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Toyota Knew All Along

Photo of Brant Stogner

It has been recently reported that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigators discussed brake override measures with Toyota back in August of 2007 to address the sudden acceleration defect. Emails and an internal Toyota memorandum were obtained by Congress which show that NHTSA officials discussed brake override software back in 2007 with Toyota Motor Corp. Apparently, the safety regulators suggested that Toyota install brake override software designed to stop the car even if the engine is accelerating. The suggestions to Toyota were prompted by complaints of Toyota and Lexus vehicles racing out of control. The internal Toyota emails also show that Toyota considered the idea and even learned that at least two manufacturers (Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen) were already using brake override at the time, and another (Nissan) had recently announced it would be installing the technology. Ultimately, Toyota did not adopt brake override, either for new models or by recalling any models. Instead, Toyota recalled floor mats in about 55,000 vehicles.

Although internal, "confidential" memos are showing that Toyota reconsidered the idea of brake override in 2008 and ordered an internal feasibility study on the issue, Toyota did not adopt the feature. It was not until after the August 2009, Lexus crash near San Diego that Toyota considered the issue again. This was a crash where an officer, his wife, his daughter, and his brother-in-law were all killed after making a 911 call regarding sudden acceleration. This prompted Toyota to issue a massive recall of floor mats, but again, Toyota did not decide to implement brake override technology. In the next months, NHTSA officials claim that they put "pressure" on Toyota to implement brake override technology after determining that changing the floor mats did not solve the sudden acceleration defect.

In January of 2010, Toyota began installing brake override technology in recalled models. Toyota has also stated that it will make such technology standard equipment on all new cars by the end of 2010. There are reports that the sudden acceleration defect may be responsible for at least 56 deaths and hundreds of injuries. While new floor mats and new gas pedals have all been tried, hopefully this "new" brake override technology will finally remedy the sudden acceleration defect. While this is little consolation for the victims have been harmed since Toyota knew about the defect, at least Toyota is finally doing something about it. There can be no argument that the technology did not exist or that it was unfeasible, given that Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen were already implementing it in 2007, and Nissan had just started to implement it.

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