NHTSA Analysis Shows Driver Error Caused Most Toyota SUA Crashes
By Chris Haak
According to a report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, people familiar with an extensive analysis done by the Department of Transportation told the paper that the agency has found that in all of the crashes that it investigated, the accelerator was applied and the brakes were not. The DOT did not find any indication of electronic “gremlins” that had been suspected as a potential cause of the recalled Toyotas.
Though Toyota seems to be in the clear regarding any type of electronic glitches, the WSJ points out that the electronic exoneration does not extend to the issues for which millions of Toyotas were recalled. That is, the floor mat entrapment and sticky CTS-supplied accelerator pedals still are still issues that have to be addressed via recall repairs.
The NHTSA analyzed an unknown number of “black boxes” using the ten Toyota-provided reader devices. The company provided the readers to the NHTSA in March under public and congressional pressure to do so.
More than 3,000 sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) complaints about Toyotas and Lexuses have come into the agency, dating back to the early 1990s. Among those complaints are 75 fatal crashes and 93 deaths. However, the only crash that the NHTSA examined that could actually be blamed on the vehicle was the infamous August 28, 2009 crash of a Lexus ES dealership loaner in California that killed an off-duty police officer and many members of his family. That crash was blamed on accelerator pedal entrapment due to an ill-fitting all-weather floor mat installation.
The agency has not yet released any official findings on its research – hence the Journal’s need to speak with the mysterious “people familiar with the situation” – but it’s unclear what effect this news will have on the more than 100 lawsuits from individuals who claim their crashes were to be blamed on faulty electronics. It would seem that these suits have less prospect for plaintiff success today than they may have had yesterday. In one particular situation, a woman named Myrna Marseille of Kohler, Wisconsin claimed to have stood on the brake pedal of her Camry, only to watch it crash into a library. Her car’s event data recorder showed that the brake pedal was not applied, and surveillance video of her crash did not show the car’s brake lights illuminating until after impact. In other words, the surveillance video corroborated the black box’s story and disproved Ms. Marseille’s.
She’s sticking to her guns, though, and continuing to blame her car. And that’s just another illustration of the incredible mountain that Toyota has to climb to put this crisis behind it, from a legal perspective, and more importantly, from a public perception standpoint.