While Toyota continues to assure Congress and the world that its vehicles are safe, police in Southlake, Texas are investigating another fatal collision involving a Toyota Corolla that killed Waynoka Ricord (77) of Southlake. Texas. On Sunday, February 28, 2010, as Ms. Ricord was driving home from work, her car veered off the road and hit a tree, bounced off and hit a second tree. Police have not had sufficient time to determine whether the crash is related to the recent recall problems that have been linked with so many Toyota vehicles. While the Corolla involved in this wreck was not on the list of vehicle recalls announced by Toyota, many critics of Toyota have been alleging that the scope of Toyota’s recall is too limited and is not covering all of the vehicles affected.Waynoka Ricord. She died early Sunday at Baylor Regional Medical Center at Grapevine shortly after the wreck.
As far back as 2004, government investigators were looking at 2002-2003 Toyota Camrys and Solaras and Lexus ES 300s to determine whether they were defective, gathering information about 37 owner complaints of sudden acceleration, according to the Center for Auto Safety.
Last week, during Congressional hearings, James Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. testified, “We are confident that no problems exist with the electronic throttle-control system in our vehicles.” Lentz claimed Toyota conducted extensive testing of the system’s fail-safe mechanisms. But under questioning from Henry Waxman, Mr. Lentz conceded he was “not totally” certain that Toyota had fixed the problem. To safeguard against further occurrences, the company said it would install brake-override systems in its new North American vehicles by the end of year, and that Toyota would retrofit older models where possible.
Toyota’s failure to include a brake override system in its design has been widely criticized, especitally since over vehicle manufacturers foresaw the need for this safety design and included a brake override system in their vehicles. The brake override systems allow a driver to stop a car with the footbrake even if the accelerator is depressed and the vehicle is running at full throttle. “If the brake and the accelerator are in an argument, the brake wins,” a spokesman at Chrysler said in describing the systems, which it began installing in 2003. Likewise, Volkswagen, Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz have also installed such systems in their cars as far back as 10 years ago. In addition, General Motors installs brake override in all of its cars in which it is possible for the engine at full throttle to overwhelm the brakes. “Most other automakers have adopted this technology,” said Sean Kane, a former researcher at the Center for Auto Safety who now works at Safety Research and Strategies. Not adding the systems “is one of the mistakes that created this perfect storm for Toyota.” However, Toyota did not respond to questions about its decisions not to include a brake override as part of the design of its vehicles.
The following year models have been added to the list of vehicles which will receive brake override upgrade: 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2009-2010 Venza and 2008-2010 Sequoia. Toyota previously announced that the system would be installed onto the 2007-2010 Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, and the 2007-2010 Lexus ES 350, 2006-2010 IS 350 and 2006-2010 IS 250 models. The brake override feature is not an integral part of the recall remedy, but is instead being added as an extra measure of confidence for Toyota owners. It will be installed on Tacoma and Venza at the same time as the recall modifications are performed.
Meanwhile, owners of Toyota vehicles are still finding it difficult to determine how they should respond to all of the safety concerns concerning Toyota vehicles. Representative Edolphus Towns, Democrat of New York, is trying to force Toyota to extend to all owners of Toyota vehicles the same type of protections that the New York attorney general, Andrew M. Cuomo, was able to get for citizens of New York. As part of that settlement, Toyota agreed that it would pick up cars and trucks at the homes of drivers, pay for out-of-pocket transportation costs and offer drivers free rental cars during repairs.