In late 2003, Steve Chan, an investigator with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), concluded that the recently adopted drive-by-wire gas pedals of Toyota Camrys might be a cause for sudden unintended acceleration in the vehicles. Chan began looking into the issue regarding Camrys from the 2002-2003 model years after he saw an increase in sudden acceleration complaints in 2003. He came up with many possibilities for the acceleration, such as drivers with big feet hitting both the gas and the brake at the same time. Another possibility he cited was that the engine control module may have a software problem, noting that Toyota had sent a technical service bulletin to dealers revealing it might be necessary to reprogram the computer on some vehicles. Last but not least, Chan mentioned the drive-by-wire throttle system, which replaced the traditional cables with electronics in the 2002 model; because it was new technology, Chan believed this was the more likely scenario. Chan’s work, however, was only considered an “issue evaluation”. If the agency had chosen to pursue the matter further, it would have opened a “preliminary evaluation”, which is a more serious step in the recall process. All evidence shows the investigation stopped at Chan’s “issue evaluation”.
A spokesperson for the agency said Chan’s report was not ignored, and preliminary evaluation on the matter was actually opened in 2004 after a woman formally filed a defect petition, asking for an investigation into unintended acceleration of a related model, the 2002–2003 Lexus ES 300. Chan’s work was not noted in the evaluation, making the allegation suspect. Toyota has repeatedly claimed that there is not an electronic malfunction in their vehicles, but a problem with floor mats or a mechanical problem with the accelerator pedal. Recently, however, the company has said it will address all consumer complaints and will not ignore any possible reasons for the acceleration.
Following two Congressional investigations, the Transportation Secretary has announced that electronic experts from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council will begin investigating the problem also.