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Greg Webb
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Toyota Asked To Install Software To Prevent Accidents In 2007

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In 2007, following concern that vehicles could race out of control, federal regulators asked Toyota Motor Corp. to consider installing software in their automobiles that would prevent sudden acceleration. In 2008, the company ordered an internal feasibility study of the technology. Toyota, however, only began installing this "brake override" system in January after a widely publicized accident involving a runaway Lexus ES killed four people near San Diego. After this accident, safety regulators admit that they pressured Toyota to consider the software addition again, which set off a chain of events leading the company to issue about ten million recall notices internationally.

The August 23, 2007 e-mail from Toyota’s manager of technical and regulatory affairs in the Washington office, to a superior and seven other Toyota employees, noted that at least two other manufacturers were already using brake override at the time. He further said that because there were no regulations that required the brake override system be implemented, Toyota should not install the system. The manager also said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigators were concerned that the keyless ignition system on some Toyota and Lexus vehicles could make it hard to shut off the engine in a panic situation because it required drivers to depress the push-button starter for three full seconds; other manufacturers had systems that would turn the engine off if pressed multiple times. Because NHTSA did not find a defect, the investigation was closed and Toyota officials reported saving over $100 million. A year later, however, after the NHTSA began pressuring Toyota about the sudden acceleration issue, a Toyota memo called for an internal study of the brake override system; the company did not move to adopt the feature.

While Toyota contends the automobiles’ floor mats may be responsible for the sticking gas pedals, both the NHTSA and Toyota are reviewing the possibility that the electronic throttle system in its vehicles could cause the problem. The brake override system is designed to stop a car even if the engine is accelerating. It will automatically drop an engine’s throttle to idle when both the brake and the accelerator pedals are depressed simultaneously. In January, Toyota and Lexus dealers began taking in Camry, Avalon, Lexus ES and Lexus IS models, modifying pedals, replacing floor padding and reprogramming the electronic control unit with the brake override feature, which it called an "extra measure of confidence." Toyota has also stated it will provide brake override technology not only for the three automobile models involved in the recalls, but on all new cars by the end of the year after the NHTSA declared removing floor mats was not enough. The company is reviewing the keyless ignition system and whether the engines should instead respond to the driver tapping the ignition multiple times.