The Wall Street Journal reports that accidents blamed on sudden acceleration by Toyota vehicles are most likely cases of driver error, as throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash, according to people familiar with the data analysis conducted by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) declined to comment on the findings, which haven’t been officially released yet, but early results suggest that some drivers who said their Toyota/Lexus vehicles surged out of control were flooring the accelerator by mistake, when they actually intended to jam on the brakes.
The data recorders analyzed were selected by the NHTSA based on complaints drivers had filed with the US government. The embattled carmaker hasn’t been involved in interpreting the data so these results are completely independent, produced from a third party.
These initial findings are consistent with a 1989 study that blamed similar driver mistakes for a rash of sudden-acceleration reports involving Audi 5000 sedans. Toyota has maintained that sudden acceleration cases involving its vehicles were not caused by electronic glitches in computer-controlled throttle systems, as alleged by some safety advocates and lawyers of the drivers involved. To date, over 100 people have sued the carmaker over crashes they say were the result of faulty electronics.
This development may be sweet justice for Toyota, but it does not clear the company from two other known issues blamed for sudden acceleration it its cars: sticky accelerator pedals that don’t return to idle and floor mats that can trap gas pedals to the floor. The latter was verified by NHTSA as the cause of one fatal crash on August 28 that killed a California highway patrolman and three passengers in a Lexus.
Toyota has since recalled more than eight million cars globally to fix these two issues.