Government Finds Little Evidence of Car Defects in Toyota Crashes

I've been covering the great Toyota Sudden Acceleration Scare for a while--the claims that some sort of malfunction in the cruise control or the fuel injection or some other mysterious-sounding system caused the car to accelerate even though the driver wasn't stepping on the gas--indeed, was often stepping on the brake as hard as possible.

This sounded to me more like a case of driver malfunction, and so far, the evidence from the government studies of the incidents seems to back this up:

Experts at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examined 58 vehicles involved in sudden-acceleration reports and found data in 35 of them showed the brakes weren't applied at the time of the crash. Data from nine other vehicles showed the brakes were used only in the last moment before impact.

The report doesn't specify driver error as a cause of unintended acceleration, although people familiar with the investigation have said the findings point to pedal misapplication--mistakenly hitting the gas instead of the brakes--as a likely cause.

The release of the preliminary findings comes after calls from Congress to make public the results of NHTSA's investigation into complaints about sudden acceleration in Toyotas. The Wall Street Journal reported in July that NHTSA had found evidence of driver error in most of the Toyotas it examined in its probe.

Toyota has identified floor mats that can entrap a car's gas pedal as one cause of sudden acceleration. Another problem Toyota identified is a gas pedal mechanism that sometimes can be slow to return to its non-depressed position. Toyota has recalled more than eight million vehicles world-wide to correct those issues.

In five of the 58 vehicles NHTSA examined, the data recorders didn't record the conditions in the car at the time of the crash. Black boxes from five additional vehicles showed the brakes were applied early in the incident or in the middle of the event. In one case both the brake and accelerator pedals were depressed. Investigators found one case of sustained braking and concluded the floor mat likely trapped the gas pedal.