Car Brake Overrides Proposed in U.S. After Toyota Recalls

Auto-safety regulators proposed requiring cars and light trucks sold in the U.S. to have so- called brake override features to stop a vehicle when drivers press both the brake and accelerator.

Today’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal follows record recalls in 2009 and 2010 by Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) for defects that may cause unintended acceleration.

“America’s drivers should feel confident that any time they get behind the wheel they can easily maintain control of their vehicles -- especially in the event of an emergency,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement. “By updating our safety standards, we’re helping give drivers peace of mind that their brakes will work even if the gas pedal is stuck down while the driver is trying to brake.”

The rule, which would update an existing auto-safety regulation, would cost “close to zero” because most carmakers already meet the requirement, according to the agency.

“We’re glad they’re doing it and we’re glad it’s uniform so all vehicles will be required to have an override,” Henry Jasny, vice president and general counsel for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, based in Washington, said in an interview. “The population of vehicles without it has grown smaller since the Toyota sudden acceleration issue came out several years ago. But there are no performance standards for it.”

An accelerator pedal from a Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle is tested during a news conference at Toyota's U.S. sales headquarters in Torrance, California, in 2010. Photo: Tim Rue/Bloomberg Close

An accelerator pedal from a Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle is tested during a news... Read More

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An accelerator pedal from a Toyota Motor Corp. vehicle is tested during a news conference at Toyota's U.S. sales headquarters in Torrance, California, in 2010. Photo: Tim Rue/Bloomberg

Runaway Lexus

The agency developed the proposed rule and a recommendation issued in December to standardize keyless ignitions to let drivers turn off cars faster after a driver and family members died in a 2009 crash of a runaway Lexus ES-350 that didn’t have a brake-override feature.

NHTSA, in the proposal, said it’s received “thousands” of complaints about unintended acceleration since 2000, with some involving stuck accelerator pedals that brake override technology used in vehicles with electronic throttle controls would be designed to counter.

The systems are designed to cut power to the engine when the throttle and brake are pressed simultaneously, which can occur with a jammed accelerator or a driver accidentally slamming on the wrong pedal.

Reduced Sales

Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, said in November 2009 it would install a brake-override system on some of its vehicles after drivers reported unintended acceleration and its sales fell 26 percent in the first 10 months of that year.

By February 2010, before U.S. congressional hearings into Toyota recalls, the company had said it would put brake override systems on all new models beginning in 2011 and would retrofit seven existing models with software fixes.

“We are currently reviewing the NHTSA notice of proposed rulemaking in detail but are proud that with the 2011 model year, Toyota was the first full-line automaker to make brake override systems standard across all model lines,” Brian Lyons, a U.S.-based Toyota spokesman, said in an e-mail.

To contact the reporter on this story: Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bernard Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net

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