More information has come to light regarding Toyota Motor Company’s 3.8-million vehicle recall for sudden unintended acceleration. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a report about its inspection of the vehicle that suggests factors beyond the floor mats as potential culprits or complicating factors (NHTSA report pdf).
According to the NHTSA report, the mats in the Lexus ES 350 that Saylor was driving were made for a Lexus RX 400h SUV, not the ES 350 sedan.The gas pedal was fused to the mat in the fire that ensued after the crash. The gas pedal used a single hinge on the upper end, and it did not have a center pivot that might have made it easier to get the pedal out from under a floor mat. (To be fair, most accelerator pedals lack a center pivot – of 44 cars we surveyed in our parking lot, only the Kia Optima had a center hinge pivot.)
The Lexus that Saylor was driving had a keyless ignition, which uses a start/stop button to start and stop the engine. There is no traditional key to turn if you need to shut the engine off in an emergency. In the case of the ES 350, the button needs to be held for three seconds before it will turn off the engine if the car is in gear. Toyota says it considered this a safety feature to prevent the engine from turning off if the button were pressed accidentally. However, the report points out that Saylor was traveling at an estimated 100 mph—that’s the equivalent of traveling one and a half football field in three seconds.
The ES had a data recorder but its information has not yet been reviewed.
Brian Lyons, Toyota’s manager of safety and quality communications, says the company is looking at features to mitigate problems with stuck accelerators following the accident. “Our focus is on avoidance of the problem, rather than measures to mitigate it” in case the throttle becomes stuck, he says.
As the investigation continues, we expect further insights to emerge from both federal departments and Toyota, especially once the event data recorder has been examined. In the meantime, Consumer Reports will continue to explore related issues, as we have done previously with our blog posts on floor mats and unintended acceleration survival strategies.
For now, our advice remains that moving the gear selector to neutral is the best option.