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Study casts aspersions on drivers in fatal Toyota accidents

A study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) claims that sticky gas pedals, obstructive floor mats and simple driver error are primarily to blame in dozens of car accidents caused by runaway Toyota vehicles over the past several years. Critics of the study, however, are very skeptical.

Sean Kane, the leader of Safety Research and Strategies, is among those who feel that the study simply was not exhaustive enough to form a solid conclusion. Kane, as well as other auto industry experts, is skeptical of the notion that most of accidents resulted from drivers who accidentally pressed, and continued to press, the gas pedal instead of the brake. Kane's sentiments are echoed by many victims of the accidents who claim that their vehicles accelerated uncontrollably despite a complete lack of problems with floor mats, "sticky" gas pedals or human error.

Joan Claybrook, the current leader of a consumer safety group entitled Public Citizen and the former head of the NHTSA, is skeptical as well. Claybrook said that there are simply too many cases of uncontrollable acceleration, and too many credible witnesses, to accept the study's finding that Toyota's electronics are not to blame. Claybrook describes the study as a "failure of analysis."

To their credit, Toyota and other automakers are beginning to install safety features to prevent uncontrolled acceleration, including brake override systems that will disable the accelerator when both the gas and brake pedals are applied at the same time. For now, automobile experts are advising that victims of a runaway vehicle manually turn the engine off in order to avoid disaster.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "U.S. Points to Toyota Driver Error," Mike Ramsey, Josh Mitchell and Chester Dawson, 2/9/2011

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