Entries in Toyota (5)


Watch Out! Self-Driving Cars Approved in Nevada

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(CARSON CITY, Nev.) -- Google’s self-driving car has been demoed a number of times over the past few years -- Good Morning America even took it for a spin in 2010. But the pedal’s about to be really put to the metal in Nevada.

Nevada’s Legislative Commission has approved regulations that would allow self-driving vehicles on the state’s roadways.

“Nevada is the first state to embrace what is surely the future of automobiles,” the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles Director Bruce Breslow said in a statement on the DMV’s website.

“These regulations establish requirements companies must meet to test their vehicles on Nevada’s public roadways as well as requirements for residents to legally operate them in the future,” said Breslow.

But the state is going even further: It is developing “licensing procedures” for companies to test their self-driving cars. Google has already signed on to test-drive its self-driving Toyota Prius. (Google was behind the legislation lobbying effort.) Car manufacturers such as BMW and Audi are working on similar vehicles.

Drivers will be able to distinguish self-driving test vehicles by their  red license plates. When the robotic cars actually make it to market, they will have green license plates.

General Motors has predicted the technology will be standard by 2020, which means it will probably be awhile before lots of cars with green license plates are seen zooming around the Silver State.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


DOT: No Electronic Sudden Acceleration in Toyotas

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- There is no electronic flaw in Toyota vehicles that could cause sudden acceleration, according to a study released Tuesday by the Department of Transportation.

After a 10-month study in conjunction with NASA engineers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced, "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. Period."

The only known causes of the "unsafe and unintended" acceleration in Toyotas were mechanical safety flaws involving the "sticking" accelerators and accelerators becoming trapped underneath the vehicles' floor mat, the study said.

In addition to the findings, the NHTSA announced the agency is considering taking several steps to improving driver safety including requiring a brake override system, making "event data recorders" mandatory in all passenger vehicles and researching the placement of the pedals to "reduce pedal misapplication."

In the past two years, Toyota has recalled nearly eight million of its vehicles due to the pedal malfunctions and paid nearly $50 million in civil penalties after an NHTSA investigation into the problem.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Runaway Lexus Driver In LA Sues Toyota

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto/Toyota(NEW YORK) -- Two months after prosecutors dropped vehicular manslaughter charges against her, a Los Angeles woman has filed suit against Toyota, claiming that sudden unintended acceleration in her Lexus SUV led to a fatal accident in 2008. Unmi Suk Chung, 62, alleges the crash was caused by a defect in the car's electronic throttle.

Chung was behind the wheel of her Lexus RX 330 when it sped out of control and slammed into a Mercedes at an off ramp. Chung's 69-year-old sister-in-law, who was in the back seat of the Lexus, was killed in the crash. A passenger who survived the crash said that Chung screamed, "No brakes! No brakes!" as the car hurtled west at 80 mph on the Santa Monica Freeway.

Despite Chung's claims that the Lexus suddenly accelerated on its own and that her brakes failed to stop the vehicle, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office charged her with gross vehicular manslaughter and felony reckless driving. If convicted, Chung could have faced a maximum possible sentence of six years and eight months in jail.

In October, prosecutors dismissed the charges. John Lynch of the L.A. County D.A.'s office said the case did not "appear to warrant continuing the prosecution," citing the fact that Chung was not intoxicated, had no record, and the victim's family did not want the case to proceed.

Chung's attorney Hutton said at the time that his client "continues to believe the vehicle was the cause" of the accident. The family of Chung's deceased sister-in-law, Esook Synn, has already filed its own suit against Toyota, alleging that the accident was caused by an electronic malfunction in the Lexus.

In a statement, Toyota spokesperson Mike Michels said, "Toyota sympathizes with all of those affected by the accident involving Ms. Unmi Suk Chung." However, Michels said, "Any allegations that a defect in Toyota's Electronic Throttle Control System caused unintended acceleration in the RX330 are completely unfounded and have no merit. We firmly believe that Toyota's Electronic Throttle Control System is safe, well designed, thoroughly tested, and robust."

The Chung case closely parallels that of Minnesota Toyota driver Koua Fong Lee. Lee was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison after his 1996 Toyota Camry sped out of control and slammed into another car in 2006, killing the driver and two passengers. After serving two years of his sentence, Lee's case was reopened following widespread publicity over other cases of Toyotas allegedly experiencing sudden unintended acceleration.

Lee had steadfastly maintained that the Camry's brakes failed during the incident and that he had shouted "brakes not working!" to his family as the vehicle raced out of control. After a four-day hearing this summer, a judge ruled that Lee was entitled to a new trial and shortly thereafter, prosecutors announced they would not try Lee again. Lee, now a free man, has decided to join a civil lawsuit filed by the victims' family members and a survivor of the crash against Toyota over the alleged sudden acceleration issue.

