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CBS Covers Andy Payne’s Toyota Sudden Acceleration Case

New Research In Unintended Acceleration Probe


Jack Fink

McKINNEY (CBS 11 / TXA 21) For months, we’ve all heard about car crashes involving Toyota vehicles allegedly caused by unintended acceleration.

Toyota has blamed sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats entrapping accelerator pedals.

But there are still questions as to whether Toyota’s electronics are to blame.

CBS 11 has new research into what may be causing the problem. The man behind the new research recently submitted his findings to federal investigators.

They’re looking into whether Toyota’s Electronic Throttle Control System is to blame for unintended acceleration. It’s a problem one North Texas woman claims caused her violent crash.

Shannon Pradhan’s dream car is a mangled mess. “My husband gave me that for my 15th wedding anniversary.” This is the first time she’s seeing it up close since the accident that nearly killed her.

Pradhan says one year ago, her 2007 Lexus IS 250 sped out of control and crashed into a tree just off Stonebridge Drive near Coronado Drive in McKinney.

She says her car experienced unintended acceleration, and wouldn’t stop. “My first thought is like ‘what’s going on,’ and then as it just sped, that’s when you panic. It was sort of like someone put on the cruise control and on the resume mode.”

Pradhan has filed a lawsuit against Toyota, which makes the Lexus. She claims the car’s Electronic Throttle Control System caused the unintended acceleration.

In court papers, Toyota denies her claims. The automaker tells CBS 11 it remains confident its control system is not to blame.

Now, NASA and the National Academy of Sciences are investigating whether vehicle electronics in Toyota and Lexus cause unintended acceleration.

Todd Hubing is an electrical engineering professor at Clemson University in South Carolina. He is now the second researcher this year to find problems with Toyota’s electronic throttle controls.

Just this month, he presented his findings to the National Academy of Sciences. “It is possible for the electronics to create conditions that result in unintended acceleration.”

Hubing says he and his team interfered with the electronics systems on two Toyota models. He says they tricked the engine control modules into thinking the accelerator pedal was fully depressed.

He says the two cars didn’t detect a problem or a trouble code when they should have. “If a trouble code issue doesn’t come up, we think it’s very likely a software issue.”

Professor Hubing says a trouble code would have put the vehicle in a fail-safe or limp mode, which would have limited engine power and acceleration. But because there wasn’t a trouble code, the vehicles accelerated instead.

Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies in Providence, Rhode Island has researched the issue for plaintiffs’ attorneys. He says Hubing’s work is significant because he was able to trigger the electronics problem in the Toyotas more easily than a prior researcher. “That’s a new finding. That’s the first time we have heard that type of development in the case.

Hubing says he also found that electronics failures leave behind no evidence. “It’s very difficult to say afterwards that it was an electronics failure because there are so many ways we can interfere with the electronics and there’s just no sign of a problem after the incident occurs.”

Pradhan’s husband Anup believes this wasn’t the first time his wife’s Lexus experienced unintended acceleration. He says seven months before his wife’s crash; he had the very same problem when he was at the wheel.

“I was going down the road and the car kind of felt like it was going on its own, I had no control over the car.” So he says he then brought the car to their dealership. But he says they didn’t find a problem.

After breaking her ribs and right ankle, and being in the ICU for seven days, Shannon Pradhan only recently recovered. She says it’s been very challenging for her and her family. “It’s been very hard on the girls. They didn’t know for days whether I was going to live or not.”

Pradhan has a used car now. She says while her Lexus was special, “Knowing what happened, I can’t buy another one, I just wouldn’t feel safe.”

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New Research In Unintended Acceleration Probe -           8/30/10 2:38 PM

Professor Hubing says he believes the electronics problems are rare. But he hopes investigators can duplicate the problem that he found so they can determine whether this affects just Toyota’s vehicles or those from other automakers as well.

Toyota tells us unintended acceleration is an industry-wide problem, and welcomes the review.

Hubing and others believe a brake override system would prevent unintended acceleration. The system reduces engine power when the accelerator and brake pedals are pressed at the same time. Toyota says it will install that on its 2011 models. Many other manufacturers already use the technology. The government is considering requiring it on all vehicles.


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