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Toyota to unlock secrets of black-box recorders

Thu, 25 Feb 2010

Reacting to criticism that data from black-box crash recorders in its vehicles can be accessed only by the company, Toyota Motor Corp. is moving to ship hundreds of data-decoding machines to the United States and make them commercially available to help diagnose vehicle problems.

The devices, known as event data recorders, are similar to the black boxes on airliners and record information such as vehicle and engine speed in the seconds before a crash.

As Toyota scrambles to address complaints of unintended acceleration, the company has come under fire from lawmakers and lawyers for crash victims because its black-box data are encoded and can't be read by law enforcement agencies or customers. Only Toyota's proprietary reader machines can crack the code.

And Toyota has only one such device in the United States.

Answering questions Wednesday from members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Yoshimi Inaba, head of Toyota's North American operations, said that will change.

“We have made the decision that we will have hundreds of units of them available by the end of April,” Inaba said. “For us also, it is very important to know the reasons of any accident.”

Inaba added they will be commercially available by 2011, about a year before a federal rule requires that data from boxes can be downloaded and read by car owners.

Making better use of black-box data was a key change outlined last week in Tokyo by Toyota President Akio Toyoda. The company said the change would allow it to determine the cause of a crash or malfunction more quickly.

Some experts say access to such data may help determine whether electronic malfunctions are to blame for a rash unintended acceleration cases linked to more than 30 deaths in the United States. Others dispute the value of such data because black boxes record only the last few seconds before a crash.

By Hans Greimel- Automotive News