NASA's investigation of Toyota problems may force electronics changes

NASA, NHSTA find no link between Toyota sudden acceleration and electronics

While NASA and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration engineers did not find anything wrong with Toyota's auto engineering, the investigation may prompt changes and perhaps new design standards for auto electronics.

NASA and the NHTSA this week eliminated electronic problems as a cause of the now infamous unintended vehicle acceleration problem that caused Toyota to recall nearly 8 million cars in the past year.

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"This week NASA engineers found no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents. The two mechanical safety defects identified by NHTSA more than a year ago - "sticking" accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats - remain the only known causes for these kinds of unsafe unintended acceleration incidents," the Department of Transportation reported.

But the report also noted that while electronics could not be blamed for the problems, the engineers said such systems in all cars need more scrutiny.  For example the NHTSA is now considering a number of new tests for electronic car systems  including:

  • Propose rules, by the end of 2011, to require brake override systems, to standardize operation of keyless ignition systems, and to require the installation of event data recorders in all passenger vehicles;
  • Begin broad research on the reliability and security of electronic control systems;
  • Research the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals, as well as driver usage of pedals, to determine whether design and placement can be improved to reduce pedal misapplication.

"Based on objective event data recorder (EDR) readings and crash investigations conducted as part of NHTSA's report, NHTSA is researching whether better placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals can reduce pedal misapplication, which occurs in vehicles across the industry. NHTSA's forthcoming rulemaking to require brake override systems in all passenger vehicles will further help ensure that braking can take precedence over the accelerator pedal in emergency situations," the NHSTA stated. 

Toyota electronics are not out of the woods just yet though.  The NHTSA and NASA will be briefing the National Academy of Sciences panel looking onto the sudden acceleration issue.  That group is currently conducting a broad review of unintended acceleration heir study is expected later this year.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8   

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