The Lexus RX 330 driven by Chung in Los Angeles was recalled in 2006 to fix a floor mat that Toyota said might cause the gas pedal to stick.

According to the Los Angeles Times, a passenger in the Lexus told the California Highway Patrol that Chung also shouted, "No brakes! No brakes!" right before the crash. The Lexus was traveling an estimated 80 mph on Interstate 10 when it crashed at the Overland Avenue exit ramp. The Times also said that a woman who claimed to have witnessed the crash wrote on the Los Angeles Fire Department's web site that she saw a "look of terror" on Chung's face during the incident.

However, prosecutors say the evidence "appeared to suggest" that Chung was mistakenly pressing on the gas pedal instead of the brake, which was a factor in the decision to drop charges. According to Lynch, "there's an issue in many people minds as to whether or not it goes beyond simple negligence and amounts to criminal negligence."

Lynch acknowledged that the defense maintained that "because it was a Toyota product maybe there was sudden acceleration syndrome, an electronic defect in the car itself."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Toyota's Own Drivers Were Behind Wheel in Sudden Acceleration Cases

Photo Courtesy - PRNewsFoto/Toyota Media Relations(WASHINGTON) -- According to a new court filing, Toyota company documents reveal that its own drivers were behind the wheel in two separate cases when the vehicles experienced sudden acceleration, as their owners had alleged had happened to them.

One of the documents states, according to the filing, that a Toyota vehicle unexpectedly accelerated from 71 mph to 95 mph with "no pedal contact" while being evaluated by a Toyota service manager.

Toyota did not initially report either case of "runaway" cars to federal auto safety regulators, according to Department of Transportation officials, who told ABC News that documents relating to the incidents were not turned over until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began a formal investigation into the sudden acceleration controversy.

Both cases were disclosed in documents filed as part of a class action suit against Toyota by dozens of Toyota owners who claim that cases of sudden unintended acceleration have caused them personal injury or financial harm due to the reduced resale values of their vehicles. Multiple lawsuits have been combined into one multi-district federal class action suit h in the U.S. District Court in Southern California.

Toyota bought both vehicles back from their owners -- who had brought them in complaining about sudden acceleration -- and both owners say Toyota urged them not to discuss the incidents. The two cases could undercut Toyota's claims that every case of sudden acceleration can be attributed to driver error, faulty floor mats or sticky gas pedals.

Norma Deck told ABC News that she experienced two instances of sudden unintended acceleration with her 2009 Toyota Corolla and brought the car into the Penske Toyota dealership in Round Rock, Texas. According to the filing, a Toyota internal document says a Toyota "technician" took Deck's car out on an inspection drive.

The document states, according to the filing, that after proceeding from a stoplight, the "tech[nician] started to lightly accelerate" and after travelling "20-30 feet the vehicle exhibited a slight hesitation and then began to accelerate on its own." Engine speed "was estimated to have gone from 1500 rpm to 5500 rpm at the time of the occurrence," according to the filing. 

When contacted by ABC News, Deck said the dealership told her that they were able to replicate sudden acceleration in the Corolla. She said Toyota subsequently bought her Corolla back from her, but said she couldn't divulge more details because Toyota required her to sign both a confidentiality agreement about the sale and an agreement not to sue Toyota.

In Milpitas, California, the owner of a 2009 Toyota Tacoma brought his truck into the Piercey Toyota dealership after complaining that the vehicle accelerated without explanation. According to the court filing, another Toyota internal document states that in July of 2009 a dealership service manager took the vehicle on an inspection drive on a nearby freeway.

"As there was no traffic in front of them, the Service Manager removed his foot from the accelerator [and]moved it completely away from the pedal area," the document states, according to the filing, and "[t]he vehicle continued to accelerate at what felt like [an estimated] 70% throttle input with no pedal contact from the driver [and] within 300 feet of the initial acceleration, the vehicle had reached 95 MPH."

The document states, according to the filing, that the floor mats were securely in place at the time of the incident and no fault codes were generated by the onboard computer and "[a]s the Service Manager who experienced the condition above is considered to be trustworthy and reliable, the vehicle will be repurchased for further investigation."

When reached by ABC News, the owner of the Tacoma confirmed that Toyota had bought the Tacoma back from him and said the dealer informed him that they were able to replicate sudden acceleration in the vehicle. The driver, who asked not to be named, told ABC News that while Toyota did not ask him to sign a confidentiality agreement they urged him not to talk about the case. According to California's vehicle Lemon Law, owners cannot be required to sign confidentiality agreements over vehicles with possible defects.

"The deeper we dig into the facts that surround Toyota, the more damning the evidence that Toyota was aware of the issue, and failed to act responsibly," said Steve Berman, co-lead counsel for plaintiffs in the class action suit. "Toyota's been publicly blaming drivers, floor mats and pedals for acceleration defects while quietly removing defective vehicles from the market."

