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NHTSA-NASA study accelerates Toyota’s image

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The results are in: Toyota’s electronic systems did not play a role in incidents of unintended acceleration. The U.S. Department of Transportation released the news following a 10-month study of potential electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyotas conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Launched last spring at the request of Congress, NHTSA enlisted NASA engineers with expertise in areas such as computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity to conduct new research into whether electronic systems or electromagnetic interference played a role in incidents of unintended Toyota acceleration.

NASA engineers found no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents. The two mechanical safety defects already identified by NHTSA – “sticking” accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats – remain the only known causes for these kinds of unsafe unintended acceleration incidents.

“We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas,” says U.S. Transportation secretary Ray LaHood.

"NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations," says Michael Kirsch, principal engineer at the NASA Engineering and Safety Center.

While NASA and NHTSA have identified no electronic cause of dangerous unintended acceleration incidents in Toyota vehicles or any new mechanical causes beyond sticking pedals and accelerator pedal entrapment, NHTSA is considering taking several new actions as the result of the findings, including:

* Propose rules, by the end of 2011, to require brake override systems, to standardize operation of keyless ignition systems, and to require the installation of event data recorders in all passenger vehicles;

* Begin broad research on the reliability and security of electronic control systems; and,

* Research the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals, as well as driver usage of pedals, to determine whether design and placement can be improved to reduce pedal misapplication.

In 2009 and 2010, Toyota recalled nearly eight million vehicles as part of the sticky pedal and pedal entrapment recalls. Toyota also paid $48.8 million in civil penalties as the result of NHTSA investigations into the timeliness of several safety recalls last year. Across the industry, automakers voluntarily initiated a record number of safety recalls in 2010.

“Toyota welcomes the findings of NASA and NHTSA regarding our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i) and we appreciate the thoroughness of their review,” says Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s chief quality officer for North America. “We believe this rigorous scientific analysis by some of America's foremost engineers should further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles. We hope this important study will help put to rest unsupported speculation about Toyota's ETCS-i, which is well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, un-commanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur.” 

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