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Unintended acceleration is an ugly phrase to throw around in the automotive world after the scandal that involved Toyota in 2009 and 2010.
Toyota took a media beating over the last few years when the unintended acceleration phenomenon hit the news. And even though the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTHSA) has exonerated the Japanese automaker, former owners of Toyota vehicles are now suing for “pure economic loss” from all of the negative press.
Earlier this month, the Center for Automotive Safety (CAS) filed a petition with NHTSA regarding the Ford Escape’s unintended acceleration issue and now the safety group is calling for the American automaker to be fined.
Following the rash of alleged self-accelerating cars, U.S. regulators are calling for all automakers to make throttle override mechanisms standard equipment in every light vehicle.
This issue came to light after Toyota’s unintended acceleration case, which spurred NHTSA to begin looking into override technology in 2010.
Essentially, the required system would ensure that the brake will overpower the gas pedal when the two are applied simultaneously and bring the car to a stop. A 60-day comment period will be held to gauge public reaction, at the end of which NHTSA will review the proposal again.
The new mechanisms will help drivers feel safer behind the wheel, which is of course one of consumers top concerns. ”America’s drivers should feel confident that anytime they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles — especially in the event of an emergency,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Although many automakers have already taken a preemptive step and made this type of system available, the law would make it mandatory.
“By updating our safety standards, we’re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake,” LaHood said.
You can see the full NHTSA proposal here.
In response to a new report on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 program accusing Toyota of a cover-up of unintended acceleration issues with its cars, the Japanese automaker is fighting back.
In a statement released today Toyota commented that, “In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, CNN has irresponsibly aired a grossly inaccurate segment on Anderson Cooper 360 that attempts to resurrect the discredited, scientifically unproven allegation that there is a hidden defect in Toyota’s electronic throttle control system that can cause unintended acceleration.”
Toyota then goes on to document the exhaustive testing performed by NASA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Academy of Sciences, all of which, “have thoroughly debunked this worn-out fabrication.”
According to Toyota, the CNN story hinges on a document that the automaker claims has been improperly translated – a story CNN first ran in March of 2010. Furthermore, Toyota points out the much larger conflict of interest involved, namely that one of the main experts accusing Toyota had his research funded by legal firms with clients that are suing Toyota.
Toyota says the group of lawyers, “are continuing their efforts to manufacture controversy where none exists and have used CNN to support their narrow, self-serving agenda.”
In addition to these claims, the story also covers several reports of unintended acceleration, that Toyota describes as “unverified” and comments that for one complainant, Tanya Spotts, the car’s “Event Data Recorder” actually proves that the wrong pedal was applied and that proper application of the brakes only occurred when it was too late to prevent the crash. Toyota even goes on to comment that such improper application of the brake pedal is not unique to Toyota and that last year NHTSA received similar complains relating to twelve other automakers.
“Notwithstanding CNN’s irresponsible, inaccurate broadcast, we are gratified that Toyotas are once again widely recognized by leading independent evaluators as among the safest and most reliable in the world,” concludes the letter.
After almost a year since regulators closed Toyota’s unintended acceleration investigation, independent auto-safety firm Safety Research and Strategies announced Tuesday that a lawsuit has been filed in federal court requesting for the government to release internal records of said investigation.
According to Safety Research and Strategies, there is reason to believe that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration withheld documents and videos that suggest unintended acceleration incidents were caused by electronics systems rather than floor mats or driver error.
Concerned that evidence of electrical defects in Toyota vehicles have been ignored or concealed, the lawsuit demands all transcripts, recordings, photographs, and videotapes generated from two federal investigators that went to visit the home of senior government official, Joseph H. McClelland, who has experienced unintended acceleration in his 2003 Toyota Prius hybrid.
According to a sworn statement from Mr. McClelland, investigators came to visit his home on May 17th, and documented evidence of sudden acceleration during an accompanied test drive. Mr. McClelland claimed the car over-accelerated in three distinct occasions as electronic displays began to blink wildly. The investigators videotaped the events and inspected floormats to determine the cause. After the drive, the two investigators even connected a computer to the car to read software codes.
Mr. McClelland said, “[The investigators] generally seemed excited. They said they hadn’t seen a vehicle display this type of behavior before, capturing the information in real time, and they said this could be an important vehicle for the sudden accelerations and it might help put some pieces together.”
