March 4, 2010-According to reports the black boxes that could answer some of the questions about the unintended acceleration defects data access to these have been blocked by Toyota for years.
According to reports Toyota has dodged questions about their black box devices as to what they record and what they don’t. This includes the data that could be vital in whether the brake or accelerator was depressed at the time of a crash.
The Toyota Motor Corp has also been secretive about key information being sought by crash victims or their family.
Other automakers allow more open access to information from their event data recorders known as EDR’s according to reports. The information Toyota’s black box contains is quickly becoming a critical legal issue with the recall of 8.5 million vehicles. Until this week there was only one laptop in the United States containing the software needed to read the data after one of their vehicles have been in a crash.
During times Toyota has been pushed to provide the data during past lawsuits that have provided printouts with the key columns blank or settled the claim out of court. According to reports when Toyota was pressed about what the black box data contains recently they have stated Thursday the data that is recorded is from five seconds prior to the airbag deploying and two seconds afterward during a crash. There is also information gathered about the speed of the vehicle, the accelerators angle, shift position, the angle of the driver’s seat and whether the seat belts were in use at the time of the crash.
When questioned again about the brake information, Toyota has stated that the black box does record data on the position of the brake and the anti-lock brake system.
There have been a massive amount of lawsuits filed and according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration there have been 52 deaths related to the accelerator defects.
The information that Toyota has reveled does not match up with the information obtained by attorneys in a crash Southlake Texas and one in Indiana. The crash that killed four people in Texas while in a 2008 Avalon that ripped through a fence, hit a tree and flipped into a pond. Information that has been obtained by the police for the braking and accelerator system listed “off”.
A 2004 crash that took the life of 77 year old Evansville, Indiana Juanita Grossman attorneys stated a Toyota technician traveled to Indiana from their Torrance California plant to examine the 2003 Camry.
Prior to her death Grossman told family members she needed to use two feet on the brake pedal, but could not stop the vehicle from crashing into a building. Paramedics stated in their records confirm that they found the 5 foot 2 woman had both feet on the brakes.
Representatives from Toyota told the attorneys for the family that there is no sensor that would have data about the accelerator and brake positions at the time of the crash, according to documents provided by Massachusetts based Safety Research & Strategies Inc. that does vehicle safety research for attorneys, government and engineers.
The Texas case documents allege that Toyota might have purposely stopped its EDR’s from collecting critical information so they would not have to reveal any information in court cases.
According to E. Todd Tracy who has been filing cases against automakers for 20 years this proves the difficulty for defendants and the willingness for the automaker to hide problems. Attorney Randy Roberts in the Texas case stated he was shocked at the small amount of information on the Avalon’s EDR.
Toyota who would not comment stating this is an ongoing legal matter, did state the company does share EDR information that is compliant with government regulations. In the statement Toyota also stated that the black box device is not intended and not reliable for accident reconstruction. It is the Toyota Motor Corps policy to download the data to law enforcement, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or when ordered to by the court.
During last week Toyota admitted to having one laptop in the United States that the data recorder information can be downloaded. The company stated the reason there is only one is that it is a prototype. Since this admission there have been three other laptops delivered to the NHTSA for training that are capable of reading the EDR information. The automaker stated there will be over 150 more of the laptops brought to the United States for commercial use by the end of April, even though this system has been in use since 2001.
Spokesmen from Chrysler Ed Miller and Ford stated their recorder data is accessible, in what is an open system readable by law enforcement or anyone that needs to access the data.
According to Alan Adler spokesman for General Motors they have licensed Bosch to produce a device that is capable of the data being downloaded directly to a laptop at the scene of an accident or afterwards. This device is available to both law enforcement and third parties.
Crash experts and attorneys both state the EDR data could explain what occurred moments prior to a crash with the details of the accelerator and brake pedal positions.
According to W.R. “Rusty” Haight owner of a San Diego collision investigation company, Toyota might not have been in the position they are if they had made the black box information available earlier.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood stated that Toyota’s EDR data cannot be read using commercially available tools. In a lawsuit filed by Dari Martin after a crash involving a 2007 Prius he sought information from Toyota about his claim that the vehicles seatbelt was defective. Toyota refused Martin stating that it would costs approximately $5,000 to have an engineer travel from New Jersey or California and there was no way that the EDR data could be verified. Martin’s attorney has stated in court that Toyota not disclosing information is not justifiable.
There are Toyota lawsuits in both California and Colorado accusing the automaker of withholding key documents, but no judge or jury has sided against the automaker on these charges.
There are crash experts that state Toyota should not be to highly criticized for not capturing large amounts of data as these EDR systems were initially built for airbag deployment rather than accident reconstruction.