Search Results for ‘toyota acceleration’

Charge: NHTSA sitting on pro-Toyota investigation results

A new report in the WSJ quotes a retiring NHTSA official as saying higher-ups are refusing to release the results of the agency’s staff investigation into charges of Toyota sudden acceleration, because those findings are not unfavorable enough toward the automaker. I’ve got more detail in a new post at Cato at Liberty, and Ted covers the story at PoL.

Meanwhile, proponents of a sweeping expansion of federal auto safety law, one that would thrust Washington much more deeply into the operations of the automotive industry, are really in a hurry — a quick, urgent, must-do-now hurry — to pass it, even though many of its provisions have not had much airing in public debate. An editorial today in the New York Times — a newspaper that almost comically underplayed the revelations earlier this month about the NHTSA probe’s pro-Toyota results — flatly asserts that the Japanese automaker’s vehicles suffer “persistent problems of uncontrolled acceleration,” and demands that the sweeping new legislation “be passed into law without delay.” It’s almost as if they are afraid of what might happen if lawmakers pause to take a closer look.

Among the many other things the new legislation would do is greatly enhance the legal leverage of automaker or dealership employees who adopt the mantle of “whistleblowers”. But if the new revelations from a responsible career employee of NHTSA are ignored, we will have another confirmation that some types of whistleblowing are more welcome in America’s governing class than others. (& welcome Coyote, Gabriel Malor, Death by 1000 Papercuts, Mark Hemingway/D.C. Examiner (“the indispensable Overlawyered blog”), Allen McDuffee/Think Tanked readers).

Bad-mouthing Toyota and its defenders

Years ago I promised myself that I’d stop wading into comments sections, but my breach of that promise today in a trial-lawyer blog attacking me for pointing out the truth about the bogus Toyota sudden acceleration claims might amuse some readers, and I might as well get a post out of it.

“Are not companies obligated to make the safest vehicle possible?”

The safest vehicle possible is a Sherman tank with a restrictor plate preventing it from exceeding 1 mph, so the answer to your question is “no”—though certainly trial lawyers have an interest in asking you to think manufacturers are doing something wrong when they don’t.

“Until Toyota can identify the exact cause of these accidents (besides the too-convenient driver error) anything and everything is in question and must be investigated.”

I look forward to you writing NHTSA and demanding they investigate if invisible vampires are causing elderly drivers to hit the wrong pedal. After all, anything and everything is in question, and you reject Occam’s Razor when it comes to an alleged electronic defect that simultaneously causes three separate systems to malfunction six times more often for elderly drivers than non-elderly drivers, so why not demand an investigation of the equally unlikely invisible-vampire problem as long as you’re rejecting science?

Told-you-so dept.: USDOT exonerates Toyota

WSJ (h/t C.W.):

The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.

In other words, driver error, except in the one-in-a-million instances when a gas pedal was trapped by a poorly-installed floor mat. Will plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been conspiracy-theorizing about a non-existent electronic defect withdraw their class actions and product-liability suits, much less apologize? How about AP and the news media? Don’t count on it. Earlier from me and from Walter.

“Interest in Toyotas Starts to Revive”

According to Kelley’s Blue Book, consumers are trending back toward the Japanese maker in their buying plans. [New York Times “Bucks” blog] That’s despite the menace of rays from outer space, as denounced by one anonymous informant to NHTSA. [Detroit Free Press, which has a PDF of the submission from “A Concerned Scientist”]

More: On a more serious note, Holman Jenkins has a good column today [WSJ, sub-only] tracing the key role of bandwagon effects in sudden acceleration consciousness (which is one reason waves of complaints tend to occur in clumps, by carmaker and otherwise). Excerpt:

…In 2001, at least four papers were presented at the annual meeting of the Trial Lawyers Association urging a revival of sudden unintended acceleration litigation, insisting that such cases could prevail in absence of evidence of a defect, and even amid evidence of driver error, simply by harping in front of a jury on a record of “Other Similar Incidents” (OSI).

