According to the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 34 people have died in accidents involving Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles that allegedly accelerated out of control in the past decade. This is a dramatic increase in the number of deaths originally believed to be linked to the unintended accelleration issues since the time that the “sticky” gas pedals have become so well publicized. This number includes at least 13 more that have been reported since January 27, 2010, the day after Toyota ordered a sales and production halt of eight models in the U.S. to fix gas pedals that it said can stick and cause unintended acceleration. To make matters worse, the number is likely to continue to increase as an analysis of the data shows that all but one of the newly reported deaths occurred years prior to the 2010 recall — some as far back as 1992.
Most of the incidents occurred between 2003 and 2009. Noting the increased fatality total, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, said “We are going to go over 100 without a doubt,” Ditlow said. “The only question is what is the true number because many fatalities don’t get attributed to sudden acceleration, especially as you go further back in time before people were paying attention to Toyota.”
In addition to the fatalities, federal regulators said 22 people reported injuries from unintended acceleration accidents involving Toyota vehicles, which ranged from cuts and bruises to a woman left in a coma.
Nonetheless, the jump in reported fatalities in its vehicles marks another troubling development for Toyota, which has been furiously attempting to reassure the public about its commitment to safety in the wake of the recent recalls.
Toyota, for its part, has not released data from its own internal complaint files on accidents, injuries or deaths alleged to stem from unintended acceleration. The automaker has declined to state how many complaints of the problem have been filed, but in general databases held by manufacturers are orders of magnitude larger than NHTSA’s.
A Bigger Problem Than The Recalls Reveal
Even scarier for consumers of Toyota vehicles is that the NHTSA data show that many of the fatality reports involved Toyota models that were not included in any recalls. For example,
- a fatal crash on Oct. 13, 2009, in New Hampshire involved a 2005 Highlander, which has not been recalled. Toyota has issued recalls only on 2008-2010 Highlanders.According to the NHTSA complaint, the car hit a vehicle head-on, killing four people. “Believe car had uncontrolled acceleration,” said the complaint, which was filed Jan. 27.
- In addition, the data show complaints alleging fatalities involving a Scion tC, and a Lexus GS, neither of which models are included in the recalls. No Scion models have been named in any of the recalls.
- Nearly all the sudden acceleration-related fatality complaints on file for Toyota affect vehicles manufactured since the 2002 model year. Only five such allegations are included in vehicles produced prior to that time, the oldest a 1988 Camry that crashed into a brick wall.
- The majority of fatalities were in Camry and Lexus ES vehicles, which are built on the same platform and share many components. Both vehicles are subject to the floor mat recall.
- A complaint of an August 2008 accident in Chicago alleges that the driver of a Lexus ES 330 had removed the floor mats from the vehicle the morning of a sudden acceleration incident than ended with the sedan striking and killing a pedestrian prior to passing through a fence and into a concrete pillar. According to the complaint, Toyota wrote the driver on Sept. 22, 2008, stating “that the car was operating properly.”
- Another complaint detailed a 2004 crash in Indiana that took the life of a female driver whose 2003 Camry surged out of control and smashed into a building. The vehicle had less than 7,000 miles on it. A handwritten notation on the complaint, filed shortly after the accident, said “throttle stuck — engine surged.” Paramedics arriving on the scene, the complaint said, “found the driver with both feet still on the brake pedal.”