The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has denied a petition to investigate an alleged defect related to sudden unintended acceleration at low speeds in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles. The agency instead found that the crash evidence and pre-crash event recorder data submitted by the petitioner pointed to driver error. It seems like we have heard that before in previous Toyota litigation. NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation spent just over a month looking into the request submitted by Dr. Gopal Raghavan, a California resident. He told the office in mid-July his 2009 Lexus ES350 accelerated suddenly and crashed while his wife was trying to park the car in February 2015.
In the event NHTSA had found evidence of a defect, up to 42,833 ES350s from Toyota-owned Lexus could have been affected. Dr. Raghavan submitted as evidence the EDR data from the vehicle just before the crash showing the engine had “revved even though the pedal had not been pressed.” He also pointed to two other complaints involving a 2009 Camry and 2010 Corolla as showing a “troubling similarity” to his alleged acceleration issue.
NHTSA said on August 21, however, that the data immediately before impact showed the brake pedal was not applied and the accelerator pedal was depressed to approximately 71 percent of full apply. The agency said even though the driver alleges that the brakes were not effective during the incident, the brakes had no history of malfunction, and post-accident inspection revealed no issues. The agency said in its denial: “Based on the available information, this incident is consistent with pedal misapplication by the driver and provides no evidence of a vehicle defect.”
NHTSA also said that both of the complaints referenced by Dr. Raghavan did not provide evidence of a vehicle defect, but instead were consistent with pedal misapplication by the driver. NHTSA said the EDR data for both crashes had shown the brake had not been applied and the accelerator pedal had been pressed just before each accident. The petition was not the first to call for an investigation of unintentional acceleration at low speeds in Toyota vehicles, and neither was it the first to be denied. There were other petitions filed with similar claims involving almost identical facts.
As I stated above in the discussion relating to the Chrysler sudden acceleration petition rejection, our experience with NHTSA during our handling of cases against Toyota, makes me wonder if the agency has again dropped the ball. Our lawyers learned how easily it was to hide a known computer defect from NHTSA in our Bookout case in Oklahoma. I really hope NHTSA hasn’t been “fooled” again.
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