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New Nissan Safety System Could Reduce Unintended Acceleration Crashes

System aims to prevent inadvertent pedal misapplication.

by on Oct.16, 2012

Nissan's system can help prevent pedal misapplication in a parking lot by spotting potential obstacles.

There’ve been a lot of headlines written about so-called “Unintended Acceleration” in recent years. And there’s little doubt that there have been some legitimate problems leading to runaway cars, including the jammed carpets and sticky throttles that led Toyota to recall millions of vehicles since 2009.

But one thing that safety investigators have also seen, over and over, is the likelihood that a significant number of supposed runaway car incidents are actually caused by driver error, most often when a motorist reaches for the brake but punches the throttle, instead.

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A new system being introduced by Nissan could help reduce the likelihood of such situations – especially in parking lots or garages where there is little time to recover from a pedal misapplication.

The technology goes by the ungainly Emergency Assist for Pedal Misapplication with Carpark Detection Function, a name that doesn’t even lend itself to an elegant acronym – unless Nissan has found one in Japanese.  But the name doesn’t matter if the new system works.


NHTSA Calls for Brake-Throttle Override Systems

Technology could avert many unintended acceleration crashes.

by on Apr.13, 2012

NHTSA plans to require a brake-throttle override system.

Federal safety regulators want to enact new rules requiring manufacturers to install brake-throttle override systems designed to cut power to the engine if a motorist inadvertently hits both pedals at the same time.

The proposed update by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – which still require a 60-day period for comment – was triggered by an increasing body of research revealing that driver error, rather than automotive defects, are responsible for a large share of so-called unintended acceleration crashes.

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One of the most notorious incidents occurred in 2003 when an 86-year old driver misapplied the pedals and plowed through an open market in San Diego, killing 10 and injuring 63 others. More recently, Toyota recalled millions of vehicles in 2009 and 2010 due to unintended acceleration issues. Some were linked to a pair of potential defects.  But a pair of recent studies blamed driver error involving misuse of pedals for a large number of incidents involving the Japanese maker’s products.


Unintended Acceleration Study Blames Older Women Drivers

Problem also common among those under 20.

by on Apr.13, 2012

Misuse of the brake and gas pedals has been linked to an epidemic of accidents.

When the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year ruled out the likelihood of unknown electronic gremlins causing so-called unintended acceleration problems with Toyota vehicles researchers instead suggested that driver error was largely to blame.

A new study echoes the likelihood that drivers may hit the throttle when intending to reach for the brake – while also say the majority of such accidents involve older women and occur primarily in parking lots.  But the report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also points the finger at drivers under 20.

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Particularly striking is the finding that nearly two-thirds of the drivers involved in accidents involving the misuse of the gas pedal are female. In all motor vehicles crashes, nearly two in three drivers are male, NHTSA reports.

“The most consistent finding across data sources was the striking overrepresentation of females in pedal misapplication crashes, relative to their involvement in all types of crashes,” the study’s authors declared in an executive summary.  “Females were the drivers in nearly two-thirds of the pedal misapplication crashes” included in the study.


Toyota Wins Key Court Case

Maker still faces serious legal battles.

by on Apr.04, 2011

Toyota has emerged victorious from a key court battle in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York, which may be an early indicator of the strength of legal theories behind current unintended acceleration claims against the company.

After deliberating for approximately 45 minutes, a jury delivered a verdict in favor of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. in an alleged unintended acceleration case brought by Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla, who claimed that an unsecured driver’s side floor mat was the primary cause of the crash of his Scion vehicle in August 2005.

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During the course of the week-long trial, Dr. Sitafalwalla’s primary expert, Dr. Anthony Storace, withdrew his assertion that the Electronic Throttle Control System in the Scion could also have been a cause of the accident based on his acknowledgment that he had no basis to support that claim.

Instead, the jury sided with Toyota’s lawyer’s blaming the accident on driver error, which is the most often reason cited by manufacturers for unintended acceleration incidents.


Management Shake-Up Coming at Toyota

Major reduction planned for board and senior executive ranks, say reports.

by on Feb.15, 2011

Toyota may slash its upper management ranks.

In the wake of a year of crisis that saw the Japanese giant pay record fines to the U.S. government, recall 11 million vehicles and face the wrath of Congress, Toyota is reportedly planning a major shake-up in its senior management roles.

The maker to reduce the size of board of directors by nearly 40%, from 27 members to 17, according to various sources.  Toyota also will make sharp cuts in the number of managing directors, executive directors and possibly other senior positions.

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The move appears to be motivated by a variety of factors: first, to make the company more lean and nimble and speed up the decision-making process.  Toyota paid a record $48.8 million in fines levied by U.S. regulators, last year, because of delays in responding to safety defects.  Insiders blame that, at least in part, to the company’s oversized bureaucracy.

But the cuts may also be part of a strategy by Toyota President Akio Toyoda – grandson of the company founder – to purge powerful elements within the automaker’s upper ranks that had resisted his policies.


Toyota Recalling Another 1.5 Million Vehicles

Leaky brakes and faulty fuel pumps blamed.

by on Oct.21, 2010

About 740,000 vehicles sold in the U.S., including this 2006 Toyota Avalon, are included in the recall.

Problems with leaky brake lines and faulty fuel pumps have led Toyota Motor Co. to announce the recall of 1.53 million vehicles worldwide.

The latest safety problems come as a severe setback to a company where a senior U.S. official had, only a week before suggested that Toyota had finally put its problems “behind us,” and was working to rebuild its reputation for building high-quality, safe and reliable vehicles.

