By on July 15, 2010

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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26 Comments on “Questions Arise Over Toyota Black Box Study...”

  • avatar

    I have been to driving school. My daughter has been to racing school. We both still make mistakes on the road. Fortunately, as we both drive very high performance automobiles, we haven’t made too many.

  • avatar

    Wasn’t part of the original problem that Toyota was extracting information from crashes but not sharing it in the first place? I was a bit suspicious about what data they were gathering and why everyone was coming to conclusions without asking for it.

    Now the WSJ puts out an article that is supposed to be based on this data. Did Toyota ever report their findings to anyone (other than the Journal)?

  • avatar

    Ok, I’ve been accused, in other threads, of siding with ABC and Gilbert (or UAW/CAU, or them nasty little ECU re-wirers from Mars?), of beating a dead horse, of ‘jumping the shark’ (people, please look up the meaning of this expression before you use it interchangeably with ‘jumping the gun’). Anyways…

    1. The WSJ article is worth dick. Factually, it only repeats the earlier official statement from the NHTSA team, supplementing that with references to some anonymous sources. What the heck do you need those anonymous sources for, if you’ve got the official ones? Yes, they haven’t found anything yet. Yes, the investigation is ongoing. Yes, they’ve processed ‘dozens’ of those black boxes. Maybe they’ll need to sort through hundreds or even thousands of those before a conclusion can be drawn, did you think of this?

    2. Gilbert’s demonstration, again, was a proof of concept (do I need to use all caps here?) Like, say, providing a proof of concept in computer security, the demonstration does not have to be fully realistic. E.g., one can demonstrate an exploit of a security flaw without showing how exactly the trojan is delivered to, and activated on the system. That is why neither Gilbert nor ABC ever claimed that they had found the proverbial ghost. Their only claim was that it was possible for a car to accelerate uncontrollably, with the ECU knowing nothing about this. Now, Gilbert was paid by the plaintiff in a Toyota case, yes. Exponent is getting paid by Toyota, the defendant. Trust them both or distrust them both, that’s what being objective means here. Sorry, but just attacking Gilbert’s demonstration over and over again – this is what beating a dead horse really is.

  • avatar

    Are the regulations for standards for “black boxes” in effect? I thought part of the problem was that they are not to go into effect for a couple of years?
    If the regulations about black boxes aren’t in effect, then how can Toyota be held to the standards?

  • avatar

    I believe an observant self-aware of self and environment human critter possessing a rational mind and a modicum of logic can look around at the human herd infesting the roadways and conclude that a frighteningly large percentage of drivers possess sub-par driving skills.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    “Meanwhile, Jalopnik is running with the story that Toyota planted the story…”

    It’s not just Jalopnik. Your readers may want to Google it if they want to learn more about it.

    • 0 avatar

      What should we learn about?

      That an NHTSA anonymous tipster told Just Auto that the anonymous WSJ tipster was from Toyota?

      We have one anonymous tipster talking about another anonymous tipster.

      Worse there’s no logic in this…

      Why would this NHTSA tipster know that Toyota “planted” the story at the WSJ? Why would a civil servant know where the source of a major news publication is from? Especially if this source is from a private company as this individual claims?

      In fact, if the quote is a real, it merely shows how out for Toyota that the NHTSA is. But it absolutely serves as no evidence that evidence was ‘planted’.

    • 0 avatar

      The source is a secretary within Media Relations at the DOT

    • 0 avatar

      Has the source been identified?

      Even if she has, if she doesn’t work at the WSJ, I’m still a little confused as to why she would *knows EXACTLY WHERE a WSJ source came from. Think for a moment about the fact that these are two completely different organizations.

      Do they share a cafeteria or something?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not just Jalopnik? How perceptive. Very few sites research their own stories. Most just cut, steal, and paste. A Google search for the exact headline of this article produced 326 hits so far.

  • avatar

    I can understand how I driver might confuse the gas and the brake. But for how long? Two or three seconds? O.M.G my FOOT is on the GAS!

    I just can’t get my head around, how someone could drive out of control for minutes.

    • 0 avatar

      If they are hitting the brakes to begin with they were likely approaching something that they wanted to stop from.

      You can also travel very far in 2-3 seconds, so instead of reducing speed you are increasing speed into an object which you intended to brake from.

      We know of incidents where people swear on their lives that they braked, but when you look at the surveillance footage they clearly sped up and the brake lights only come on after the collision.

    • 0 avatar

      The elderly do generally have slowed reaction times. The scariest test drives I have ever been on haven’t been with the 18 year olds who want to test out just how fast a Mustang GT can accelerate, or how fast they can take a corner, but with the elderly folks who clearly have no idea what is going on around them on the road. I’ve had old driver’s pull out right in front of big trucks and not bother to accelerate, drive the entire test drive route straddled between two lanes, and run right through red lights and stop signs without ever acknowledging they were there.

    • 0 avatar

      You would be surprised how many people—mostly older—drive two footed and make that mistake often. You’d also be surprised to hear how many people, in a panic, just lock up and stomp blindly, close their eyes and/or freeze.

      Perhaps “be surprised” is the wrong word. “Be amused” or “disheartened” might be more accurate.

  • avatar

    News update – The source is a secretary within Media Relations at the DOT

  • avatar

    From Autoblog, which has some pretty good coverage of this:

    UPDATE: A NHTSA spokesperson has confirmed that the agency hasn’t released any information to the WSJ, but declined to comment if Toyota has gained advanced access to the agency’s findings.

    UPDATE 2: A report by the Detroit Free Press quotes NHTSA Administrator David Strickland as saying that the agency has “several more months of work” to complete before it can definitively come to a conclusion on the cause of unintended acceleration.

    UPDATE 3: We’ve asked Toyota’s National Manager for Environmental, Quality, and Safety Communications, John Hanson, if NHTSA has been supplying information to Toyota on its investigation. His response: “It’s been a one-way valve [to NHTSA]. We’ve been supplying information and sending it to NHTSA. We are not aware of any study. We are not aware of any report. We’ve been compiling our own field reports on unintended acceleration and as we investigate them, we send them to NHTSA. The WSJ report was news to us.”

    Enough of this! My head is starting to hurt!

    Seriously, *IF* the planting of the story is true (see, I don’t jump to conclusions – it must be electronic gremlins! No, it’s stupid old drivers!) then it only makes Toyota look guilty to be over-zealously pushing a favorable news story before it’s officially released, and raises further questions their integrity.

    Well I don’t know which it is, but this latest news is not good for Toyota.

  • avatar

    Oh what a tangled web we weave.

  • avatar

    I work on instrument clusters, which do not serve as the “black box” we’re thinking of.

    We are required to store the trip odometer – yes, the one you reset with the push of a button – in Non-Volatile Memory (NVM). Meaning, if you disconnect your battery, the cluster will “remember” your trip odometer.

    If you disconnect your battery, I won’t speak for every car maker, but most of your radios will lose their presets and you will have to reprogram them.

    Now if something as silly as your trip odo is required to be stored in NVM, wouldn’t your “black box” data?

    The WSJ report that your “black box” would lose its data upon battery disconnect is simply ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar

      Not all radios forget their presets. The (stock) radio in my 1998 Dodge Caravan remembers its presets, even if you have the battery disconnected overnight.

    • 0 avatar

      There is an issue of the life cycle of the non volatile memory – it will only work for a number of cycles. For a black box recording values – the memory could be storing for a number of cycles exceeding its life (think of how many changes of speed, brake application, throttle application occur during the lifetime of an automobile). This problem can be solved but it is an issue that has to be dealt with in the design.

      Some devices (radios) can retain their settings by using capacitors to supply power for periods of time to volatile memory when the primary power source is disconnected.

  • avatar

    My name is Diana and I would like to share my story. On June 30th 2010 I had a very scary thing happen to me. The accelerator on my van was stuck. No matter how hard I tried, the van wouldn’t stop, until it plowed into our garage and house. I have contacted Toyota and they have informed me that there is no recall on any of the 2007 Toyota Siennas. This really upsets me to think that there are many families that are driving these vehicles whose very life could be in great danger. This problem came on suddenly and without any warning. Please review my story so that no other family has to go through this terrible trauma. I do have pictures of the damage and the vehicle is still crammed into the house and garage. Please contact me if you have any questions or would like to come out and take a look at all the damage the van did to our house. I am not looking for any publicity for myself or my family. I just want other family’s to be aware of the situation.

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