Today, the Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations is holding a hearing on the “response by Toyota and NHTSA to Incidents of Sudden Unintended Acceleration” to examine the response to persistent consumer complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration in vehicles manufactured by the Toyota Motor Corporation.
Chairman Waxman outlines the major issues with Toyota’s response to their consumers and NHTSA’s oversight in his opening statement:
In preparation for this hearing, the Committee analyzed over 100,000 pages of documents from Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). These documents show that both Toyota and NHTSA have received thousands of complaints of runaway Toyota vehicles. And they show that these complaints increased after the introduction of electronic throttle controls.
But what is most significant is what is missing from the documents.
There is no evidence that Toyota or NHTSA took a serious look at the possibility that electronic defects could be causing the problem.
Toyota did not initiate a study into possible electronic defects until just two months ago. And NHTSA still does not have an electrical or software engineer on staff.
Our review indicates that Toyota received as many as 2,600 complaints of runaway vehicles through its telephone hotline alone. Over 700 of these incidents resulted in accidents.
Toyota had three responses: First, blame the driver. Second, blame the floormat. Third, blame a sticky gas pedal. And NHTSA — without doing any meaningful independent review — accepted Toyota's explanations.
Rhonda Smith testified on her near death experience driving her Toyota vehicle that accelerated to 100 mph on its own and would not stop:
I was driving from my home in Sevierville down Highway 66 to the interstate, Interstate 40. And upon entering the interstate, I accelerated with everyone else into the flow of traffic. And at this point, I merged over into the second lane, not going into passing gear. At this time, I lost all control of the acceleration of the vehicle. The car goes into passing gear and the cruise light comes on. At this time, I’m thinking that maybe the cruise is what caused the car to keep accelerating, as my foot’s not on the gas pedal. I take off the cruise control, but the car continues to accelerate. To make a long story short, I put the car into all available gears, including neutral, but then I put it in reverse, and it remains in reverse as the car speeds to over 100 miles per hour down the interstate.
I placed both feet on the brake after I firmly engaged the emergency brake, and nothing slows the car.
I figured the car was going to go its maximum speed and I was going to have to put the car into the upcoming guardrail in order to prevent killing anyone else.
And I prayed for God to help me.
Eddie Smith, Rhonda’s husband of 38 years, testified on Toyota’s response to Rhonda’s experience and their quest to bring this incident to Toyota’s attention:
We purchased this 2000 Lexus ES 350 because of Toyota’s exemplary claim of safety, because we have young grandchildren.
It has been a true experience, trying to decide what to say today. You’ve all heard my wife describe her experience. Now, take a minute, and put yourself on the other end of the cellphone, listening to what you think are the last words you’ll ever hear her speak, and the imminent death of your lifelong best friend and spouse, and not being able to do anything about it.
Besides this being the most terrifying and traumatizing experience of my wife’s entire life, it is also the most frightening and heartwrenching thing I’ve ever experienced. Needless to say, she was spared by the grace of God and is still by my side today.
We have never been crusaders for any cause other than our God, family and freedom. However, we have been on a mission to get this injustice to the American people noticed, addressed and fixed.
Toyota was informed of this potentially deadly problem in 2006, and was warned by us numerous times that lives would be lost if this was left unattended. We phoned, e-mailed and wrote numerous letters trying to get Toyota to correct the sudden, unintended acceleration problem.
Our complete customer satisfaction that we received, as Rhonda said, was a statement from Toyota stating, “If properly maintained, the brakes would always override accelerations.” They called us liars.
Read prepared testimony:
Testimony of Eddie and Rhonda Smith, Sevierville, TN
Testimony of Sean Kane, President, Safety Research & Strategies, Inc.
Testimony of David Gilbert, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Automotive Technology, Southern Illinois University
Testimony of James E. Lentz, President and Chief Operating Officer, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
Testimony of Raymond H. LaHood, Secretary, Department of Transportation