Toyota, NHTSAA sued; allegations of video coverup spur FOI case

Passing this little nugget along…

Today there is another significant development in the ongoing saga of the Toyota sudden unintended acceleration story.  As revealed in a Freedom of Information Act suit that was filed today by Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. (SRS), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has withheld materials and documents that might show some cases of unintended acceleration (UA) are caused by an electronic-based defect in some Toyota vehicles.  SRS alleges that the NHTSA videotaped these incidents and also “downloaded data from the vehicle during at least one incident when the engine raced uncontrolled.”

However, SRS says the agency never released this evidence, and moreover, initially failed to record any information about the event in its complaint. When SRS sent a Freedom of Information Act request last summer to the NHTSA for all documents associated with this incident, only a few documents were provided and the agency “refused to release the videos, photographs and computer data.”

In response, today SRS has again sued the NHTSA for improperly withholding “material that has vital public interest.” The SRS suit alleges that “the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA violated the Freedom of Information Act by withholding records involving the McClelland incidents.”

The complaint claims that last year two NHTSA engineers collected data and video during an inspection of a Toyota Prius owned by Joseph H. McClelland.  McClelland is an electrical engineer who works for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  Also according to the complaint, McClelland first experienced UA with the Prius after it had accumulated about 280,000 miles. During the first incident of UA, McClelland said that while driving home, the Prius began to carry out “severe acceleration.” Aware of the controversy regarding Toyota’s vehicles and Toyota’s position that the problem can be caused by floor mats and gas pedals, he inspected both and found they were in their normal positions. The accelerator pedal was not in contact with the mat and sat fully up while the engine revved.

Hopefully press coverage of the SRS suit and the McClelland case with help re-ignite NHTSA’s investigation, and inspire them to take a further look at the sudden acceleration issue. The facts of the McClelland incident certainly suggest, at least from a common sense perspective, that there might be another explanation to UA events other than floor mats and gas pedals.  It’s not a simple issue, and the complexities of vehicle software, ‘tin whiskers’ and electronic system hardware make this an incredibly complex issue for government investigators to explore.  However, NHTSA should not be allowed to sweep this issue under ‘the mat’ in the face of what could be a serious ongoing risk to highway safety.