 1997 budget of a bit more than $300M. In about 2007, the budget was about $851M. That’s more than doubled. It appears that NHTSA was supported well.

    • 0 avatar

      How many people died in the earthquake in china a few years ago? 69 thousand dead, another 18 thousand missing and presumed dead. Mostly blamed on poor construction.

      There is a problem. There have been recalls. Why has complaints about Toyota’s having this problem been so far ahead of everyone else? Why is an independent insurance company seeing this problem and reporting it years before this was a popular topic? Why does the NHTSA site have 41% of the UA complaints going to Toyota when they sell about 16% of cars (2007-2008).

      It is a problem. People have died. Different actions from the operator could have made a difference, a car without this defect would have also made a difference.

    • 0 avatar

      Steven02: There is a problem. There have been recalls. Why has complaints about Toyota’s having this problem been so far ahead of everyone else?

      Where did I post that there aren’t any problems with Toyotas?

      I specifically said that IN THE PAST, unintendend acceleration was caused by driver error. The driver stepped on the wrong pedal. Prior to the Toyota recall, there was no proof whatsover that unintended acceleration was caused by anything other than the driver stepping on the wrong pedal. That is why the government probably didn’t give much credence to these complaints, not because everyone had decided to let the free market run amok.

      Incidentally, your link contains these paragraphs:

      Toyota’s unintended acceleration problem just won’t go away. Now Consumer Reports takes a look at complaints of unintended acceleration from owners of 2008 models. And the publication found that 41 percent of the complaints, filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, came from Toyota owners.

      Given all the attention Toyota has been getting for the unintended acceleration issue, that statistic is not surprising. But what was surprising was that Ford had 28 percent of the complaints.(emphasis added)

      “What really stood out to me is – and this isn’t I guess surprising — that Toyota is not the only one that has these problems,” said Jeff Bartlett, deputy online autos editor for Consumer Reports. “I know a lot of attention has been on Toyota and whatever the causes are and they may be unique to their product, but they are not unique in having these types of problems.” (emphasis added)

      So it looks as though the case isn’t as clear cut as originally thought…

    • 0 avatar

      This is not a case of government getting in the way of free enterprise. Free enterprise stepped forward and brought a problem to the government’s attention. If there was a failure here, it’s with the government. It was too slow to react. The government has failed again, so let’s have more of it? The free market worked. Government failed.

  • avatar

    The early warning system is known as the TREAD Act which requires a lot of reporting to NHTSA from global OEMs and suppliers…

    A goal of this legislation was to use require OEM’s to submit info from other markets in which a safety issue had been discovered (and see if it applied to similar vehicles sold in the US market), and to allow NHTSA to move quicker on an issue than would be possible if NHTSA had to wait for a failure mode to develop in the US (this came directly from early failures of Firestone-equipped Explorers doing a header in South America and the Middle East being known to Ford but not reported thru to NHTSA because it was not required.)

    What is the point or effectiveness of TREAD, if it doesn’t result in actionable intelligence? Why are inputs from competent 3rd parties (seemingly) given short shrift?

    As I asked in the other posting: “What tools, methods, and mentality (impartiality and bias for action) are in place at StateFarm, but are seemingly missing at NHTSA? (JohnHorner has provided part of the puzzle in his comment above.)

    • 0 avatar


      I believe the answer to your question is very simple: State Farm paid claims because of this engineering mistake. Since government employees are not impacted by the same levels of accountability (pay cuts, bonuses, being fired, etc.), there is no systemic check on incompetence or dereliction of duty.

      I used to work for a company run in this manner. We’d joke that unless you grabbed someone’s ass or stole from the company, you couldn’t get fired. Poor performers stuck around and in some cases got promoted, on the job performance kept taking hits and customer complaints increased.

      This management philosophy does no one any favors.

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you, Robert. Perhaps someone up D.C. way will revisit the TREAD Act and grill NHTSA about disregarding credible 3rd party sources. I hope IIHS & HLDI are included in the discussion, as they would seem the best sources of insurance company data for NHTSA.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m also wondering what NHTSA could learn by studying the NTSB play book…

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Sounds like the NHTSA is asleep at the switch, or being greased. The SEC ignored allegations about Bernie Madoff for 10-years while he stole billions.

    Fire somebody!

  • avatar

    This is really getting ugly to the point that I’m beginning to wonder if Toyota will ever recover. I used to think that after this passed it would be business as ususal for them as they got past their problems and the cars became (relatively) reliable again. But now I wonder… it’s not the recalls, or the number of cars involved, but the emerging picture of a disregard by Toyota and NHSTA for what customers and others were trying to tell them, and even a possible coverup and conflict of interest on the part of Toyota. This will not be easy to recover from.

  • avatar

    I hear those conspiracy theories crumbling away.

    • 0 avatar
      Telegraph Road

      Never underestimate the ability of Americans to find a political conspiracy where none exists.

    • 0 avatar

      Wait, wait, I know! The NHTSA didn’t force Toyota to fix the problems for all these years so that it would build up into a critical mass and the sudden flood of exposure would topple them and restore Buick and Chevrolet to their rightful place as the king of docile middle-class reliable commuter sedans just as the newly elected U.S. government, in league with the nefarious collectivists found themselves in possession of a nationalized industry. ¡Viva la revolución!

    • 0 avatar

      I’m sure there will be some theories, but I’ll stick with simple incompetence and good old fashioned ambivalence as the first culprits.

