It has been discovered that in 2007 federal regulators asked Toyota Motor Corp. to consider installing software to prevent sudden acceleration in its vehicles. This request came after a tremendous number of complaints that vehicles could race out of control. It took Toyota over two years to start installing the safety feature, known as brake override. It started in January after the widely-publicized accident involving a runaway Lexus ES that killed four people in California. Safety regulators have acknowledged that they pressured Toyota again last fall to consider the override software in the wake of that crash, which set off a chain of events leading the company to issue nearly 10 million recall notices worldwide.
Brake override — software that automatically drops a vehicle’s throttle to idle when both the brake and accelerator pedals are depressed simultaneously — is designed to stop a car even if its engine is accelerating. E-mails and a company memorandum obtained by Congress show that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigators discussed brake override with Toyota officials in August 2007, and that in 2008, a year before the San Diego crash, the automaker ordered an internal feasibility study of the technology. Toyota began installing brake override in four recalled models in January. Toyota now says it will extend the feature to three other recalled models and make it standard on all new cars by the end of the year.
In the e-mails, officials in Toyota’s Washington office describe being asked by federal regulators about the brake override, as well as modifications to the push-button ignition on some vehicles, as part of an ongoing sudden-acceleration investigation involving two Toyota models. An August 23, 2007, e-mail from Chris Santucci, manager of technical and regulatory affairs in the Washington office, to a superior and seven other Toyota employees, noted that at least two other manufacturers were already using brake override at the time. Santucci, a former NHTSA investigator who joined Toyota in 2003, wrote that he didn’t “believe that these functionalities are things [regulators] want Toyota to implement,” adding that “there are no requirements to do so.”
The investigation was closed seven weeks later without a defect finding by NHTSA. As we reported last month, Toyota officials later bragged that they “negotiated” a favorable outcome, saving the company more than $100 million. A year later, a Toyota memo called for an internal study of brake override technology in response to increasing NHTSA pressure over sudden acceleration, but the company did not move to adopt the feature.
Toyota continues to say that floor mat entrapment of accelerator pedals and sticking gas pedals are the causes of sudden acceleration in its vehicles. In response to public skepticism about those explanations, both Toyota and NHTSA are reviewing the “possibility” that the electronic throttle system in the carmaker’s vehicles could cause the problem. Eventually Toyota will have to admit that their primary safety problem is related to electronics.
Source: Los Angeles Times
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