Sudden Unintentional Acceleration Case Screening

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Sudden unintended acceleration definition (UA) is the unintended, unexpected uncontrolled acceleration of a vehicle, often accompanied by an apparent loss of braking effectiveness. Such problems may be caused by driver error (e.g. pedal misapplication), mechanical or electrical problems, or some combination of these factors.

If you have experienced a (UA) event which resulted in either a contact accident with another vehicle involving injuries, or a near miss non contact incident, Saffron Investigations may be able to help you. Both NASA and NHTSA engineers after a lengthy investigation have identified two known causes of (UA) unintentional vehicle acceleration that do not involve drivers error. Saffron investigations is currently exploring other potential causes of (UA) that could explain how your incident occurred.


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Sudden (UA) History, Case Law And General Overview

Sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) is the unintended, unexpected, uncontrolled acceleration of a vehicle, often accompanied by an apparent loss of braking effectiveness. [1] Such problems may be caused by driver error (e.g., pedal misapplication), mechanical or electrical problems, or some combination of these factors.[2]


Definition and background
Possible factors
Reported incidents
Audi 5000
Sudden Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles

Definition and Background

In the 1980s, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported a narrow definition of sudden acceleration only from near standstill in their 1989 Sudden Acceleration Report:
“Sudden acceleration incidents” (SAI) are defined for the purpose of this report as unintended, unexpected, high-power accelerations from a stationary position or a very low initial speed accompanied by an apparent loss of braking effectiveness. In a typical scenario, the incident begins at the moment of shifting to “Drive” or “Reverse” from “Park”.

The report is taken from a study, begun in 1986, in which the NHTSA examined ten vehicles suffering from an “above average” number of incident reports and concluded that those incidents must have resulted from driver error. In the lab tests, throttles were positioned to wide open prior to brake application in an attempt to replicate the circumstances of the incidents under study. However, it is important to note that the newest vehicle involved in the study was a 1986 model and that no test vehicles were equipped with the electronic control (drive by wire) systems common in 2010. All vehicles were equipped with automatic transmissions, that is, no vehicles had manual transmissions with left foot clutch pedal disengagement of engine power.

These tests were meant to simulate reports of the time suggesting that the vehicles were at a standstill and accelerated uncontrollably when shifted from park. With modern drive by wire fuel controls, problems are believed to occur exclusively while the vehicle is under way.

In the 1950s, General Motors automobiles with automatic transmissions placed the R for reverse at the furthest clockwise position in the rotation of the column-mounted shift lever. L for low position was just adjacent as one would move the lever one notch counterclockwise. Because it was very easy to select L, a forward position when desiring R, to reverse, there were many intended lurches forward while the driver was watching toward the rear, expecting to reverse the automobile. By the 1960s, gear selection arrangements became standardized in the familiar PRNDL, with reverse well away from the forward positions and between the Park and Neutral selections. The elimination of ‘push-button’ drive control on all Chrysler products began after 1965 to eliminate the ease of selecting an unintended direction.

The most prominent incidents of sudden unintended acceleration recently took place from 2000-2010 in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, resulting in as many as 89 deaths and 52 injuries.[3] The NHTSA first opened an auto defect investigation into Toyota vehicles in 2004, but the Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) within the NHTSA closed the investigation citing inconclusive evidence. Toyota also claimed that no defects existed and that the electronic control systems within the vehicles were unable to fail in a way that would result in an acceleration surge. More investigations were made but were unsuccessful in finding any defect until April 2008, when it was discovered that the driver side trim on a 2004 Toyota Sienna could come loose and prevent the accelerator pedal from returning to its fully closed position.[4] It was later discovered that both the electronic control systems and the floor mats of the affected Toyota vehicles could cause them to accelerate suddenly, and that Toyota had known about these problems but had misled consumers and continued to manufacture defective cars. In March 2014, the Department of Justice issued 1.2 billion dollars in financial penalties against Toyota in a deferred prosecution agreement.[5]

Possible Factors

Sudden unintended acceleration incidents are often posited to involve the simultaneous failure of a vehicle’s acceleration and brake systems. Acceleration system factors may include:
Pedal misapplication[6][7]
Unresponsive (entrapped) pedals[8]
Electronic throttle control or cruise control failure (see drive by wire)[9]
Stuck throttle (unrelated to pedal position)[10][11]
Shorting of tin whiskers[12][13]
Unintended acceleration resulting from pedal misapplication is a driver error wherein the driver presses the accelerator when braking is intended. Some shorter drivers’ feet may not be long enough to touch the floor and pedals, making them more likely to press the wrong pedal due to a lack of proper spatial or tactile reference. Pedal misapplication may be related to pedal design and placement, as in cases where the brake and accelerator are too close to one another, or the accelerator pedal too large.

