February 9, 2011

US Clears Toyota Electronics In Acceleration Deaths

The U.S. Department of Transportation released results of a ten-month study on Tuesday, which showed that electrical problems were not to blame for the unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles that prompted the automaker to recall some eight million cars.

"Toyota's problems were mechanical, not electrical," said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood as he announced the results of the investigation.

The study was "one of the most exhaustive, thorough, and intensive research efforts ever taken," said LaHood, who was joined by officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and NASA, who led the study.

The NHTSA initiated the investigation in March 2010 at the request of U.S. lawmakers, and asked NASA engineers with expertise in software and electronic to investigate consumer claims that Toyota's electronic systems may have played a role in reports of unintended acceleration of the vehicles linked to 89 deaths.

"NASA and NHTSA engineers stood side by side in this study to try to find the root cause of the problem"¦and found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations," said Michael Kirsch, principal engineer and team leader of the study, from the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) based at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA.

Rather, the probe found that two previously known mechanical faults were the sole causes of the problem.

The NASA engineers blamed a "sticking" accelerator pedal and jammed floor mats, as Toyota had originally determined, for the unintended acceleration.

The NASA investigators analyzed 280,000 lines of software code used to run Toyota's vehicles for electronics problems, and also looked at whether electromagnetic radiation might have been involved.

Although electronic problems could result in throttle openings of around five degrees, that would barely be felt if the vehicle was already in motion, the NASA engineers said.

Toyota has struggled to rebuild its reputation for safety following a number of widespread recalls affecting some 10 million vehicles worldwide during late 2009 and early 2010. 

The Japanese automaker has paid U.S. authorities nearly $50 million in penalties related to the recalls, and has tightened its recall policy to include roughly 16 million vehicles between late 2009 and January 2011.

Toyota said it was pleased with the "extensive review."

"We believe this rigorous scientific analysis by some of America's foremost engineers should further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles," said Steve St. Angelo, the company's chief quality officer for North America, in a statement.

St. Angelo said Toyota would continue "to cooperate fully with (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and respected outside experts in order to help ensure that our customers have the utmost confidence in the safety and reliability of our vehicles."

The NHTSA has said it plans to propose new regulations that would require brake override systems, standardized keyless ignition systems and event data recorders be put in all vehicles.

Shares of Toyota's stock soared 4.72 percent in Tokyo trading early Wednesday on positive earnings and the results of the investigation.


On the Net: