An Auto Accident Lawyer Looks at the Toyota Situation I am a car accident lawyer. I represent people injured in car accidents. I am also a long-time Toyota customer. (Three Camrys over the years and a Prius currently).
We bought the Prius new. It has about 22,000 miles on it. We have not experienced unintended acceleration and indeed have had no problems with the car. So, am I concerned? You bet, and here’s why.
A few months ago we received a “Safety Recall Notice” from Toyota. The notice identifies “…the potential for an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat to interfere with the accelerator pedal and cause it to get stuck in the wide open position. Toyota has determined that the defect does not exist in vehicles in which the driver side floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.”
I took a closer look at the Prius. We have a standard Toyota carpet mat. At the end of the mat closest to the seat, there are two holes through which hooks (attached to the floor) protrude, holding the mat in place. These seem to work quite well. It is not easy to dislodge the mat from the hooks. At the other end of the mat, there is a two and a half inch clearance between the mat (assuming it is lying flat) and the top of the accelerator pedal. If the mat is unhooked and placed over the gas pedal, it will not depress the pedal. It does not weigh enough to depress the pedal. Similarly, if the pedal is depressed and the mat then placed over the pedal, the pedal return mechanism provides enough force to overcome the weight of the mat and return the pedal to its zero position. So, since we have an original Toyota mat which is always properly secured with the hooks, I assumed we had no problem. Evidently, I was wrong.
I recently looked at the Toyota website. I typed in my Prius VIN and learned that Toyota is planning to have my local service department contact me during 2010 in order to remedy the potential for my floor mat to entrap the pedal. The remedy includes “reshaping” the accelerator pedal.
I still don’t understand how my standard issue Toyota mat can cause pedal entrapment. I don’t understand why it’s necessary for the service department to reshape my accelerator pedal, whatever that means. I have a hard time believing that the hundreds of reports of unintended acceleration can all be explained by accelerator pedal floor mat entrapment.
Is it the mats? Or the electronic throttle? Or driver error? What should Toyota do to finally clear this up? Here are my modest suggestions:
- Explain in detail how and under what conditions the mat can cause unintended acceleration.
- Explain in detail how the proposed fix to the mats will correct the situation, as opposed to making it worse. (Remember the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”)
- Provide to an independent (by that I mean people not paid by Toyota or, for that matter, by Plaintiffs’ attorneys) blue chip panel of scientists and engineers (as in the Challenger investigation) all the technical data needed to evaluate not only floor mat entrapment, but the possibility that the electronic throttle control is the culprit. Also, immediately provide the panel with all available black box data on any unintended acceleration event.
Yes, if there is a problem, Toyota will be sued and may have to pay damages, which is only right. However, by addressing the problem openly and honestly, Toyota will avoid later occurring car accidents and the lawsuits that arise from them. They will also go a long way toward restoring the American public’s trust in their cars.