In all, the maker now has recalled more than 10 million vehicles worldwide, starting with an October 2010 callback – the first of two – to address a so-called “sudden acceleration” problem that could cause the maker’s vehicles to unexpectedly race out of control.

In all, about 740,000 vehicles will be recalled in the U.S., under the latest safety action, due to a leaky master brake cylinder.  As fluid slowly leaks out it can cause the brake warning light on the dashboard to illuminate, the company said.

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The latest recall involves a variety of models sold in the U.S., including: the 2005 and 2006 Avalon, 2004 through 2006 non-hybrid Highlander and Lexus RX330, and 2006 Lexus GS300, IS250, and IS350.

Customers will be notified in the coming weeks and asked to bring their vehicles back to Toyota or Lexus dealers for no-cost repairs.


Walking More Dangerous Than Driving Unrepaired Toyota, Expert Testifies

Washington panel told risk of sudden acceleration fatalities extremely low.

by on Oct.12, 2010

You're safer driving a recalled Toyota than walking, according to testimony to the NAS, anyway.

Mile per mile, you’re far more likely to die simply going for a walk than driving a recalled Toyota model that hasn’t been repaired, a key witness testified during hearings in Washington.

And the likelihood is even lower if the vehicle has been repaired, said Prof. Paul Fischbeck, of Carnegie Mellon University, during a hearing by the National Academy of Sciences.

The NAS is one of the groups that has been charged by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) with investigating the sudden acceleration crisis that began when Toyota announced the first of two recalls one year ago this month.

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Since then, the maker says, it has made repairs to 3.7 million of the 6 million vehicles covered by those two recalls – one to deal with the possibility loose carpets and mats could jam the throttle pedal, the other because of sticky accelerators – about 62%.  That’s roughly in line with what most manufacturers experience when they issue a safety recall, though the maker has expressed its goal of repairing every possible vehicle involved in the sudden acceleration problem.


Is Toyota Getting A Bum Rap On Sudden Acceleration?

Preliminary research by federal regulators points to driver error, not defects in most cases.

by on Jul.14, 2010

Preliminary DoT studies of Toyota "black boxes" suggest many, if not most, sudden acceleration accidents could be the result of driver error.

Has Toyota gotten a bum rap on sudden acceleration?

Since last October, Toyota has recalled more than millions of vehicles in the U.S. alone.  While the problems cover a vast array of issues, from excessive corrosion to faulty stability control systems, the vast majority are involved in a pair of recalls designed to fix problems that could cause Toyota vehicles to suddenly race out of control against the driver’s will.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received hundreds of complaints and the issue, involving Toyota products, has been linked to scores of deaths, hundreds of injuries and even more accidents.  Concerns about the issue – and allegations of a cover-up by senior Toyota executives – led to contentious hearings on Capitol Hill, last February, as well as a record $16.4 million fine levied by the Department of Transportation against Toyota.

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Yet DoT researchers may wind up being the best friend Toyota has right now.  They have so far analyzed dozens of data recorders, the so-called “black boxes” – taken from Toyota vehicles involved in apparent sudden acceleration crashes.  Though NHTSA won’t officially comment, the Wall Street Journal claims its sources reveal that preliminary results show the vast majority of the incidents were caused by driver error, not by vehicle defects.


Honda to Install Brake-Override on All Models

Maker hopes to prevent runaway problems similar to Toyota’s.

by on May.27, 2010

Starting in August, Honda will begin installing brake-override systems in all of its vehicles, a process it hopes to complete late in 2011.

Honda Motor Co. says it will install a brake-override system on all of its product lines, starting this year, in an effort to prevent the sort of sudden acceleration problems that have plagued its arch-rival, Toyota.

The technology is designed to disengage the engine when the brake pedal is applied, making it possible to bring a vehicle to a halt in the event the engine unexpectedly begins to race out of control.

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Most Toyota products did not offer this feature, though the troubled maker has begun to install it on a number of its products in the wake of a series of recalls involving sudden acceleration.  In all, about 7.7 million cars, trucks and crossovers have been recalled for the problem in the U.S., and new government data now links at least 89 deaths to runaway Toyota products.  Globally, 8.5 million vehicles are involved

(Click Here for the latest on Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems.)


Toyota to Testify: No Problems With Electronics

Maker to tell Congress it is “confident” about current fixes.

by on May.20, 2010

Toyota's top American executive, Jim Lentz, hopes to convince Congress that there are no electronic glitches on Toyota vehicles.

Toyota’s top American executive, Jim Lentz, will be heading back up to Capitol Hill, today, this time to tell lawmakers the embattled automaker “remains confident” it has isolated and addressed the problems behind its sudden acceleration problems – and ruled out the possibility of unexplained electronic gremlins.

Since last October, Toyota has recalled millions of cars, trucks and crossovers, the vast majority due to the possibility the vehicles could race out of control unexpectedly.  So far, the maker has targeted problems like loose carpets and sticky accelerators.  But critics – some of whom plan to take their case to court – insist Toyota vehicles may also have problems with electronic engine control systems.

But Lentz and other Toyota officials will tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee that all evidence indicates there are no such gremlins.  The maker plans to report on more than 600 inspections it has directly made of vehicles alleged to have experienced sudden acceleration.  Toyota dealers have conducted 1,400 more inspections.

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Meanwhile, the consulting firm Exponent, Inc. has completed 11,000 hours of its own testing for Toyota and its conclusions are expected to support the maker’s claims – and contradict testimony delivered to Congress, in February, by a professor at an Illinois university who claimed he could simulate problems with Toyota electronic controllers.

“Significantly, none of these investigations have found that our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence, or ETCS-i, was the cause,” notes prepared remarks Lentz is expected to deliver to the House committee.