An unresponsive accelerator pedal may result from incursion: i.e., blockage by a foreign object, or any other mechanical interference with the pedal’s operation — and may involve the accelerator or brake pedal. Throttle butterfly valves may become sluggish in operation or may stick in the closed position. When the driver pushes harder on the right foot, the valve may “pop” open to a point greater than that wanted by the driver, thus creating too much power and a lurch forward. Special solvent sprays are offered by all manufacturers and aftermarket jobbers to solve this very common problem.

Other problems may be implicated in the case of older vehicles equipped with carburetors. Weak, disconnected, or mis-connected throttle return springs, worn shotpump barrels, chafed cable housings, and cables which jump their tracks in the throttlebody crank can all cause similar acceleration problems.

For drive-by-wire automobiles, a brake-accelerator interlock switch, or “smart throttle” would eliminate or at least curtail any instance of unintended acceleration not a result of pedal misapplication by causing the brake to override the throttle.[14] An unintended acceleration event would require the failure of such a mechanism if it were present. Such a solution would not be applicable to older vehicles lacking a drive-by-wire throttle.

Analyses conducted in the mid to late 1990s on Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee vehicles concluded that hundreds of reported sudden accelerations in these vehicles were likely caused by an undesired current leakage pathway that resulted in actuation of the cruise control servo. When this occurred, typically at shift engage (moving the shift lever from park to reverse), the engine throttle would move to the wide open position. While the brakes were operational, operator response was often not quick enough to prevent an accident. Most of these events occurred in close confines in which rapid operator response would be necessary to prevent striking a person, fixed object or another vehicle. Many of these events occurred at car washes, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee continues to experience sudden acceleration at car washes across the country. A statistical analysis of SAIs in 1991 through 1995 Jeeps revealed that the root cause of these incidents could not be human error, as had been historically posited by NHTSA and auto manufacturers.
Physical analysis conducted on Toyota’s electronic engine control system including accelerator pedal position sensors (APPSs) in 2011 showed the presence of a significant number of tin whiskers. Tin whiskers are elongated or needle-like structures of pure tin that grow from pure tin and tin alloy surfaces. Toyota’s APPS were found to use tin finishes. These tin finishes can produce conductive tin whiskers capable of creating unintended electrical failures such as short circuits. The use of tin finish in Toyota’s APPS is therefore a cause for concern.[13] Similarly in 2013, materials used in an automotive engine control unit (ECU) from a 2008 Toyota Tundra truck were analyzed. It was found that pure tin with a nickel underlayer was used as the connector finish in the unit, and analysis revealed tin whiskers on the connector surface. Further testing under a standard temperature-humidity cycling showed tin whisker growth, raising additional reliability and safety concerns. These studies show that poor design choices, such as the use of tin finishes, result in unintended failures.[12]

Reported Incidents

Reported incidents of sudden acceleration, include:
1987: The 1982-1987 Audi 5000s sales in the United States fell after recalls linked to sudden unintended acceleration. There were 700 accidents and 6 deaths.
1988: 1986 Honda Accords were documented to have had sudden acceleration incidents due to the Vehicle Speed Control component, as reported to the NHTSA.[16]
1997: Sudden acceleration in Jeep Cherokees and Jeep Grand Cherokees was reported by Diane Sawyer in a March 1997 ABC News Primetime segment.[17][18]
2000: Several Ford Explorers were reported about in the UK by a Channel 4 news program where the vehicle was already moving at speed and experienced sudden acceleration.[19]
2004: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent Toyota a chart showing that Toyota Camrys with electronic throttle controls had over 400% more “vehicle speed” complaints than Camrys with manual controls.[citation needed] Toyota culled out[clarification needed] 37,900 customer contact reports from the company’s database that Toyota identified (via the company’s complaint coding system) as potentially related to sudden unintended acceleration.[citation needed]
2005: Incident observed in a Toyota Camry. The cause was initially suggested to be a tin whisker,[20] however this was later proven not to be the case.[21]
2005: Ida Starr St John involved in sudden and unintended acceleration accident with her Toyota Camry. The Camry immediately accelerated without her pressing the accelerator pedal and pressing the brake pedal did nothing to stop the vehicle.
2006: The 2004 model year Ford Mustang Cobra was recalled by Ford for accelerator pedals that failed to return to idle after being fully pressed.[22]
2008: Incidents involving the 2005 Kia Amanti and Kia Sephia had been reported that were preceded by a racing or highly revving engine.[23][24]
2009: Toyota Avalon displays unintended acceleration without floor mat; observed by dealer.[25]
2009: Chase Weir’s experience with sudden acceleration in his Ford Explorer while driving on a freeway was reported by a number of news organizations, along with the released 000 emergency recordings of the incident.[26]
2009-2010: Several vehicles were recalled in the 2009–2010 Toyota vehicle recalls, which resulted in suspension of production and sales of many of Toyota’s most popular models, including the Toyota Corolla, Toyota Camry, Toyota Tacoma pickups, Toyota Avalon, Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, and more.[27][28]
Audi 5000
During model years 1982-1987, Audi issued a series of recalls of Audi 5000 models associated with reported incidents of sudden unintended acceleration linked to six deaths and 700 accidents.[29] At the time, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was investigating 50 car models from 20 manufacturers for sudden surges of power.[30]

