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For Three Years, Toyota Ignored Need for Brake Override Software

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Since 2007, when a number of complaints had already come in saying that Toyotas were accelerating out of control, federal regulators have been asking Toyota to install software in its vehicles to prevent runaway incidents. This software, which has been used by other manufacturers for years, automatically sets a car’s throttle to idle whenever the brake and accelerator are pressed at the same time.

Yet the automaker began installing the safety feature, known as brake override, only this January after a widely publicized accident involving a runaway Lexus ES that killed four people near San Diego.

E-mails and a company memorandum obtained by Congress show that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigators discussed brake override with Toyota officials in August 2007, and that in 2008, a year before the San Diego crash, the automaker ordered an internal feasibility study of the technology.

"These documents raise some questions about whether Toyota was doing enough to deal with" sudden acceleration, said Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa), vice chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigations panel. "It’s obvious that other manufacturers were doing something. Maybe more than Toyota is doing even now." –LA Times

Since January, almost 10 million Toyotas have been recalled—many for their potential to accelerate out of control. Safety experts speculate that over the last 10 years, at least 56 people have died and hundreds have suffered injuries in accidents caused by sudden uncontrollable acceleration.

The more we learn about Toyota’s history with respect to this issue, the more it seems that the company was just asking to hurt and kill people with its defective vehicles. While installing brake-override software now will hopefully prevent future runaway accidents from happening, Toyota could have saved dozens of lives and prevented hundreds more injuries by simply dropping the holier-than-thou attitude, and respecting American regulators from the beginning.

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  1. Brett Emison says:
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    Agreed, mike, but it’s actually far worse. Brake override systems (“smart brakes”) have been used by other automakers (Chrysler, Nissan, Volkswagen, Audi, etc.) for more than a decade. Toyota could have installed them 10-15 years ago for less than $1/vehicle, but didn’t.