NASA to aid regulators in Toyota probe

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Tuesday that his agency has enlisted scientists from NASA to help uncover whether electronic defects are to blame for unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has been criticized for lacking sufficient technological expertise, has recruited nine experts from NASA to help the agency understand how issues such as electromagnetic interference may have contributed to Toyota's acceleration issues.

Separately, the National Academy of Sciences will conduct a study of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire automotive industry.

The total cost for both peer-reviewed studies will be about $3 million, the Department of Transportation said in a press release.

"For the safety of the American driving public, we must do everything possible to understand what is happening," LaHood said in a statement. "And that is why we are tapping the best minds around."

The moves come after a massive recall of Toyota vehicles for safety issues, including instances when drivers were injured or killed when their car accelerated without warning. The recall sparked a series of congressional hearings into Toyota's quality controls and the government's ability to ensure driver safety.

"Toyota welcomes the opportunity for the National Academy of Sciences and NASA to weigh in on these discussions," said company spokeswoman Celeste Migliore.

"We expect they will bring a thorough and scientific approach to their examination of the issues," she added. "Separating fact from fiction can only be good for the motoring public and the industry as a whole."

Despite several hours of testimony from Toyota executives and federal safety officials, many questions remain about the role of certain electronic components in unintended acceleration.

Toyota has argued that the problems are mechanical and that its electronic systems are safe. But many lawmakers and some independent experts have charged that electronic defects can not be ruled out.

"We are confident in our vehicles and in our electronics," Migliore said. "We will lend our full support and cooperation to DOT and NHTSA as they moved forward."

NHTSA said it has brought in NASA engineers to study how electromagnetic interference could impact the electronic throttle control in Toyota vehicles. The NASA engineers will also provide expertise in electronics, hardware, software and hazard analysis. The study is expected to be completed by late summer.

While this is not the first time NASA has assisted another government agency in an investigation, such partnerships are relatively rare.

"It's not common, but not unique," said Keith Henry, a NASA spokesman.

He said NASA signed an agreement Friday with NHTSA to provide, among other things, engineering support and analysis. The nine engineers that are taking part in the investigation work for NASA's Engineering and Safety Center, he said, which was formed in 2004 to study the causes of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Meanwhile, the National Academy of Sciences will investigate the problem of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire automotive industry. The study is expected to last 15 months.

As part of this study, NHTSA said a panel of experts will also review industry and government efforts to uncover the causes of unintended acceleration. The panel will then make recommendations to NHTSA based on its findings.

In addition, LaHood said the inspector general of the Department of Transportation will assess whether the NHTSA conducted an adequate review of complaints of alleged unintended acceleration going back to 2002. The inspector general will also investigate whether NHTSA staff had the technical expertise to address those complaints and if the agency needs more resources. To top of page

Frontline troops push for solar energy
The U.S. Marines are testing renewable energy technologies like solar to reduce costs and casualties associated with fossil fuels. Play
25 Best Places to find rich singles
Looking for Mr. or Ms. Moneybags? Hunt down the perfect mate in these wealthy cities, which are brimming with unattached professionals. More
Fun festivals: Twins to mustard to pirates!
You'll see double in Twinsburg, Ohio, and Ketchup lovers should beware in Middleton, WI. Here's some of the best and strangest town festivals. Play
Find Your Next Car
Index Last Change % Change
Dow 16,461.32 -153.49 -0.92%
Nasdaq 4,382.85 -36.63 -0.83%
S&P 500 1,927.11 -14.17 -0.73%
Treasuries 2.23 0.02 0.95%
Data as of 4:01am ET
Company Price Change % Change
Bank of America Corp... 16.40 -0.20 -1.20%
Yahoo! Inc 42.00 1.82 4.53%
Apple Inc 102.99 0.52 0.51%
Facebook Inc 78.37 -0.32 -0.41%
Boston Scientific Co... 12.32 0.29 2.41%
Data as of Oct 22

Sections

Las Vegas might have first class shopping, dining and nightlife. But for serious gambling, head to Macau. More

The midterm elections are around the corner, and the economy remains a top concern. With unemployment down and inflation low, why do people still feel the economy stinks? More

Uber canceled its free rides with hot girls promotion in Lyon, France before it ever launched. More

Startups focusing on "ag tech," or agricultural technology, are gaining the attention of farmers and investors More

Dressing up in crazy costumes, traveling the world, posing for photos -- and getting paid to do it. Here are journal entries from a day in the life of professional "cosplay" character, Linda Le. More

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.