Federal Experts to Look at Prius in Westchester Crash

Also, what to do if your car goes out of control...

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    NEWSLETTERS

    NBCNewYork
    Oh, what a feeling: This Toyota Prius went out of control in Harrison, N.Y. as a 56-year-old woman was leaving her driveway.

    The national traffic safety agency is dispatching experts to look over a wrecked Toyota Prius in Westchester County whose driver said it accelerated on its own into a stone wall, police said Thursday.

    Harrison police Capt. Anthony Marraccini said a representative of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told him it would send inspectors to check out the car.

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    "They're going to come up and inspect the car," he said. He would not say when they were expected and he did not know if the agency would take over the investigation.

    John Hanson, a Toyota spokesman, said, "We absolutely welcome NHTSA's involvement and will work closely with them in support." The NHTSA itself would say only, "We are aware of the incident and we have no further comment at this time."

    Marraccini also said he has asked Toyota for help in reading the car's electronic data recorder, and Hanson said the company would cooperate with whatever agency runs the investigation.

    The 2005 Prius was being driven Monday by a 56-year-old housekeeper who told police it sped up on its own as she was easing out of her employer's driveway. Despite her braking, she said, it lurched across a two-lane road and into a stone wall opposite the driveway. She was not seriously hurt.

    Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles to address gas pedals that can become sticky or trapped under floor mats. Police said the mats in the Prius had already been serviced and the driver did not know if the gas pedal had stuck.

    Marraccini said the driver was on her way to the dealership to have the gas pedal checked at the time of the accident, although the car had not been recalled.

    He said he invited the NHTSA to join or take over the investigation because Toyota's accelerator problem "happens to be of a national safety concern."

    "I think there's an opportunity here," he said. "We have a vehicle that hasn't been turned on since the accident and is secured at our headquarters and evidence-wise it could have some pertinent information."

    However, he said, his department "doesn't have automotive mechanical engineers, we don't have the technology or the training" to investigate the cause of the crash in such detail.

    Marraccini, who said Wednesday he had refused Toyota's request to turn over the damaged Prius, has nevertheless requested the carmaker's help in figuring out what went wrong.

    He said that after failing to get an answer by phone, he has written to the company "to request their cooperation and assistance" in reading the car's electronic data recorder, or "black box."

    The recorder can sometimes reveal what was happening in a car before a crash. In a report last week, The Associated Press found that for years, Toyota has blocked access to such data.

    "It's our understanding that Toyota is the only one that can download and view the information that's contained in the black box," the captain said.

    Hanson said Toyota's policy is, "Whatever agency has jurisdiction over an accident like this, we will always cooperate with them." He said Toyota had already supplied NHTSA with a download tool for the boxes.

    He cautioned that the recorder "is not designed to explain how an accident happened. It's designed to give us a readout of how well our electronic safety systems worked together."

     And while the Harrison driver may not have had time to take emergency steps to get the car stopped, experts say there are ways to override a rogue accelerator:

    1. Slam a foot on the brake, applying steady constant pressure.

    2. Shift into neutral.

    3. If  the car remains in motion at high speed, turn off the ignition BUT TAKE CARE NOT TO TURN A KEY TOO FAR WHICH CAN LOCK THE STEERING.

    4. If the car has a push button starter and you need to turn it off, hold and depress the button for three seconds.

    5. If possible dial 9-1-1 to alert police that your car is uncontrollable.

    6. Remain calm. Many drivers accidentally depress the accelerator rather than brake while panicked.

    7. Do NOT use the emergency brake.  It can damage the regular brakes that need to stop the car.

    8. Do NOT shift the transmission into park. That can cause significant unintended adverse consequences.