  • avatar

    I’m confused. Do you want big government out of the way so free enterprise can keep lying and hidding safety issues? Because no matter how anyone spins this, Toyota knew that there was a problem before Statefarm and the NHTSA. Their motive not to investigate this was pure greed. Everyone has a different view on how they want the government to operate, but take away regulation and your free market ideology will explode in your face. Like someone said here before, regulation is not a bad thing. The NHTSA may have acted slowly, but just imagine if they weren’t around to act at all. The story would still be human error and floor mats.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. If anyone tends to think that Toyota does not obfuscate and foot-drag, one needs to ask oneself why Toyota has for quite sometime had only one “prototype” device, in the U.S., for reading vehicle event data, and a) will not replicate the device, nor make it generally available, until required by law, and b) declines to use the device to aid in accident investigation without anything short of a court-order. And then portrays this as providing access to this on a case-by-case basis…

    • 0 avatar
      Brian E

      I don’t think anyone other than the strawman you’ve invented is suggesting that government “get out of the way”. I personally want the government to focus on doing the jobs it needs to do (like product safety regulation) effectively and with a minimum of waste, and not do the things it oughtn’t be doing (like running GM). This isn’t about being pro-government or anti-government at all.

  • avatar

    We never knew the truth, perhaps the NHTSA officials had been rewarded with whatever to keep the mouth shut, in the end paper cannot contain a real fire, the sh*t hit the fan.
    Toyota has to pay the piper who plays the tune in a real hefty way.
    Why they had to recall 5 yrs old cars ? That means they have had knowledge of it for a long time.
    Not sure in other culture, the sooner u admit to fault the sooner people will forget. ANy form of cover up wil back fire in a big way.
    Can go back time when Tricky Dick Nixon, if he had dealt with it sooner & more forthwith, he would still be the Presidente till his term expired.

    Now what will be the true costs to Toyota, only God knows though.

    At least now will cut some slack to the D3 , allow them some more breathing room.

    • 0 avatar

      “Why they had to recall 5 yrs old cars? That means they have had knowledge of it for a long time.” – blowfish

      Would you mind explaining that? Recalling older cars means that they are possibly affected by the defect, nothing more.

      I won’t even bother with your NHTSA payoff theory.

    • 0 avatar

      Why 5 year cars being recalled?

      Quite simple and nearly OTTMCO.


      – OEM’s rarely introduce a new technology as a step-change; preferring to introduce it over time (this is also due to:
      a) there being a cadence in new vehicle development and launches, and
      b) the cost of the new technology becoming cheaper overtime and thus being introduced into the wider-part of an OEM’s portfolio);

      – a 5 year old car may very well represent the “spear’s tip” (or a 2nd-step broader application) of a newly introduced technology;

      – some flaws take time to present, waiting until either:
      a) a flaw- or cyclicly-sensitive flaw identifies itself, or
      b) enough units containing the flaw reach the market that a pattern begins to emerge, and
      c) a combo of a&b.

      Then, after 5 years, when an incontrovertible body of evidence accumulates, one recalls and remediates the entire population of vehicles.

  • avatar

    I just saw LaHood being interviewed tonight on the evening news. They asked him if the NHTSA is in any way partly responsible for not pursuing this earlier and therefore causing deaths. He completely avoided the question and instead responded that Toyota was doing something BECAUSE the NHTSA held their feet to the fire.

    • 0 avatar

      LaHood doubletalking his way around a thorny question? I expected nothing more from a purveyor of FUD.

      Someone needs to dig into NHSTA’s involvement in this and other matters. They come off more like the FAA than the NTSB, which isn’t a good thing.

    • 0 avatar

      LaHood did the same “feet to the fire” dance in front of George Stephanopoulos this morning, when asked why the NHTSA didn’t do something 6 years ago, when the first reports came in. I lost some respect for George when he let him off the hook and moved on to another question. Why are all these reporters letting him get away with this? Why isn’t the NHTSA admitting it made a mistake, and saying they will investigate and correct it?

  • avatar

    If NHSTA’s house gets a good examination, I have to believe someone will find a walk-in closet full of skeletons.

    Why is it that auto manufacturer’s have a long and glorious history of being able to tap dance their way out of all but the most serious defects?

    Why is it that instead of truly fixing the underlying problem, we have to settle for the automaker expending the least amount of effort they can to mitigate the problem just barely enough to squeak by?

  • avatar

    Id like to know…

    Why should I trust State FARM?
    They stand behind a group like IIHS and expects us all to drive “better cars”.. so they can judge us on what THEY think is safer and bill us accordingly.

    I call this a matter of talking out of both sides of their mouths.

    • 0 avatar

      NHTSA apparently didn’t pay attention to information submitted by State Farm (and possibly other insurers) and information NHTSA collected itself. Other than LaHood’s claims, I don’t see what any of that has to do with anyone talking out of both sides of their mouths.

    • 0 avatar

      Id like to know a coupla things.

      1. IF State Farm did find these issues going back 3 yrs why didnt NHTSA take care of this THEN?!

      2. I don’t think the info that State Farm did find is any “unique information”, at least not unique enough that the other insurers couldn’t find it also.

      3. THEN Lahood seems to be shoving his foot deep into his mouth lately.. which I don’t get for a govt run safety organization (here come the govt jokes).

      4. On top of.. I don’t trust State Farm or any other insurer as far as I can throw them, These yahoos are “supposed” to be protecting our worst nature.. (albiet grouped together inside the IIHS).

      5. In the end, State Farm AND Lahood’s agency is dropping the ball. How do ya expect safety OF ANY KIND through an agency that overlooks safety on a company that RECENTLY is getting its ass handed to it, ntm could BE hiding much deeper safety issues. It just brings a massive amount of distrust through the insurer and the govt.

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