According to plaintiff's lawyers, who say they have investigated hundreds of complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, the Corolla and the Tacoma are the only cases they are aware of where Toyota has re-purchased vehicles after an alleged case of sudden acceleration.

When asked about the cases by ABC News, Toyota said that it is not unusual for the company to repurchase vehicles "as part of our commitment to investigate acceleration concerns." According to Toyota spokesperson Brian Lyons, owners are not required to sign confidentiality agreements when a vehicle is bought back, but "they enter into them voluntarily as part of a mutual settlement agreement."

Lyons confirmed that Toyota had repurchased the Tacoma and Corolla in question, and said that Toyota engineers have been "driving and evaluating" the vehicles "thousands of miles and no problems have been found" and "we continue to drive these vehicles even today." "As well as these vehicles, [since April Toyota] has evaluated approximately 4,200 vehicles in North America. Toyota has not found a single case in which the vehicle's electronic throttle control system would lead to unintended acceleration," said Lyons.

Toyota said that it had informed the NHTSA about the cases through the company's "Field Technical Report process." However, Olivia Alair, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said an investigation revealed that Toyota did not report the incidents to NHTSA at the time of the occurrences. Instead, the memos detailing the cases were among hundreds of thousands of other documents that were submitted to NHTSA earlier this year after the agency initiated a probe into the sudden acceleration issue in February. According to Alair, NHTSA is "currently in discussions with Toyota about these incidents."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Freed From Prison, Minnesota Toyota Driver Will Sue Toyota

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(MINNEAPOLIS) -- Koua Fong Lee, the Minnesota Toyota driver set free by a judge this summer after spending two years in prison for vehicular homicide, has asked to join a lawsuit against Toyota.

Lee was convicted after his 1996 Toyota Camry sped out of control on a St. Paul interstate off-ramp and slammed into another car, killing the driver and two passengers. A motion filed by his attorneys Tuesday would allow him to join the existing lawsuit against Toyota filed by a survivor and family members of the victims.

Lee, now 32, has always maintained that his car accelerated on its own and that he applied the brakes but could not stop the car.

"He is aggravated with Toyota," said Bob Hilliard, one of Lee's attorneys. He said his client recognizes it will be a big day for him to finally get a chance to have Toyota come into court and listen to why he believes Toyota is responsible. The hearing on the motion is set for Nov. 8, 2010.

Toyota's press office declined to comment on Lee's lawsuit.

Lee served two years of an eight-year vehicular homicide sentence after his Camry crashed into an Oldsmobile, killing driver Javis Adams and his 10-year-old son and injuring Adams' seven-year-old niece Devyn Bolton, who later died of her injuries. Passenger Quincy Adams survived.

Lee granted an exclusive prison interview to ABC News in February and at that time told Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross that he pressed the Camry's brakes repeatedly but the car would not stop.

Lee's attorneys maintained the accident was caused by unintended acceleration. They presented numerous other cases of owners of 1996 Camrys who alleged that they had also experienced throttle control problems, as well as the results of a re-examination of the crashed Camry by an expert witness.

The Ramsey County prosecutor's office had maintained there was no new evidence. In April, two experts hired by the prosecutor re-examined the car and reported "...there were no problems with the brakes or throttle system." They blamed the accident on driver error.

Following a four-day hearing in August, Judge Joanne Smith ruled there was enough evidence to grant Lee a new trial. She ordered him freed pending trial. However, less than an hour later, prosecutors announced they would not try Lee again.

Right before the judge's ruling, Lee had rejected a plea deal from prosecutors that would have allowed him to go home a free man, but would still brand him a convicted felon.

According to ABC affiliate KSTP, prosecutors said Lee could return home to his family if he accepted their offer to plead guilty to the same felony and be released immediately. The terms of the plea would mean Lee would still be a convicted felon with 15 years of probation and his driving privileges would be suspended for 10 years.

Lee's defense attorneys told KSTP his reason for rejecting the deal was because he continues to maintain he was pressing the brake at the time of the accident and he is not a felon.

The family of the victims had also backed a new trial. Michael Padden, attorney for the victims' family, said his clients were "shocked" at the plea offer and "disappointed" with the prosecutors.

In an interview with ABC News – his first following his release from jail – Lee said he was anxious to see his four children, ranging in age from two and a half to eight years old. "The first thing I'm going to do is talk to them, to get to know them, to play with them," Lee said. "I want them to know I am their daddy. I will teach them what the word daddy means."

Lee's attorney Bob Hilliard credited an ABC News report from Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross for garnering attention on the case.

"It was the result of the ABC report that brought the people to us that said they want to help us," Hilliard said. Lee's attorneys said dozens of witnesses came forward with similar stories of unintended acceleration problems with their 1996 Toyota Camrys, like what happened in Lee's case.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio