Federal Investigation Indicates Driver Error in Runaway Prius Accident

An federal investigation into a runaway Prius car accident in suburban New York showed that the brakes were not applied and the "throttle was fully open" when the driver hit a wall.

While the brief statement from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday didn't specify the cause of the accident, automotive industry expert James Bell said it seems to indicate that the cause was driver error.

"The fact that the brakes weren't touched likely means that the driver accidentally hit the gas, instead of the brakes," said Bell, vice president and executive market analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

Recall Sparks Unfounded Allegations

Engineers from Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) and investigators from the NHTSA inspected the vehicle Wednesday and looked at the car's so-called "black box," which has information about the vehicle's computer system. Toyota reportedly referred comment to the Harrison police department. The driver, a 56-year-old housekeeper, injured her knee in the accident.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million cars since the fall because of problems with gas pedals getting stuck or being held down by floor mats. The Prius hasn't been recalled for sticky accelerators. However, the Prius involved in the Harrison, N.Y., incident on March 9 had been repaired for the floor mat problem.

The Harrison car isn't the only runaway Prius that made headlines earlier this month. Another one in San Diego grabbed attention when its driver called 911 and claimed he couldn't stop the car. Toyota on Monday said its investigation turned up "inconsistencies" with the driver's account.

Bell, who drives a Prius, said he has been expecting this type of outcome ever since the massive recall. It's easier to blame the car than yourself for accidentally hitting the wrong pedal, he says.
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