Regulators Failed to Consider Many Cases of Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a Los Angeles Times report on the recall of 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Officially, the recall is because of defective floor mats that can cause accelerators to get stuck open, causing unintentional acceleration that can propel the vehicle uncontrollably and cause serious accidents. A total of 19 deaths have been reported because of this safety flaw. In the older post, I wrote that the Times suggested advanced features in newer vehicles — or problems with those features — may have caused or exacerbated some of the problems. On Nov. 8, the newspaper made an even more disturbing report suggesting that regulators may not have investigated the problem thoroughly.
Since 2001, the Times said, more than 1,000 vehicle owners have reported unintended acceleration events to Toyota or to federal regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The complaints triggered eight investigations, which ultimately ended in two recalls affecting a combined total of 85,000 vehicles. However, the Times charged, NHTSA and Toyota officials responsible for investigating safety problems systematically excluded numerous reports because of how they were written, or because reports didn’t match the agencies’ ideas about how the vehicles performed. This made the problem look much smaller than some say it actually is, the newspaper said. As a result, a serious safety problem that may have existed as early as the 2001 model year is only now being addressed.
For example, the NHTSA threw out reports in which owners didn’t speculate on the cause of the problem. The agency also discarded incident reports saying that brakes didn’t stop the vehicle, because its official position is that brakes always overcome engines. Toyota itself, in reports submitted to the NHTSA, excluded reports of acceleration lasting more than a few seconds because it believed its vehicle design made this impossible. Selective exclusions like these allowed the NHTSA to close at least five investigations for “not enough reported problems.” This included an investigation of Lexus vehicles in which the agency discarded 36 out of 37 reports. The newspaper included several anecdotes from Toyota and Lexus owners who experienced the problems firsthand, including a retired engineer who lost his wife of 46 years when his 2005 Camry accelerated over a cliff in central California.
As a St. Louis car crash attorney, I am concerned about what this could mean for the millions of Toyota owners in Missouri and southern Illinois, and around the United States. If federal regulators failed to thoroughly investigate this problem — whether the problem was intentional or not — they may have left millions of people exposed to these extremely dangerous acceleration accidents. In fact, if problems with the vehicles’ on-board computers or mechanics are the real culprit, rather than floor mats, nearly every late-model Toyota and Lexus is impossible to make safe without extensive retrofitting. That means millions of Americans are exposed to deadly accidents that strike at random times, and regardless of how safe the driver might be. It also means that Toyota and Lexus owners may need to garage their vehicles in order to avoid catastrophic crashes, an expensive and inconvenient proposition.


Carey, Danis & Lowe represents people who lost a loved one or suffered catastrophic injuries in car crashes that were no fault of their own. Our southern Illinois auto accident lawyers help with crashes caused by an unreasonable safety defect in vehicles clients thought they could trust — whether or not the manufacturer knew about it or tried to cover it up. Missouri and Illinois law makes manufacturers strictly liable for injuries their products cause, which means consumers injured by products may sue them. In a Missouri car wreck lawsuit, injured people and their loved ones can claim the financial costs caused by an accident, including costs of a lifetime of care and a lifetime of lost wages, when appropriate. They can also claim compensation for their non-financial but very real losses, such as a wrongful death, a permanent disability, grief and pain.
If you or a loved one was involved in a car wreck caused by someone else’s negligence, you should talk to the Lowe Law Firm as soon as possible. To set up a free, confidential consultation, please contact us through our Web site or call toll-free at 1-877-678-3400 today.