60 Minutes aired a report titled “Out of Control” on November 23, 1986,[31] featuring interviews with six people who had sued Audi after reporting unintended acceleration, including footage of an Audi 5000 ostensibly displaying a surge of acceleration while the brake pedal was depressed.[32][33] Subsequent investigation revealed that 60 Minutes had not disclosed they had engineered the vehicle’s behavior — fitting a canister of compressed air on the passenger-side floor, linked via a hose to a hole drilled into the transmission[31][32] — the arrangement executed by one of the experts who had testified on behalf of a plaintiff in a then pending lawsuit against Audi’s parent company.[34]

Audi contended, prior to findings by outside investigators that the problems were caused by driver error, specifically pedal misapplication.[30] Subsequently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that the majority of unintended acceleration cases, including all the ones that prompted the 60 Minutes report, were caused by driver error such as confusion of pedals.[35] CBS did not acknowledge the test results of involved government agencies, but did acknowledge the similar results of another study.[32]

With the series of recall campaigns, Audi made several modifications; the first adjusted the distance between the brake and accelerator pedal on automatic-transmission models. Later repairs, of 250,000 cars dating back to 1978, added a device requiring the driver to press the brake pedal before shifting out of park.[29] As a byproduct of sudden unintended acceleration, vehicles now include gear stick patterns and brake interlock mechanisms to prevent inadvertent gear selection.

Audi’s U.S. sales, which had reached 74,061 in 1985, dropped to 12,283 in 1991 and remained level for three years.[29] — with resale values falling dramatically.[36] Audi subsequently offered increased warranty protection [36] and renamed the affected models — with the 5000 becoming the 100 and 200 in 1989.[30] The company only reached the same level of U.S. sales again by model year 2000.[29]

As of early 2010, a class-action lawsuit filed in 1987 by about 7,500 Audi 5000-model owners remains unsettled and is currently contested in county court in Chicago after appeals at the Illinois state and U.S. federal levels.[29] The plaintiffs in this lawsuit charge that on account of the sudden acceleration controversy, Audis had lost resale value.[32]

Sudden Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles

From 2002 to 2009 there were many defect petitions made to the NHTSA regarding unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, but many of them were determined to be caused by pedal misapplication, and the NHTSA noted that there was no statistical significance showing that Toyota vehicles had more SUA incidents than other manufacturers. Other investigations were closed because the NHTSA found no evidence that a defect existed. The first major cause of unintended acceleration was found in March 2007, when an engineering analysis showed that unsecured all-weather mats had led to pedal entrapment and drivers accelerating up to 90 mph with decreased braking power. Early on, Toyota suggested that driver error was to blame, saying that some people may have hit the gas when they meant to hit the brake. Even after issuing recalls to address problematic floor mats that in some cases pinned down accelerators, the company hid a flawed gas pedal design that it knew did the same thing[37] This led to Toyota sending a letter to the owners of the affected car, a 2007 Lexus ES350, asking that they bring their cars in to switch out the all-weather mats.[38] After this recall, Toyota decided to revise the internal design of their cars to ensure that there was “a minimum clearance of 10 millimeters between a fully depressed gas pedal and the floor,” but decided to only implement the new designs upon the next “full model redesign,” which wouldn’t take place until 2010. In an attempt to hide these defects from investigators, Toyota switched to verbal communication on the defect rather than traceable forms of communication [39] As a result, many new cars were knowingly produced with the same floor mat issues that had been identified as being having the potential to cause SUA problems in association with the defective pedal design.[40]

