The public is convinced that unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles has been resolved. After all, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reassured the public that “the verdict is in . . . there is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period.” Toyota blamed the unintended acceleration problem on driver error and floor mats and recalled millions of vehicles to install proper floor mats. The public’s confidence in this resolution is evident in Toyota’s sales numbers. In the first six months of 2012, Toyota sold 5 million vehicles, making it the second manufacturer in sales, just behind GM.
But what the public doesn’t know could hurt it. Despite the recalls and efforts by NHTSA to convince the public that individuals are at fault and responsible for unintended accelerations, complaints of unintended acceleration continue to come in. Safety Research and Strategies, Inc. found that between June 1, 2011 and July 17, 2012, 368 total incidents of unintended acceleration were reported to NHTSA by Toyota consumers. Of these incidents, 36 involved vehicles that had already been recalled prior to the accident, meaning the floor mats could not possibly have been the problem. Injuries were reported in 95 of the incidents.
In July 2012, Iowa Senator Charles E. Grassley sent a letter to NHTSA asking the agency to reopen its investigation of the Toyota unintended acceleration issue. Senator Grassley claims that he received evidence from whistleblowers that electronic issues caused unintended acceleration. The Senator was not satisfied by NHTSA’s and NASA’s conclusion that electronic defects did not cause Toyota’s unintended acceleration. In its report, NASA found evidence of tin whiskers in a Toyota pedal assembly. Tin whiskers are “electronically conductive, crystalline structures of tin that sometimes grow from surfaces where tin (especially electroplated tin) is used as a final finish.” The tin whiskers found in the Toyota pedal assembly were said to have caused a short circuit, which could cause unintended acceleration.
Of course, Toyota maintains that unintended acceleration can only be caused by driver error and floor mats entrapping the gas pedal. In response to Senator Grassley’s probe, Toyota stated that “no one has ever found a single real-world example of tin whiskers causing an unintended acceleration event.” NHTSA has refused to reopen the investigation and has concluded that while tin whiskers may cause a “jumpy” throttle, they did not cause the Toyota unintended acceleration problem.
Toyota cannot continue to blame floor mats for unintended acceleration when the same cars that were recalled and equipped with secure floor mats are continuing to experience unintended acceleration. If you would like more information on unintended acceleration, please contact Stephanie Stephens or Graham Esdale, lawyers in our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Stephanie.Stephens@beasleyallen.com or Graham.Esdale@beasleyallen.com.
Sources: Safety Research and Strategies, Autoguide.com, NHTSA
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