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Los Angeles Times Takes On Toyota's Acceleration Problems

The Los Angeles Times published a lengthy story this weekend about unintended acceleration in Toyotas, something the Houston Press and Hair Balls have written about from time to time, starting with a cover story in April.

The Times wrote the story in response to a highly publicized crash this summer in California that killed a highway patrol officer and three of his family members. Toyota blamed that crash on a faulty floor mat, prompting a massive recall by the company.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the story reveals the method used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to review cases, especially considering Toyota's claims that the feds have investigated multiple unintended acceleration complaints and found no mechanical flaws in Toyotas.

From the story:

In reviewing consumer complaints during its investigations, the NHTSA relied on established "positions" that defined how the agency viewed the causes of sudden acceleration. Cases in which consumers alleged that the brakes did not stop a car were discarded, for example, because the agency's official position was that a braking system would always overcome an engine and stop a car. The decision was laid out in a March 2004 memorandum.

In many cases, the drivers who experienced unintended acceleration interviewed by the Press claimed that the vehicle's brakes wouldn't stop the car, including one man whose wife's Prius crashed into a river. So, apparently, that crash was never reviewed by the NHTSA.

Furthermore, if anyone had survived the crash in California and the family filed a complaint, it's likely that case wouldn't have been reviewed either, considering witnesses reported seeing the car's tires on fire before the crash. The sheriff's department that investigated the crash said the flames suggested "long, constant heavy braking."

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The Times story also reveals something disturbing about which unintended acceleration complaints Toyota even turned over to the NHTSA:

When asked to submit its own complaint data to the NHTSA, Toyota eliminated reports claiming that sudden acceleration occurred for "a long duration," or more than a few seconds. Elsewhere, the company said a fail-safe in its throttle system makes such an event impossible.

Hair Balls asked Toyota about these claims, and Brian Lyons, a company spokesman, told us today, via e-mail, that Toyota "has fully cooperated with NHTSA in these investigations. We have no immediate comment on the LA Times story, nor any specific cases."

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