One of those vehicles, a 2009 ES350, was given as a loaner car to CHP officer Mark Saylor on August 28, 2009. Saylor and his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law were driving
on highway 125 in San Diego, California, when their car accelerated out of control and crashed into an embankment, killing everyone in the car. This crash gained nationwide
news coverage due to a recorded 911 call from Chris Lastrella, Saylor’s brother-in-law. In the moments before the crash, Lastrella could be heard telling the operator that the accelerator was stuck and that the brakes wouldn’t work.[41] That exact car had experienced the same problem when Frank Bernard had driven it as a loaner car a few days earlier. Bernard told investigators that he was accelerating to get past a merging truck when the accelerator pedal jammed into the floor mat and remained there when he took his foot off the pedal. Bernard was able to slow the car down to 50-60 mph with the brakes, but was only able to bring the car to a complete stop after putting the car in neutral.[42] After this accident, Toyota conducted 7 recalls related to unintended acceleration from September 2009 to March 2010. These recalls totaled approximately 10
million vehicles and mostly switched out all-weather mats and carpet covers that had the potential to cause pedal entrapment. At this point there was little evidence that there was ever any defect in the Electronic Throttle Control System (ETCS) that was installed in Toyota cars after 2002, despite requests to the NHTSA to investigate it, and Toyota announced that the root cause of sudden acceleration had been addressed.[43]

In April 2013, Betsy Benjaminson, a freelance translator working for Toyota to translate internal documents, released a personal statement about Toyota covering up facts about the sudden unintended acceleration problem. Benjaminson stated she “read many descriptions by executives and managers of how they had hoodwinked regulators, courts,
and even congress, by withholding, omitting, or misstating facts.” [44] Benjaminson also compared Toyota’s press releases and mentioned that they were obviously meant to
“maintain public belief in the safety of Toyota’s cars—despite providing no evidence to support those reassurances.” This public statement was released when Benjaminson
decided to name herself as a whistleblower after she had been providing evidence to Iowa Senator Charles Grassley.

This leak of internal documents fueled a criminal investigation by the FBI and the Justice Department that had been ongoing since 2010,[45] and on March 19, 2014, the DOJ
issued a deferred prosecution agreement with a $1.2 billion criminal penalty for issuing misleading and deceptive statements to its consumers and federal regulators, as well as hiding another cause of unintended acceleration, the sticky pedal, from the NHTSA.[40] This fine was separate from the $1.2 billion settlement of a class action suit paid to the drivers of Toyota cars who claimed that their cars had lost value as a result of the SUA problems gaining publicity in 2012 and is the largest criminal fine against an automaker in US history.[46] Toyota was also forced to pay a total of $66.2 million in fines to the Department of Transportation for failing to handle recalls properly and $25.5 million to Toyota shareholders whose stock lost value due to recalls. Nearly 400 wrongful-death and personal injury cases were also privately settled by Toyota as a result of unintended acceleration.[46]

Sudden acceleration can occur in two scenarios. In the first scenario, the vehicle is parked. The driver shifts the vehicle gear from park to reverse or drive and the vehicle suddenly accelerates. This acceleration after gear engagement involves an open throttle.

The second scenario involves acceleration from speed. In this scenario, the vehicle is on the road already and the vehicle surges, gaining speed. The throttle in this instance appears to become stuck open.

There are three common facts to both scenarios:

  • First, the scenario necessarily involves sudden unintended acceleration.
  • Second, the driver is unable to brake effectively.
  • Third, in many instances, the driver experiences a loss of steering control.
  • When a vehicle is being driven at slow speed, power steering allows a wide range of steering wheel rotation.
  • When a vehicle is being driven at a high speed, the vehicle has little range of rotation to avoid over-correction.
  • When a vehicle suddenly accelerates, the speed sensors in the vehicle interfere with hydraulic steering.
  • The vehicle may perceive that it is traveling at a high speed and allow less play in the steering mechanism.

If you experienced sudden acceleration in a vehicle that utilizes a CTS (electronic throttle control system) see image A1, and have been injured as a result, give Saffron
Investigations a call.

The main defense in sudden acceleration cases has been the inability of the Plaintiff to duplicate the incident. This single issue has been the basis upon which many, if not all, Defendants have sought to defeat meritorious claims. Many attorneys who have handled sudden acceleration cases have concluded the answer lies somewhere in the computer chips which were employed in the vehicles. One recent case, in particular, has demonstrated that at least General Motors has recognized the problem of radio interference (RF) or Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) and their effects on the Cruise Control Systems of General Motors vehicles. Another effect of RF may be to set up resonances which cause the cruise control to activate.

Another similar mechanism explaining sudden acceleration is vibrations. This mechanism may be particularly applicable in cruise control systems that use servo systems.

Please note that because of their voluminous nature, I am unable to attach the documents that I reference throughout this paper. However, if you would like copies of any of these documents, please feel free to contact my office.