Ultimately, NHTSA did not follow up with the investigation since the agency believes it’s possible the vehicle’s age and high mileage (280,000 miles) could have been the cause of any number of issues.
Upon learning about McClelland’s incident and inquiry, Safety Research and Strategies co-founder Sean Kane requested for the documents pertaining the McClelland investigation. However, photos and videos were denied and Sean Kane only received six pages of the 22 page case file.
In regards to the lawsuit, Sean Kane explained, “This is all about transparency. This is an agency that selectively releases data that fits its narrative that electronics are not at fault in sudden acceleration.”
NHTSA responded that the agency had already carefully reviewed more than 40,000 complaints each year. There are no plans to reopen the unintended acceleration investigation.
[Source: The New York Times]
The National Highway Safety Traffic Administration (NHTSA) is pushing for a new rule that will standardized the time it takes for keyless ignitions to shutoff a vehicle to avoid accidents of unintended acceleration following the aftermath of Toyota‘s record recalls.
The accident that started Toyota’s recalls involved a 2009 Lexus ES350 that filled four people with part of the blame being pointed at the vehicle’s push-button control that required the driver to hold the button down for as long as three seconds in order to stop the engine.
The NHTSA is hoping to standardize the length of time for a push-button ignition to power down a vehicle in half-a-second and the proposed rule would cost less than $500,000 a year to implement. The issue at hand is the driver’s inability to stop a moving vehicle in a panic situation or drivers who unintentionally leave the vehicle in drive leading to vehicle rollaway. Another concern is carbon monoxide poisoning in an enclosed area when drivers leave the engine running when leaving the vehicle.
It can debated if Toyota’s unintended acceleration debacle in 2009 and 2010 can really be pinpointed on push-button ignitions and their delay in shutting off a vehicle. But any enhanced safety to compensate for human error in a panic situation is always welcomed.
[Source: Automotive News]
The first of these three new technologies is a rear camera multi-sensing system, which is Nissan’s result of evolving its Around View Monitor by adding Blind Spot and Lane Departure warnings with Moving Object Detection. Both Blind Spot and Lane Departure warnings have been integrated into Infiniti models in the past, but their Moving Object Detection is all new and set to come out next year. By using the rearview camera and a new image processing system, Moving Object Detection will do what its name says – detect objects and people, highlighting them with a red box while alerting the driver with audio and dashboard warnings. In the video, Nissan also shows off that it works with a front-mounted camera as well.
The next technology that Nissan previewed might have been taken as a slight jab to Toyota‘s misfortunes with drivers accidentally pushing the accelerator rather than the brake. Their Acceleration Suppression system will use the Around View cameras mounted in the bottom of the side mirrors to detect if a driver is pulling into a parking space. By observing the lines painted on the pavement, the system will also engage its front-sensing radar to determine if a wall or another stationary object is in front of the vehicle. By adding one and one together, the vehicle will know if the driver is unintentionally pushing the accelerator pedal rather than the brake and will automatically apply the brakes. Pretty neat.
Lastly, Nissan showed off what is called the Predictive Forward Collision system that uses a radar-based sensor located on the front bumper. The radar’s range has been extended to detect the second vehicle ahead by looking underneath the vehicle ahead of you. Through some calculations, the system will warn the driver if that vehicle doesn’t brake in time or if the driver in front of you swerves out of the way. Both audio and visual warnings will alert the driver of a possible collision and will even pretension the seat belts.
Check out the videos below, showcasing each of the new safety technologies.
Ford concealed documents pertaining to a case it won in 2010, according to a Florida judge who has thrown out its verdict.
In 2003, two people were injured in a 1991 Aerostar that suddenly accelerated into a telephone pole, seriously injuring them. The case went to court in 2010, and during the trial Ford argued that it was simply a driver error (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) that caused the minivan to crash. The jury voted in Ford’s favor.
But according to the plaintiff’s lawyer, Ford withheld documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that suggested the cruise control system, not the driver’s foot, did cause and was capable of causing sudden acceleration. Judge William T. Swigert handed the victory to the plaintiffs after he found out, stating that “had Ford disclosed them, the government would have discovered years ago that electronic failures of the cruise control system is a cause of sudden acceleration.”
Unsurprisingly, Ford disagrees. They plan to appeal the case.
[Source: New York Times]
Toyota will begin its first trial related to its sudden-acceleration issues in February 2013, says a U.S. District judge.
