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U.S. auto-safety agency study finds driver error in most Toyota accidents

Tue, 10 Aug 2010

Brakes weren't applied by drivers of Toyota vehicles in at least 35 of 58 crashes blamed on unintended acceleration, U.S. auto-safety regulators said after studying data recorders.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also saw no evidence of electronics-related causes for the accidents in reviewing the vehicle recorders, known as black boxes, the agency said today in a report to lawmakers.

The preliminary findings bolster Toyota's contentions that there's no evidence of flaws in electronic controls on its vehicles and that motorists in some cases confused the accelerator and brake pedals.

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide in the past year for defects such as pedals that stuck or snagged on floor mats.

“At this early point in its investigation, NHTSA officials have drawn no conclusions about additional causes of unintended acceleration in Toyotas beyond the two defects already known -- pedal entrapment and sticking gas pedals,” the agency said in the report provided for a briefing to lawmakers in Washington.

In addition to the 60 percent of cases where brakes weren't used, NHTSA cited accidents in which the brakes were applied partially or the data recorder failed.

Toyota has conducted more than 4,000 on-site vehicle inspections, and said today it has not found electronic throttle controls to be a cause of unintended acceleration.

"Toyota's own vehicle evaluations have confirmed that the remedies it developed for sticking accelerator pedal and potential accelerator pedal entrapment by an unsecured or incompatible floor mat are effective," the company said. "We have also confirmed several different causes for unintended acceleration reports, including pedal entrapment by floor mats, pedal misapplication and vehicle functions where a slight increase in engine speed is normal, such as engine idle up from a cold start or air conditioning loads."

In all of the cases studied by federal regulators, the driver made an allegation of unintended acceleration.

Of the 58 recording devices analyzed, 35 showed that at the moment of the crash impact, the driver hadn't depressed the brake pedal at all, safety officials said. Fourteen more cases showed partial braking. In another nine cases, the brake had been depressed at the "last second" before impact.

The government's preliminary examination also said there were a handful of other crashes where the brake was pressed early and released, or in which the brake and gas pedals were pressed at the same time. There was one case of pedal entrapment by a floor mat.

In five cases, NHTSA said, the electronic recording device failed to work.

The agency is continuing its review of Toyota defects and is working with NASA, the U.S. space agency, and the National Academy of Sciences to probe the cause of the crashes.

Bloomberg News contributed to this report.

By Automotive News