Drivers of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles failed to apply the brakes in 35 of 58 crashes tied to unintended acceleration, U.S. regulators said in a report bolstering the automaker.
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 yesterday in the interim report to lawmakers.
Toyota has said there’s no evidence of flaws in electronic controls on its vehicles and that motorists in some cases confused the accelerator and brake pedals. The company, 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 didn’t record anything.
NHTSA’s results don’t exonerate Toyota because many reports of unintended acceleration don’t end in crashes, said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc. The firm’s clients include attorneys, engineering firms and automotive suppliers, according to its website.
Recorders Not Activated
“Most of the incidents we’re looking at don’t involve crashes where it activates” the data recorders, Kane, whose firm is based in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, said in an interview. “Toyota would like us to extrapolate that this is all driver error.”
Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, began installing black boxes in its vehicles for the 2001 model year, starting with two Lexus models, said Brian Lyons, a spokesman for the company’s U.S. sales unit based in Torrance, California. The devices trigger in crashes severe enough to deploy air bags and capture data such as vehicle and engine speed, G-forces from two directions and whether the accelerator or brakes are depressed, he said.
Until this year, when Toyota gave NHTSA tools to read the data, only the automaker had access to the information collected by the recorders.
“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,” Lyons said.
Toyota has examined more than 4,000 vehicles and hasn’t found its electronic throttle controls to be a cause of unintended acceleration in them, he said.
NHTSA 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 phenomenon.
NASA is studying whether electromagnetic interference may cause unintended acceleration, which may be linked to 89 deaths in 71 crashes since 2000, according to the auto-safety agency. NASA investigators are using Chrysler Group LLC’s test facility in Auburn Hills, Michigan, for its vehicle testing work, according to the report to lawmakers.
“Reviewing event data recorders is one small part of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s effort to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles,” said Olivia Alair, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department, which includes NHTSA.
Toyota is facing a consolidated shareholder lawsuit accusing the automaker of failing to disclose defects related to unintended acceleration. A Maryland public pension fund is the lead plaintiff.
Toyota’s American depositary receipts, each equal to two ordinary shares, fell 20 cents to $71.87 at 4:04 p.m. yesterday in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They lost 15 percent this year.