That’s the roadmap being followed now, as lawyer Randy Roberts told CNBC this week: “Toyota is very good at taking one consumer complaint about sudden unintended acceleration and dissecting it and convincing you that it may have been a floor mat or driver error or a sticky pedal. But when you put all those complaints out on the table, then you can see the big picture. That’s how you connect the dots.”

Huh? The logic here is ridiculous. To wit: 15 examples of X causing Y are proof that something other than X must cause Y.

Toyotathon roundup

  • In much-publicized recent Harrison, N.Y. crash, computer shows no indication that housekeeper driving car was using the brake [NY Times, Detroit News]
  • My National Review Online piece (which spent a couple of days in the #1 and #2 most-read positions at that site) is discussed by Damon Root at Reason “Hit and Run” among elsewhere;
  • 69 year old plows her car into a clinic waiting room in Peabody, Mass., but she was driving an Infiniti so everyone can turn the page [Boston Herald]
  • About that “declining quality at Toyota” meme [Truth About Cars, Fumento and more]
  • As I pointed out in the NRO piece, complaints of unintended acceleration ebb and flow for reasons that often seem to have more to do with cultural and media trends than with what might actually be going on with the cars. Apropos of which, blogger Auto Prophet says complaints actually dropped drastically during the years that electronic throttle controls became common;
  • NHTSA administrator Strickland, who counts as a bit of a hostile witness around these parts, testified last week that “the rate of complaints against Toyota, when compared with other makers, was ‘unremarkable.'” [WaPo]
  • Toyota demanding retraction of ABC News story [Gawker]
  • Here’s a seminar on how to sue, with CLE credit and speakers from firms like Kline & Specter;
  • Highway deaths fall to historic low [David Henderson/EconLog, Payne/NRO “Planet Gore”]
  • Simply priceless: the L.A. Times, which of all the big papers perhaps most reliably transmits a Litigation Lobby view of the world, prints a grossly tendentious paean to the glories of auto-design litigation that relies extensively on the views of Ben Kelley — yes, the Ben Kelley. One place to begin for a corrective is Charles Babcock’s paper, “Approaches to Product Liability Risk in the U.S. Automotive Industry“, published in the 1994 National Academy of Engineering volume Product Liability and Innovation: Managing Risk in an Uncertain Environment.
  • Sam Smith at Jalopnik is taking a hard line: “America, You Brought The Toyota Hoax On Yourself

1995 Washington Square sudden acceleration revisited

In 1992, Diana Maychick drove her mother’s Oldsmobile back to Washington Place in Greenwich Village, and got out. Her mother, the 74-year-old Stella Maychick, slid over from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, readying herself to return to Yonkers. Maycheck, a shorter-than-average woman, suddenly took off in the car, which sped up, ran two stop signs, and tore through Washington Square Park, killing five and maiming several others.

Diana Maychick is now Diana Foote, a restaurant reviewer for a Palm Beach newspaper, and recently recounted the accident, claiming the recent Toyota troubles exonerated her mother.

Which I found fascinating, because I worked on that litigation—and the evidence that Maychick hit the gas instead of the brake was so strong that the plaintiffs’ lawyers abandoned the standard specious “mysterious gremlins caused the car to accelerate” theory and replaced it with a “General Motors knew that drivers were hitting the wrong pedal but didn’t do enough to warn them” theory. I took issue with Foote’s column in a letter to the newspaper.

As for the lawsuit itself, the judge excused everyone in the voir dire who expressed the remotest skepticism about plaintiffs’ theory, and GM settled shortly after the start of trial. One certainly marvels at the chutzpah of the theory of the case, given trial lawyers’ role in trying to persuade the public that driver error couldn’t possibly be to blame.

Update: South Carolina $18M sudden acceleration verdict reversed

And in timely news, a specious $18M sudden acceleration verdict (see our August 2006 coverage) was unanimously reversed by the South Carolina Supreme Court after they threw out junk-science testimony theorizing that electromagnetic interference with the cruise control caused the sudden acceleration. Passengers in the crash that wore their seatbelts were uninjured, but the unbelted driver was paralyzed. The plaintiff has the option of a new trial. (Sonya Watson v. Ford Motor Company, h/t L Nettles comment).