Toyota, Govt. Examine Runaway Westchester Prius

Toyota will try to determine how many times the driver hit the brakes and gas

Wednesday, Mar 17, 2010  |  Updated 1:10 PM EDT
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Toyota, Govt. Examine Runaway Westchester Prius

NBCNewYork

This Toyota Prius allegedly went out of control in Harrison, N.Y. as a 56-year-old woman was leaving a driveway.

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Investigators from Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration inspected a wrecked 2005 Prius in a suburb of New York City on Wednesday to see if its event data recorder or the car would point to a problem with braking or acceleration.

 

A housekeeper who was driving the car told police that it sped up on its own as she eased forward down her employer's driveway on March 9 and hit a wall across the street. She was not hurt and authorities have said there is no indication of driver error.

 

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 8 million cars since the fall because their gas pedals could become stuck or be held down by floor mats. The Prius is not on Toyota's recall list for sticky accelerators. However, the 2005 hybrid had been repaired for the floor mat problem.

 

In addition, the government is looking into complaints from at least 60 Toyota drivers who say they got their cars fixed and still had problems. Toyota is checking into those complaints as well.

 

On Wednesday, six Toyota inspectors, two from the highway administration, and other experts huddled around laptop computers and examined the gray Prius under a red-and-white striped tent outside the Harrison police headquarters. The car's front end was smashed in, its hood bent upward; it had a broken bumper and headlight, a flat tire and heavy scratches around its Toyota logo.

 

Toyota spokesman Wade Hoyt said examiners would photograph the wrecked Prius, then download and analyze whatever information they could get from the event data recorder, which is about the size of a deck of cards.

 

In this model, he said, it does not record data before the crash — only "things that happen as the air bags deploy." It wasn't known if it would show any information about braking or acceleration, he said.

 

Hoyt said investigators should also find "trouble codes," which show any malfunctions in the car.

 

Toyota's investigators planned to turn their data over to the Police Department.

 

Hoyt said the Prius comes with a backup safety system for the brakes. The car's engine idles if a driver hits the accelerator and brake at the same time. "If that's all working, it should be impossible, really, for the car to take off on its own."

 

Earlier this week, the company cast doubt on a California driver who claimed his Prius sped to 94 mph before a patrol officer helped him stop it.

 

The investigations reflect challenges faced by the company and government. Dealers and experts have had trouble recreating episodes of sudden acceleration, and Toyota says tests have failed to find other problems beyond the sticking gas pedals and floor mats.

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