II. The Search for Answers at the Computer Processor Level

The wide array of instances involving sudden and inadvertent acceleration constitutes powerful evidence that the phenomenon exists. In the case of Stuart v. General Motors, a jury returned a substantial verdict against General Motors in a case involving sudden acceleration. The case was reported as an unpublished opinion by the North Carolina Court of Appeals, however, the transcript of the trial is available. This trial offers some important information into the jury’s consideration of evidence related to Sudden Acceleration.

A. Trial Exhibits from Stuart v. General Motors
General Motors itself recognized that radiated electromagnetic interference had the potential for causing the interference with various electric systems. See”Determination of Susceptibility Levels for Automotive Electronic Systems due to Radiated Electromagnetic Interference.” This exhibit was offered and received in evidence in the Stuart case. This report asserts: “Electronic Systems may be affected when immersed in an electromagnetic field.” Page 1, “Determination of Susceptibility.” In similar testing General Motors concluded that conducted or radiated electromagnetic interference could in fact disrupt the proper functioning of the cruise control controller module. See “Controller Module, Request for Test.” This exhibit was offered and received in evidence in the Stuart case. This report concluded:

“During radiated Susceptibility samples #4, #5, and #7 could be induced to pull full servo while in cruise mode (brake remained functional and provided escape condition).” See A Controller Module, Request for Test, page 2, dated 10/28/86.

Equally significant is the fact that General Motors found that it could induce a wide open throttle condition with the introduction of bulk current into the system. See “Vehicle Status for U.A. Investigations at EMC,” dated May 8, 1987. On May 13, 1987, through the injection of bulk current, General Motors own test revealed that a wide open throttle condition resulted. This Wide Open throttle condition occurred in park, drive, reverse and idle. It was completely unrelated to any driver input because there was no driver involved in the testing. See Page A-5 of the Vehicle Status Report. This event was found to be repeatable. The bulk current was a 1.9-8.5 MHZ. Two days later, a General Motors employee conducting the tests reported: “Found W.O.T. [wide open throttle]. It has been determined that the internal tach is RF susceptible. It will no longer be used.” This drew the comment from a supervisor: “WOW.” See Page 6, document bates numbered 202241. Similar testing by General Motors revealed similar results. On June 15, 1987, the General Motors testing again revealed that Wide Open Throttle (W.O.T.) was being induced by 1.9 MHZ to 44 MHZ BCI. SeePage B-12, document bates numbered 202249. These results were not mentioned in one General Motors summary of these tests, entitled “AC Involvement in Alleged Unintended Acceleration Investigations.” According to that author, “AC performs excessive testing of controller to re-evaluate radiated EMC and conducted transient susceptibility No unintended acceleration conditions observed during these tests.” See document dated September 22, 1987 and Larry Hocken is named contact person for further unintended acceleration investigation.

Discovery in the Stuart case revealed that General Motors had experienced its own unintended acceleration events with General Motor owned vehicles. On August 22, 1987, at the Willow Run, Michigan General Motors facility, Mr. Jeff Talton crashed into a gate post. See incident report attached to this paper and introduced as evidence in Stuart v. General Motors. Mr. Talton started his 1988 Pontiac Bonneville and put it in reverse. Suddenly the vehicle accelerated into wide open throttle — despite the fact his foot was on the brake. See incident report introduced as evidence in Stuart v. General Motors.

General Motors had an engineer, Mr. Michael Holcomb, examine the vehicle. Mr. Holcomb has testified in a number of cases and it would be interesting to read if he has identified this particular investigation. In another similar set of events, a General Motors Dealership, Arrow Oldsmobile in Milwaukee, Wisconsin reported three separate vehicles in which unintended and sudden acceleration occurred. See Warranty Analysis and Savings Program, dated April 2, 1986. According to the dealership, a salesman was preparing to have a car examined by a potential customer. He put the car in park for approximately four minutes. When he placed the car into drive from the park position, the car accelerated beyond control. In fact, the salesman could not stop the car with both feet stomping on the brake pedal. See Warranty Analysis and Savings Program, dated April 2, 1986. This dealership had a second vehicle experience the same type event. In this instance a service technician started to back out of a parking lot when the vehicle took off. The service technician asserted that he was unable to stop the vehicle even with his foot on the brakes.

This odd scenario repeated itself in an almost identical fashion when a 1986 H-car suddenly accelerated while a salesman was demonstrating the car to a customer. The salesman reported that he felt the pedal pull away from his foot while he put the car into drive. Warranty and Safety Analysis, dated June 26, 1986. A particularly telling statement comes in a handwritten note attached to this report, which states, “Van Landingham regards the “CRUISE” light as indicative of where the failure may be occurring, but I’m not so sure. There may be a path for RF to turn it on.” See document bates numbered 202171. In reality, General Motors like all vehicle manufacturers realized long ago that there vehicles were experienced unintended wide open throttle conditions. However, due the transient nature of this dangerous condition, real world duplication of the exact failure is difficult at best. Therefore, the key element for General Motors was to maintain deniability.

