Electronics Not Cause in Toyota Sudden Acceleration Issue -- DOT

By Automotive Staff | February 09, 2011
Unintended acceleration became a major issue for Toyota in 2010, prompting the automaker to recall millions of vehicles worldwide. Initially, Toyota found that the majority of reported occurrences were related to either floor mats trapping gas pedals, or faulty accelerator pedal mechanisms that could stick the throttle open. Both of these issues were addressed in a series of widespread (and much publicized) recalls, but consumer complaints continued, suggesting faulty electronic controls could be the culprit. Well, the United States Department of Transportation recently announced that it found no faults in Toyota’s electronic controls, and concluded that they were not the cause of reported cases of unintended acceleration. “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems and the verdict is in,” transportation secretary Ray LaHood said in a prepared statement. “There is no electronic-based cause for unintended acceleration in Toyotas.” Toyota itself found no electronic defects and attempted to dispel that notion, but the federal study — performed by several engineers employed at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — confirms that finding.
According to LaHood, NASA engineers who assisted in the study “rigorously examined” nine of the Toyotas driven by consumers who complained of unintended acceleration. The investigation included reviewing over 280,000 individual lines of programming code in the vehicles’ computers to find a cause. NASA engineers even went so far as to expose the cars to electromagnetic radiation to attempt to spur on an electronic fault that produced unintentional acceleration. None were found. “Toyota welcomes the findings of NASA and NHTSA regarding our electronic control system (ETCS-i),” Toyota said in an official release. “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 about Toyota’s ETCS-I, which is well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real-world, un-commanded acceleration of the vehicle can not occur.” Despite these findings, the NHTSA is considering new safety regulations, which could potentially mandate brake override systems, which kill throttle input once the brake pedal is depressed. Many automakers, however, have already began rolling out similar systems across the board — Toyota, for that matter, has implemented a similar system on each new vehicle manufactured for the North American market. While Toyota’s electronics have officially been cleared of any possible faults, the company’s reputation has yet to be fully absolved. The recalls received enormous media coverage, especially following the death of a police officer and his family in San Diego, California. Due to Toyota’s slow reaction to acceleration pedal defects, the U.S. government also ordered the company to pay a record $48.8 million in fines. Full press release from Toyota can be found below. Although the DOT findings appear to close a brutal chapter in Toyota’s history, the episode still isn’t over. The National Academy of Sciences is still conducting its own independent study of the vehicles involved in reported unintended acceleration cases. The results of this study will be published this fall. Toyota Statement in Response to NHTSA/NASA Study In response to the publication by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of an extensive review of the electronic throttle control systems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, conducted with the assistance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s Chief Quality Officer for North America, said: “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. 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. “We will continue to develop and equip Toyota and Lexus vehicles with industry-leading safety technologies, including many based on breakthroughs in sophisticated electronics systems. We will also continue to cooperate fully with NHTSA and respected outside experts in order to help ensure that our customers have the utmost confidence in the safety and reliability of our vehicles. Everyone at Toyota – all 30,000 of our team members in the United States and the many thousands of Americans at our dealers and suppliers across the country – is focused on listening to our customers and constantly improving our products and service.” Regarding the safety and reliability of Toyota vehicles with ETCS-i, the company also noted:
  • Electronic throttle control systems have long been standard across the automobile industry, and they provide great benefits to consumers.
  • Toyota’s ETCS-i has performed reliably in more than 40 million cars and trucks sold around the world, including more than 16 million in the United States.
  • This system has also made possible significant safety advances such as vehicle stability control and traction control, which are among the five sophisticated accident avoidance technologies in Toyota’s Star Safety System.
  • These enhancements, along with Toyota’s Smart Stop Technology braking system, are now standard on all the new vehicles Toyota manufactures for the North American market.
via Associated Press, Toyota courtesy of Motor Trend Staff
Edmonton Chrysler
Edmonton Chrysler

I'm happy to note that the issue was given utmost importance by experts and agencies like NASA to resolve the unintended acceleration issue among Toyota vehicles. With this rigorous examination, other car brands could expect getting the same attention in cases of issues in the future.

Vancouver Dodge
Vancouver Dodge

In the other press release NASA also said that even though no evidence is found, it does not mean that UA (unintended acceleration) happens. I was hoping that the case would turn out like this though. With electronic malfunction crossed out, now the possibility remains that unintended acceleration can be caused by faulty gas pedals, ineffectively designed floor mats that has a tendency to get gas pedals stuck, or pure driver error.