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NHTSA Finds Driver Error at Fault in Many Toyota Crashes

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Toyota, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

NHTSA Finds Driver Error at Fault in Many Toyota Crashes

James Parrish
September 3, 2010

James Parrish

We all know that Toyota has issued massive recalls in the wake of several high-speed automotive accidents, where fault was attributed to "sticky" accelerator pedals. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration collected the Electronic Data Recorders, or "black boxes," (high-tech data recorders, showing what the vehicle's actions were right before the crash) from the cars to test.

It was unofficially reported to the Wall Street Journal earlier this year that most of the black boxes collected in the vehicles pointed to user error—i.e., data showed that drivers of the vehicles speeding out of control had not made any attempt to press the brakes.

Today, the NHTSA submitted the official initial report to Congress, including a breakdown of exactly what they found in the 58 electronic data recorders.

Of the 58 cases studied:
35 recorders show that no brake was applied at all.
14 cases involved partial braking.
9 cases showed braking late in the crash sequence.
3 involved early braking.
2 involved midsequence braking.
1 showed that both gas and brake pedals were depressed.
1 case involved an incident of pedal entrapment, or "pedal sticking.".

In one case, the recorder only recorded information from a different incident. There were five cases in which the EDR wasn't even triggered, and one case in which NHTSA is still attempting to resolve conflicting data.

“Pedal entrapment” and “sticking gas pedals” were the two known defects on these vehicles, however only one incident was conclusively shown to be caused by them.

However, there's always room for error. If cars can be defective, can't the black boxes have defects as well?

While possible, it seems unlikely. The media, however, is quick to spread this news, some accusing the NHTSA of being in Toyota's back pocket, while others were quick to report the when the initial "user error" findings were reported.

Whether or not the NHTSA finds that brakes were applied late (or not at all, in some of the cases) does not change the fact that the accelerators were defective in the first place. The brakes on American automobiles should always be able to overpower the accelerator, but the fact is that the accelerator should not have been stuck in the first place.

When a product is designed or manufactured in a way that makes it dangerous for people to use, it has to be considered defective.

NHTSA officials state that they have drawn no conclusions at this point, and that this is only one portion of the full investigation.

James Parrish is a former insurance defense lawyer who now represents injured persons against the insurance industry. He uses the "Inside Information" he learned while defending insurance companies to the advantage of his clients, has authored free guides on the subject, and has recovered millions of dollars in judgments and settlements for them.

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