Another aspect investigated by General Motors was the effect of vehicle vibration on the cruise control system. On June 29, 1987, General Motors engineers reported on the
results of their tests on the effects of vibrations. See Cruise Control Vibrations dated June 29, 1987 attached hereto. This report offered the conclusion that “The cruise control vacuum valve can be opened by vehicle vibration levels experienced under fast idle conditions.” See Cruise Control Vibrations dated June 29, 1987 attached hereto. The report further concluded that the “cruise control valve can’t be closed by vehicle vibration.” See Cruise Control Vibrations dated June 29, 1987 attached hereto. Importantly, these engineers reported that the “cruise control servo vibration is amplified by resonances of its mounting bracket at 28 to 56 MHZ.” SeeCruise Control Vibrations dated June 29, 1987 attached hereto. On July 27, 1987, in a huge understatement, the author remarks, There was a general agreement that the servo vibration sensitivity was undesirable and steps to reduce or eliminate that sensitivity was discussed. See Joint Meeting on Cruise System, dated July 27, 1987 attached hereto. Engineering Investigations also authored a paper revealing the fault conditions necessary for a vent valve to stick. (1) ignition cycles or cruise switch cycles pulse vacuum valve or (2) vibration at cruise servo can unseat vacuum valve and cause a rapid increase in engine speed.

B. The Use of These Exhibits At Trial
The trial in Stuart v. General Motor-shad an interesting posture. The driver of the car was a co-defendant. The driver asserted a cross-claim against General Motors. Frank
Graham, the defense attorney for the driver, did a marvelous job at trial of showing how absurd it was for General Motors to assert that every unintended acceleration was the result of driver error. In the end, one of the key factors included the factor that General Motors was testing for various types of radiated electronic interference, but nonetheless contended that electronic interference could never affect the cruise control.

III. Chrysler & Sudden Acceleration

Mr. Rex Kenney is a engineer in California and was the purchaser of a Chrysler Jeep Cherokee. This vehicle began to suddenly accelerate. Mr. Kenney attempted to have these problems repaired. In a typical stance taken by Chrysler, Mr. Kenney was told that he was simply mistaken and that his Jeep Cherokee would not suddenly accelerate. Unlike many consumers, Mr. Kenney continued to pursue this issue. He made a Freedom of Information Request to the NHTSA and this request yielded some critical documents –documents which were later contested by Chrysler and apparently removed from the public files. Furthermore, Mr. Kenney carried a videotape camera and recorded some instances of his vehicle’s malfunctioning. As Mr. Kenney learned, Chrysler instituted a Task Force to examine unintended acceleration. See Exhibits from Rex Kenney Deposition in Colonna v. Chrysler. The materials obtained by Mr. Kenney are now in the possession of the ATLA Sudden Acceleration Litigation Group. Importantly, Chrysler had previously denied the existence of any such Task Force. See Plaintiff’s Reply to Defendant’s Response to Plaintiff’s Memorandum In Support of Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions and to Strike Defendant’s Expert Testimony in Colonna v. Chrysler. These documents reveal a series of problems with inadvertent acceleration. Finally, much of the documentation in Colonna v. Chrysler was subject to a Protective Order. Additionally, in Sellers v. Chrysler, yet another death resulted from the sudden acceleration of a Jeep Cherokee. See Complaint in Sellers v. Chrysler.

U.S. Department of Transportation Releases Results from NHTSA-NASA Study of Unintended Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland and Deputy Administrator Ron Medford
DOT 16-11
Tuesday, February 8, 2011
Contact: Olivia Alair
Tel: (202) 366-4570

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. Department of Transportation released results from an unprecedented ten-month study of potential electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched the study last spring at the request of Congress, and enlisted NASA engineers with expertise in areas such as computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity to conduct new research into whether electronic systems or electromagnetic interference played a role in incidents of unintended acceleration.

NASA engineers found no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration
incidents. The two mechanical safety defects identified by NHTSA more than a year ago – “sticking” accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats – remain the only known causes for these kinds of unsafe unintended acceleration incidents. Toyota has recalled nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States for these two defects.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no
electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.” In conducting their report, NASA engineers evaluated the electronic circuitry in Toyota vehicles and analyzed more than 280,000 lines of software code for any potential flaws that could initiate an unintended acceleration incident. At the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, NASA hardware and systems engineers rigorously examined and tested mechanical components of Toyota vehicles that could result in an unwanted throttle opening. At a special facility in Michigan, NHTSA and NASA engineers bombarded vehicles with electromagnetic radiation to study whether such radiation could cause malfunctions resulting in unintended acceleration. NHTSA engineers and researchers also tested Toyota vehicles at NHTSA’s Vehicle Research and Test Center in East Liberty, Ohio to determine whether there were any additional mechanical causes for unintended acceleration and whether any of the test scenarios developed during the NHTSA-NASA investigation could actually occur in real-world conditions.

“NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations,” said Michael Kirsch, Principal Engineer at the NASA Engineering and
Safety Center (NESC).

While NASA and NHTSA have identified no electronic cause of dangerous unintended acceleration incidents in Toyota vehicles or any new mechanical causes beyond sticking
pedals and accelerator pedal entrapment, NHTSA is considering taking several new actions as the result of today’s findings, including:

Propose rules, by the end of 2011, to require brake override systems, to standardize operation of keyless ignition systems, and to require the installation of event data recorders in all passenger vehicles;
Begin broad research on the reliability and security of electronic control systems;
Research the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals, as well as driver usage of pedals, to determine whether design and placement can be improved to reduce pedal misapplication.
NHTSA and NASA will also brief the National Academy of Sciences panel currently conducting a broad review of unintended acceleration and electronic throttle control systems on the reports released today.

“While today marks the end of our study with NASA, our work to protect millions of American drivers continues,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “The record
number of voluntary recalls initiated by automakers last year is also very good news, and shows that we can work cooperatively with industry to protect consumers.”

Based on objective event data recorder (EDR) readings and crash investigations conducted as part of NHTSA’s report, NHTSA is researching whether better placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals can reduce pedal misapplication, which occurs in vehicles across the industry. NHTSA’s forthcoming rulemaking to require brake override systems in all passenger vehicles will further help ensure that braking can take precedence over the accelerator pedal in emergency situations. The ongoing National Academy of Sciences study, which will examine unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire automotive industry, will also make recommendations to NHTSA. The NAS study was launched in spring 2010 alongside the NHTSA-NASA investigation and will be finalized later in 2011.

In 2009 and 2010, Toyota recalled nearly eight million vehicles as part of the sticky pedal and pedal entrapment recalls. Toyota also paid $48.8 million in civil penalties as the result of NHTSA investigations into the timeliness of several safety recalls last year. Across the industry, automakers voluntarily initiated a record number of safety recalls in 2010.

FACT SHEET: Unintended Acceleration in Toyota Vehicles — Background & Timeline

Toyota has recalled nearly eight million vehicles in the United States for two mechanical safety defects that can cause unintended acceleration: ‘sticking’ accelerator pedals and a design flaw that can cause accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats. When NHTSA first identified the two defects more than a year ago, the agency pushed Toyota to conduct recalls quickly. Toyota later paid nearly $33 million in civil penalties as the result of investigations into whether the company notified NHTSA in a timely manner about these defects.

During Congressional hearings on the Toyota recalls in February 2010, Members of Congress asked NHTSA to study whether electronic or software problems in Toyota vehicles could be to blame for unintended acceleration. At Congress’ request, NHTSA simultaneously launched two studies: one designed to evaluate possible electronic causes for unintended acceleration in Toyotas, and a broader effort to look at unintended acceleration across the automotive industry. In March 2010, NHTSA enlisted top NASA engineers and experts in areas such as electromagnetic compatibility to study whether electronic flaws can cause unintended acceleration. In its final report, NASA engineers found no evidence of an electronic defect in Toyota vehicles capable of producing dangerous, high-speed unintended acceleration incidents. The two mechanical safety defects originally identified by NHTSA remain the only known causes of dangerous unintended acceleration incidents.

Nevertheless, NHTSA has announced several new actions it may take as a result of their work with NASA to address the safety of vehicle electronics systems. NHTSA will consider rules to require brake override systems, standardize operation of keyless ignition systems, and require the installation of event data recorders in all passenger vehicles. NHTSA will conduct broad research on the reliability of electronic throttle control systems across the vehicle fleet. The agency will also initiate new research on driver behavior and the placement and design of floor pedals in an effort to identify strategies that can reduce pedal misapplication.

The second study launched by U.S. DOT in March 2010 remains under way. The Department has enlisted the prestigious National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to undertake a broad review of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the automotive industry. An independent panel of scientific experts at NAS is currently working to identify possible sources of unintended acceleration, including electronic vehicle controls and human error. Later in 2011, the panel will make recommendations to NHTSA on how its rulemaking, research, and defect investigation activities can help ensure the safety of electronic control systems in motor vehicles.

Timeline of Major Events

March 29, 2007: NHTSA opens a preliminary investigation into pedal entrapment on MY’07 Lexus ES350 models based on five consumer complaints alleging three crashes and seven injuries. The all weather floor mat is identified as the possible cause of these incidents.

