After ten months of investigation, the United States Department of Transportation announced this afternoon that it has found no electronic defects to account for various reports of sudden, unintended acceleration in thousands of Toyota vehicles.
“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.”
Unintended acceleration became a major issue for the Japanese automaker last year, 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.
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 programmingcode 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 that kill throttle input once the brake pedal is depressed. Many automakers, however, have already begun 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.
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.
Source: Associated Press, Toyota