Confusion still surrounds Toyota unintended acceleration cases

posted on:
November 18, 2009

author:
KURT NILAND

So much confusion has arisen from Toyota’s announcement to recall 3.8 million vehicles because of their potential to accelerate suddenly and unexpectedly. While Toyota zeroed in on driver’s side floor mats as the cause of the problem, saying that they could slide forward and jam the accelerator pedal in full open position, several media venues speculated about the solution. Would the fix amount to a simple floor mat repair? Or would it involve redesigning the gas pedal and / or the electronic-based braking and accelerator controls?

According to Toyota, the repairs will involve more than a simple floor mat fix. A Toyota spokesman told Nashville NBC affiliate WSMV that the repairs will go deeper. “We are looking at making changes to the vehicle itself. I want to make it clear it isn’t just (a) floor mat issue; we’re looking at making physical changes to the vehicle.”

An official statement, released on Toyota’s website, also attempts to clear the confusion generated when the company addressed the cause of the unintended acceleration problem without discussing a possible solution.

“As an interim precaution, we asked owners to take out any removable driver’s floor mat and not replace it with any other floor mat until a vehicle-based remedy can be developed and implemented on their vehicle. When such a remedy is determined, owners will be notified,” the statement said.

The confusion could have been averted had Toyota been clear on its “vehicle-based remedy” from the start. But until the NHTSA admonished Toyota on Nov. 4 for spreading “false and misleading information,” it seemed as if the company was reluctant to look beyond the floor mats as the problem and the solution. In fact, Toyota never mentioned a “vehicle-based remedy” until its same-day response to the NHTSA’s reprimand.

Toyota has mailed recall announcements to the owners of all the affected vehicles. The letters provide instructions for removing the floor mats and tips for stopping a vehicle that is accelerating out of control. As for a fix, the letter states that Toyota will contact owners once a remedy has been found.

According to the Beasley Allen law firm, “A defective engine throttle control system – not floor mats interfering with gas pedals – is causing many accidents due to Unintended Acceleration. It’s the opinion of many safety advocates that removing floor mats alone won’t stop those accidents.”

Graham Esdale, an attorney with Beasley Allen, is representing Jean Bookout, an Oklahoma woman who was critically injured when her Camry accelerated unintentionally. The car sped off the interstate and crashed, killing her friend and passenger Barbara Schwartz.

“When she took her foot off the gas, it started taking off, speeding up even,” Esdale said. He added that it was “impossible” to blame the floor mat for the acceleration and resulting crash. Photographs of the vehicle show the floor mat was still hooked in place and there was no evidence of the mat jamming the gas pedal.

“There is strong evidence that there is something else is going on,” Esdale told WSMV.

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