July 26, 2007: A fatal crash occurs in San Jose, CA involving a ‘07 Camry in which the driver suffers serious injuries and the driver of the struck vehicle is killed. The incident also appears to have been caused by a pedal trapped by an all weather floor mat.

September 13, 2007: After determining the fatal San Jose crash was caused by floor mat entrapment, NHTSA tells Toyota a recall is necessary.

September 26, 2007: Toyota recalls 55,000 floor mats in ’07 and ‘08 Camrys and ES350s.

August 28, 2009: A fatal crash occurs in Santee, CA, involving a loaner ’09 ES350. The vehicle is found to have an all weather floor mat from another Lexus vehicle. Investigators find that the vehicle’s previous driver had reported an entrapment incident to the dealership.

September 25, 2009: NHTSA meets with Toyota and tells the company that the floor mat recall is insufficient and the agency expects a recall for the defect in pedal design. Three days later, Toyota tells NHTSA the company will recall the gas pedals.

October 5, 2009: Toyota recalls 3.8 million vehicles for pedal entrapment by floor mat and sends an interim letter to consumers telling them to remove floor mats. The defect remedy involves gas pedal reconfiguration, floor pan/carpeting revisions, and ‘brake pedal override’ software for vehicles with keyless ignition.

December 15, 2009: NHTSA officials meet with Toyota executives in Japan to explain NHTSA’s defect recall process and underscore Toyota’s obligations under U.S. law to find and report defects promptly. Toyota commits to making improvements.

January 16, 2010: Toyota informs NHTSA that certain CTS-brand pedals may have a dangerous ‘sticking’ defect. NHTSA calls an in-person meeting on January 19.

January 19, 2010: At the meeting, Toyota provides field reports on sticky pedal incidents, and NHTSA tells Toyota the agency expects prompt action. Toyota informs NHTSA several hours later that the company will issue a recall.

January 21, 2010: Toyota recalls 2.3 million vehicles for the sticky pedal defect.

January 27, 2010: At NHTSA’s urging, Toyota expands its pedal entrapment recall to cover an additional 1.1 million vehicles.

February 16, 2010: NHTSA launches an official probe into the timeliness and scope of the pedal entrapment and sticky pedal Toyota recalls.

March 30, 2010: At the request of Congress, the U.S. DOT announces two studies into unintended acceleration. One looks at possible electronics causes for unintended
acceleration in Toyotas; the other examines unintended acceleration and the safety of vehicle electronics across the automotive industry.

April 5, 2010: NHTSA demands the maximum, $16.375 million, civil penalty on Toyota for its failure to notify the agency of the sticky pedal defect for more than four months after discovering it. Auto manufacturers are legally obligated to notify NHTSA within five business days of determining that a safety defect exists. Toyota pays the full fine on April 19.

December 20, 2010: Toyota agrees to pay the maximum $16.375 million civil penalty as the result of another NHTSA investigation into whether their recall of 5.5 million vehicles for pedal entrapment was conducted in a timely manner.

NHTSA won’t probe into Toyota unintended acceleration

David Shepardson, Detroit News Washington Bureau 11:26 a.m. EDT August 21, 2015
Toyota Sales Up Nearly 42 Percent From September 2011

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it will not open a formal investigation into unintended acceleration claims in Lexus and Toyota vehicles.

The denial is the second time this year the safety agency has refused to open a probe into unintended acceleration.

The petition filed by a California man was based on his interpretation of Event Data Recorder data from a crash his wife experienced in a 2009 Lexus ES350 vehicle and from two other crashes involving a 2010 Toyota Corolla and a 2009 Toyota Camry. NHTSA found that the three crashes were likely the result of using the accelerator — rather than the brake pedal — rather than sudden unintended acceleration.

Sudden Unintentional Acceleration Case Screening


Sudden unintended acceleration definition- (UA) is the unintended, unexpected uncontrolled acceleration of a vehicle, often accompanied by an apparent loss of braking effectiveness. Such problems may be caused by driver error( e.g. pedal misapplication ),mechanical or electrical problems, or some combination of these factors.

If you have experienced a (UA) event which resulted in either a contact accident with another vehicle involving injuries, or a near miss non contact incident, Saffron Investigations may be able to help you. Both NASA and NHTSA engineers after a lengthy investigation have identified two known causes of (UA) unintentional vehicle acceleration that do not involve drivers error. Saffron investigations is currently exploring other potential causes of (UA) that could explain how your incident occurred. Saffron Investigations has the certified accident investigators with the experience, knowledge and skills you will need to properly prepare your case.


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