Friday, July 16, 2010

Oil Spill Done, Hysteria Shifts Back to Toyota

By The Lost Motorcyclist

Now that the oil spill is over, time to focus the hysteria back where it really belongs: Toyota.

July 13, the "Wall Street Journal" put out a story titled "Early Tests Pin Toyota Accidents on Drivers"

The link to the article is here.

Here is a partial quote:

"One case studied by U.S. regulators involves Myrna Marseille of Kohler, Wis., who reported in March that her 2009 Toyota Camry accelerated out of control and crashed into a building.

Ms. Marseille said in an interview Tuesday that she was entering a parking space near a library when she heard the engine roar. "I looked down and my foot was still on the brake, so I did not have my foot on the gas pedal," she said.

Police in Sheboygan Falls, Wis., investigated and believe driver error was to blame, Chief Steven Riffel said Tuesday. He said surveillance video showed that the brake lights didn't illuminate until after the crash. But Mr. Riffel said that determination is preliminary and that his agency has turned over the investigation to NHTSA.

Based on the black box data, NHTSA investigators found that the brake was not engaged and the throttle was wide open, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Ms. Marseille sticks by her story. "It makes me very angry when someone tells me, 'She probably hit the gas pedal instead,' because I think it's a sexist comment, an ageist comment," she said."

Apparently, in the thousands of different cases to sift through, it takes a while to get the truth, if it's even possible. In the case of Myrna Marseille, although she swore she was pressing the brake, a video surveillance camera showed that she was not, the car's brake light came on after the crash. The car's internal data recorder is consistent with the surveillance camera.

This story in the WSJ got plenty of reaction. For example, Autoguide's title is "Report: Toyota ‘Planted’ Driver Error Story Claims NHTSA Insider"

You can read the original story yourself, (I hope) and see that Toyota and the NHTSA sources are actually credited right in the Wall Street Journal story, so "planted" is a misuse of the word in this context.

for example:

"A NHTSA spokeswoman declined to comment on the findings, which haven't been released by the agency."

"Daniel Smith, NHTSA's associate administrator for enforcement, told a panel of the National Academy of Sciences last month that the agency's sudden-acceleration probe had yet to find any car defects beyond those identified by the company: pedals entrapped by floor mats, and accelerator pedals that are slow to return to idle.

"In spite of our investigations, we have not actually been able yet to find a defect" in electronic throttle-control systems, Mr. Smith told the scientific panel, which is looking into potential causes of sudden acceleration.

"We're bound and determined that if it exists, we're going to find it," he added. "But as yet, we haven't found it."

"Some Toyota officials say they are informally aware of the NHTSA data-recorder results. Toyota officials haven't been briefed on the findings, but they corroborate its own tests, said Mike Michels, the chief spokesman for Toyota Motor Sales."

Toyota's biggest mistake was its early decision to not lay the blame on driver error. It's like sticking a bleeding hand into the Amazon river to check for Piranhas. I think Toyota is quite aware now that there are more bad drivers out there than they originally thought. Not just bad drivers, but people who don't have access to unbiased information in the news. And I haven't even got to the pathological liars yet.

Picture: Graph shows the complaints spiked after the news stories got out, and not when Toyota installed fly by wire throttles, as the Class action lawsuit lawyers alleged.


  1. When we discussed the Toyota SUA issue back in January, the preponderance of media opinion seemed to be that this was not a driver error situation.

    At that point, one could not help wondering how much of what was being 'reported' was propaganda, put out by the various interests associated with the automotive or tort industries.

    The Wall Street Journal article you reference seems to have triggered much of the same kind of questionable coverage.

    Within hours, a flurry of articles debunking the reported NHTSA findings appeared ...

    The Detroit News (staunch defender of the 'domestic' auto industry) was quick to criticize Toyota for its alleged long-standing failures to cooperate with safety regulators.

    Just-auto (based in the UK) quickly repeated the allegations that Toyota planted the operator error story, quoting the (always convincing) 'unnamed spokesperson' at NHTSA.

    In fact, this entire SUA fiasco has been plagued with substandard reporting. Even Canada's CBC has been complicit, uncritically reporting the 89 deaths figure. Detailed analysis of the NHTSA database has revealed that figure to be spurious.

    The NHTSA, of course, has not yet released its conclusions, and one suspects that it may yet be some time (because of the legal ramifications) before those findings are actually published. So speculation and irresponsible reporting will no doubt persist.

    Personally, I'm inclined to give considerable weight to the 'preliminary' NHTSA findings. National Public Radio was able to interview one of the journalists in the WSJ article, and he clarifies that the NHTSA findings thus far indicate operator error.

    It's also been interesting to compare the European experience with SUA to the American one.

    Perhaps that's because Europe receives a lower level of cosmic radiation than the U.S.

  2. Update on the NHTSA/NASA investigation into the Toyota SUA problems ...

    'Investigators with NASA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have reviewed event data recorders, or vehicle black boxes, on 58 vehicles in which sudden acceleration was reported. In 35 of the 58 cases reviewed, the black boxes showed no brakes were applied.

    'In about half of those 35 cases, the accelerator pedal was depressed right before the crash, suggesting drivers of the speeding cars were stepping on the accelerator rather than hitting the brakes.

    More at CBCNews