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Toyota recall flap: US lawmakers seek data on electronics tests

Questions continue about Toyota recalls for unintended acceleration. Two House members want the automaker to produce data backing up its assertion that defects in electronic components aren't part of the problem.

By Staff writer / March 5, 2010

Toyota recall: Toyota's newest Prius hybrid cars wait at the company's factory in Toyota City, Japan, Friday. Two House members have requested from the company data that prove the automaker's dangerous acceleration and braking flaws are not caused by defective electronics.

Toru Hanai/REUTERS

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Two members of Congress requested greater transparency from beleaguered Toyota Corp. on Friday, calling for the automaker to release information about its testing of electronic components.

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Reps. Henry Waxman (D) of California and Bart Stupak (D) of Michigan requested that Toyota provide evidence to back up the firm's statements that it is "confident" that electronic defects aren't contributing to instances of cars accelerating against drivers' wills.

The lawmakers' request comes as Toyota and federal investigators continue to seek answers to why the unintended acceleration can occur, sometimes resulting in fatal crashes.

"Some of these documents" released by Toyota so far "could be used in planning a rigorous study of potential causes of sudden unintended acceleration, [but] not one of them suggested that such a rigorous study had taken place," Representatives Waxman and Stupak wrote to James Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A.

Waxman chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has held recent hearings on Toyota's safety challenges. Stupak chairs the body's subcommittee on oversight.

The letter also asked Mr. Lentz to clarify which Toyota vehicles would get a "brake override" fix, to help ensure that engine power cuts off when a driver steps on the brakes. And the lawmakers sought new details regarding Toyota's "black box" data. In essence, they asked what data are recoverable from vehicles that have black boxes (similar to the data boxes used in airline-crash investigations) and whether public-safety officials have access to the data. An Associated Press article this week reported that Toyota has been more secretive than other carmakers about black-box data.

Questions about the electronic systems have emerged as a central point of uncertainty since unintended acceleration became a public concern late last year. Toyota officials have downplayed electronics as a possible cause but haven't put questions to rest. Meanwhile, some Toyota drivers have reported acceleration problems in recent days, after having Toyota do recall work on their floor mats and gas pedals. (The Monitor reported on these reports earlier Friday. Click here.)

In their letter, Waxman and Stupak asked Toyota to provide quarterly updates with details on any reports of acceleration problems, starting with a report on March 15 covering the fourth quarter of 2009.

The problem of unintended acceleration is not confined to Toyota. But the firm accounts for a large share of the complaints, and most of the deaths, linked to the issue, according to an analysis of federal data by Edmunds.com. (To read about the complaint records of other automakers, click here.)

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