U.S. to reveal Toyota unintended acceleration findings

By Peter Valdes-Dapena, senior writer


NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The government is expected to announce Tuesday the results of a 10-month inquiry into possible causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota cars and trucks.

The study, which was conducted by the Department of Transportation and scientists from NASA, was launched last spring at the request of Congress following a string of high-profile reports of Toyota cars and SUVs accelerating out of control. Some auto safety advocates suggested new electronic throttle control mechanisms on Toyota vehicles could be one cause.

"We're looking forward to seeing the report," Toyota spokesman John Hanson said.

The report should bring some resolution to the question of whether mysterious electronic glitches caused the unintended acceleration in Toyota cars, Hanson said.

Toyota has long insisted that the electronic controls in its cars are safe.

A common feature in newer vehicles, electronic throttle control uses sensors and computer chips to pass commands between the vehicles' gas pedal and the engine to control a car's speed instead of the simple mechanical connection used in older cars.

Some safety advocates and attorneys have claimed these systems are prone to malfunction.

The Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) enlisted the help of NASA scientists and engineers, the agency said, because of their expertise in areas such as computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity.

As part of the studies, the agencies ran tests at a Chrysler Group LLC testing facility in Auburn Hills, Mich. headquarters in which researchers bombarded Toyota vehicles with electromagnetic radiation to see if they could cause any malfunctions that might lead to unintended acceleration.

Toyota Motor Co. has also provided NASA software engineers with "unrestricted access" to the computer code used to control the electronic throttle control systems. The software engineers have been combing through the code looking for anything that might cause a car to accelerate out of control under any circumstances, NHTSA said.

Also, scientists at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and NHTSA East Liberty, Ohio, research center have been examining cars and Toyota throttle systems, searching for any defects that might cause unwanted acceleration.

This summer, NHTSA released the results of some investigations into Toyota sudden acceleration incidents. Those investigations specifically looked into 58 alleged unintended acceleration cases. These investigations suggested that drivers themselves may have been partly at fault. At that time the agency stressed that the results were preliminary.

Toyota recalled nearly 8 million vehicles in 2008 and 2009 for defects related to gas pedals -- including sticky pedals and floor mat obstruction -- as a result of complaints of unwanted acceleration. Although Toyota sales have suffered, some research indicates that the automaker is recovering its leading position in the American auto market.

Toyota now includes "brake override" on all its new vehicles. This system automatically cuts engine power as soon as the brake pedal is pressed in order to prevent unwanted acceleration. To top of page

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