Toyota Blames Drivers for Some Sudden Acceleration Cases

Toyota crash investigation
Toyota crash investigation

Toyota Motor (TM) has long blamed motorists for some incidents of unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus brand vehicles. The world's largest automaker has reiterated that charge, which it calls "pedal misapplication," following a news report Tuesday that federal investigators have found little evidence of an electronic source for the problem.

In a statement Wednesday, Toyota said its own investigation of nearly 2,000 cases of unintended acceleration found no problem with its electronic throttle system and that driver error was to blame in some cases.

Toyota issued the statement after a Wall Street Journal report Tuesday said early results from U.S. Transportation Department analysis of data recorders from wrecked Toyota vehicles involved in cases of unintended acceleration suggested driver error as the cause. The agency found that at the time of the crashes, the vehicles' throttles were wide open and the brakes not applied, the Journal reported, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter.

Still Not the Whole Answer

That evidence suggests that drivers of Toyota and Lexus vehicles who reported their cars accelerated uncontrollably were mistakenly pressing down on the gas pedal rather than the brakes. The Journal story noted that the initial findings don't exonerate Toyota from two known issues of the problem -- sticky gas pedals and faulty floor mats that may pin the accelerator to the floor.

Toyota has recalled nearly 7 million cars in the U.S. to fix those problems. The sticky pedal recall, which involved some 2.3 million cars in the U.S., was also the source of a $16.4 million fine imposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration earlier this year. Toyota paid the fine in April.

The preliminary findings are consistent with a 1989 government-sponsored study that blamed similar driver mistakes for a rash of sudden-acceleration reports involving Audi 5000 sedans, the Journal said. They also echo findings of a March incident in suburban Harrison, N.Y., involving a Prius hybrid, which the driver reported sped up uncontrollably before hitting a brick wall. Investigations by NHTSA and local police determined the accident was caused by driver error and resulted from the driver not applying the brakes during the incident.

Toyota Sticks to Its Defense

NHTSA has received more than 3,000 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, some dating back to early last decade, according to a report the agency compiled in March. The incidents include 75 fatal crashes involving 93 deaths.

Toyota has contended that "pedal misapplication" is the source of most instances of unintentional acceleration since the issue came to light earlier this year, and it has repeatedly denied that vehicle electronics are a source of the problem.