The first of the lawsuits will happen in federal court, and will pertain to a 2010 crash that killed two people in a 2008 Camry. The families of the victims are suing Toyota, alleging that a defect in the Camry allowed it to speed up even when the driver slammed on the brakes. Toyota should have included a brake override system, says the family’s lawyers.
Judge James V. Selna in Santa Ana, California is overseeing most of these federal lawsuits, and believes that the wrongful death case will test evidence and liability theories for other similar cases. In legal parlance, this is known as a bellwether case.
Since the fall of 2009, Toyota has recalled more than 20 million vehicles. According to an advisory panel appointed by the company, Toyota has not adopted enough change to address the slew of safety problems that have arisen over the past decade.
This issue lies within Toyota’s centralized decision-making that remains based in Japan, and a 60 page report recommended that the company align itself closer with U.S. safety regulators. While lingering damage to Toyota’s reputation still exists despite federal investigations that exonerated Toyota, the panel is still optimistic of Toyota’s future.
The report said Toyota should simplify the downloading of crash information from electronic data recorders, or black boxes, rather than using decoding devices that require frequent upgrades, the report said.
Toyota responded to its recalls, lawsuits and record federal fines of nearly $50 million by last year creating a North American executive panel with direct responsibility for regional business and operations.
Former U.S Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said, “They’re serious about wanting to reclaim their valued perch of premier leader in auto manufacturing. We’ll just have to see what the leadership does”.
According to the panel, the company should consider appointing one CEO for North American operations, since the decision-making process being centralized in Japan is hurting the company in North America.
“Toyota has become too big and distant from its customers,” Moritaka Yoshida, Toyota Chief Safety Technology Officer, said in October 2009. The report suggests Toyota has ground to cover with respect to restructuring its vehicle-safety management.
[Source: Automotive News]
The jury deliberated for two hours in a court on Long Island before voting in Toyota’s favor. The court case, which began on Monday, is the first one related to Toyota’s acceleration problems since the widespread recalls began in 2009.
The plaintiff, a doctor from Brooklyn, argued that the crash was caused by the design of either the floor mats or the electronic throttle system. Toyota countered that he simply pressed the gas pedal by mistake. Magistrate Judge E. Thomas Boyle refused to admit evidence related to the throttle system.
The plaintiff and his lawyers have not yet decided whether they are seeking an appeal.
This is the first case Toyota has defended in a long, long list of lawsuits filed relating to the unintended-acceleration issues. Thousands of owners are seeking damages related to vehicle damages, personal injuries, and even widespread depreciation. But for the company’s lawyers, this early victory for them is a good start.
Lawyers for a group of plaintiffs in the Toyota unintended acceleration case are challenging a NASA report that found the automaker was not at fault for the alleged issues that led to a massive recall of Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
The plaintiffs lawyers filed papers in a California court last week stating they intend to disprove the NASA report and show that Toyota is at fault. One filing by lawyer Steve Berman stated “Toyota asks this court to take judicial notice of findings and conclusions by NASA and NHTSA that are hotly disputed in this litigation. If this court took judicial notice of the disputed findings and conclusions, plaintiffs would be barred from challenging them in this litigation.” Among the points of contention were that NASA engineers only examined 280,000 out of 8 million lines of code, and a phenomenon known as “tin whiskers”, which have been known to interfere with commercial satellites.
If the case went to trial, it would not be until 2013.
[Source: Automotive News]
Earlier today DearCrissy.com broke a story that MommyNetworks.org had approached her site, as well as numerous other mommy bloggers, to cover the NASA study story and create a little positive PR for Toyota. In an email, Tiffany Lewis of MommyNetworks even offered a $10 Amazon gift card for those who cooperated.
The note also asked bloggers to promote several articles favorable to Toyota, with 32 links to articles listed.
The story got out of hand when DearCrissy assumed Toyota was sponsoring the offer and therefore trying to buy good PR. While assumptions should never be made, Crissy Page of DearCrissy didn’t exactly jump to a wild conclusion in stating that Toyota was funding the scheme. Why else would MommyNetworks be paying people to generate news?
MommyNetworks has since come clean in stating that it is in now way associated with Toyota and that the automaker isn’t funding the project. Likewise, Toyota has denied any affiliation, stating in a Tweet that, “Have found no contracted affiliation w/ mommynetworks. We don’t support this type of outreach. Getting to the bottom of this.”
The question remains, why was MommyNetworks trying to buy good PR for Toyota?