Had Toyota executives listened to U.S. Transportation officials in 2007, a lot of sudden acceleration accidents could have been prevented and a lot of people saved from injury and death. Investigators from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration pressured Toyota to install a brake override system in all of its vehicles, but the car manufacturer resisted, according to a story published in the Los Angeles Times.

Not until the highly publicized deaths last August of California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor and three of his family members in a runaway Lexus ES 350 did Toyota consider installing electronic controls that would favor the brakes over the throttle in a sudden unintended acceleration incident and allow the vehicle to stop. Even then, however, Toyota was only responding to renewed pressure by federal safety regulators.

Toyota started by offering to retrofit only its high-end Camry, Avalon and Lexus vehicles with the safety repair. As new sudden acceleration incidents occurred throughout the country, Toyota eventually agreed to retrofit all appropriate vehicles with the brake override system.

Sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles has been blamed for 56 deaths and hundreds of injuries nationwide in the last 10 years, triggering federal safety and criminal investigations.

Internal Toyota documents obtained by Congress reveal that NHTSA authorities discussed brake override technology with Toyota executives in August 2007, two years before the fatal Saylor crash. Records also show that Toyota conducted a feasibility study to determine whether to install the technology in its vehicles.

Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigations panel, issued strong words for Toyota upon disclosing the evidence that the company failed to act.

“These documents raise some questions about whether Toyota was doing enough to deal with” sudden acceleration, Braley said. “It’s obvious that other manufacturers were doing something. Maybe more than Toyota is doing even now.”

One Toyota executive who used to work for the NHTSA said in a 2007 email that there were no requirements for Toyota to implement the brake override system. Because NHTSA couldn’t find an actual defect, investigations were closed. This outcome was celebrated by Toyota in a memo that stated Toyota execs successfully negotiated a favorable outcome in the sudden acceleration investigation that saved the company $100 million.

Source: Los Angeles Times

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