As a Hollywood auto product defect attorney, I was very pleased to read Dec. 26 that Toyota will recall 4.26 million vehicles to address reports of unintended, uncontrollable acceleration in late-model Toyota and Lexus cars and trucks. Responding to more than 1,000 incidents that caused at least 19 deaths, the company said it would change the shape of the gas pedals in seven models; replace floor mats that may cause the pedals to stick; and reconfigure on-board software to override the throttle when both the gas and the brakes are pressed at the same time. But according to a Nov. 29 article from the Los Angeles Times, many Toyota owners and safety experts believe these fixes miss the real problem — the electronic throttle system that replaced mechanical throttles during this decade.
The electronic system, also called drive-by-wire, uses sensors and a computer system, rather than a physical structure like a cable, to determine how much pressure the driver is putting on the accelerator. According to the article, there was an average of about 26 complaints a year about unintended acceleration in 1999-2001 model year Camry and Lexus ES sedans. After the electronic throttle was introduced, that average shot up by five times, to 136 complaints a year, in 2002-2004 model years. Similarly, the average number of complaints about sudden acceleration in Toyota Tacoma trucks shot up by 20 times after the trucks got drive-by-wire. Toyota denies that the electronic system is to blame for the problem, but the only independent test of the electronic throttle — conducted by the federal government — found that engine speed surged when a magnetic field was applied to the computer.
Perhaps most damning was the article’s story about Eric Weiss of Long Beach, CA. After Weiss survived one sudden acceleration incident in his 2008 Toyota Tacoma, his dealer removed the floor mats. Months later, he was stopped at a red light when his truck — without the floor mats — began accelerating, requiring him to stand on the brakes to avoid another accident. He told the newspaper that he doesn’t want to drive his truck anymore, but doesn’t want anyone else to drive it either.
As a North Miami Beach defective auto attorney, I am disappointed and concerned by this news. If the allegations the article makes are true, Toyota has failed to address a life-threatening problem. The government’s records show that sudden acceleration events have killed at least 19 people, and caused many, many more accidents. Toyota is a popular brand in the United States, which means there are many millions of late-model Toyota and Lexus vehicles with the drive-by-wire system on the road. Even if only a handful have sudden acceleration problems, they could still cause dozens of deaths and catastrophic injuries. The Times reported elsewhere that the cost of the announced recall could easily be more than $250 million, which is a lot to pay for a recall that might not actually solve the problem. Under these circumstances, it seems wise for Toyota to delay action until it can eliminate the possibility of electronic throttle system defects — or can eliminate the defects themselves.
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