Toyota, which launched the largest auto recall in U.S. history last fall after incidents of random acceleration resulting in fatalities, has just announced an additional recall of 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals. The recall was announced late Thursday afternoon, after ABC News informed the company that the latest in a long series of ABC News investigative reports into sudden unexplained acceleration in runaway Toyotas was about to air.
Safety expert Sean Kane tells ABC News that since last fall, when Toyota said it had solved the acceleration problem with proposed changes to gas pedals and a recall of 4.2 million cars with suspect floor mats, more than 60 new cases of runaway Toyotas have been reported. He believes this latest recall may still not be a complete fix of a problem that continues to be linked with serious accidents and deaths.
In the most tragic incident, on the day after Christmas, four people died in Southlake, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, when a 2008 Toyota sped off the road, through a fence and landed upside down in a pond. The car's floor mats were found in the trunk of the car, where owners had been advised to put them as part of the recall.
"There's one thing that didn't cause the accident," said Southlake police spokesman Lt. Ben Brown.
Federal safety investigators have joined in the investigation, according to Lt. Brown. Toyota executives had insisted in November that the recall of the floor mats in certain models and a proposed redesign of the accelerator pedal would fix the problem.
Reports of possible electronic problems or on-board computer glitches were strongly denied by the Toyota executives. "There is no evidence to support these theories," said Bob Daly, a Toyota executive.
But the continued reports of runaway Toyotas since the November recall have shaken the company's firm denials.
Said Kane, "We continue to find evidence from a variety of consumers who come to use with incidents that cannot be explained by a floor mat."
In another case, a Toyota owner whose car was racing out of control even though his foot was not on the gas pedal was able to get his car to a local dealer and show the dealer's service manager that the floor mats were not involved.
Kevin Haggerty, a salesman from Pittstown, New Jersey, said he had seen an ABCNews.com report about how to control a car experiencing unexpected acceleration -- by shifting into neutral.
Haggerty says acceleration problems with his Avalon started in the middle of last year. He took the car to his Toyota dealership in November after a couple of incidents. The mechanics there said they didn't know what was causing it.
Three days after Christmas, on Monday morning, December 28, Haggerty was traveling east on Interstate 78, headed to work, when he says the car started accelerating again. Soon the car had revved itself up to 65 miles per hour.
"I had my foot on the brake," recalled Haggerty. The more he pressed the brake, the more the car accelerated. "It seemed like the accelerator was overpowering the brake."
As he started to panic, he thought back to the video. "I remembered the safest thing to do is to go into neutral and control the car, and that' s what I did."
After getting the car under control, Haggerty called the dealership on his cellphone. They told him to bring the car in.
The car kept trying to accelerate, but switching from neutral to drive and back again as needed allowed Haggerty to steer the car onto an off ramp and the three miles to the dealership.
When he reached the dealership, the brakes and the tires were smoking. Haggerty put the car in neutral. The engine was still revving.
The service manager called a Toyota representative. According to Haggerty, the representative told the service manager to replace the gas pedal and the throttle and their sensors.
Haggerty feels fortunate that he was alone in the car on December 28.
"After I got out of the car at the dealership, the first thing I thought about was my family," said Haggerty. "And if they were in the car, if my wife was driving -- you know, I'm not sure if she would have panicked and kept hitting the brake pedal and known enough to put it into neutral."
"The Haggerty case is a real breakthrough case," he said. "It's a real problem and it points to electronic defects in the vehicle."
Dozens of other Toyota owners had made similar claims about electronic problems with their cars, unconnected to floor mates, over the last few years, but they were routinely dismissed by Toyota as unfounded.
The latest recall, announced Thursday, affects the RAV4, Corolla, and Matrix models from 2009 and 2010, Avalons from model years 2005 to 2010, Camrys from 2007 to 2010, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007 to 2010 Tundra and the 2008 to 2010 Sequoias. About 1.7 million of the vehicles cited are also affected by the earlier recall.
The company says this action is separate from fall's recall of 4.2 million cars to replace floor mats and alter accelerator pedals. The company had blamed floor mats for many of the acceleration incidents. An ABC News investigation, however, found that many drivers and safety experts rejected this explanation, asking instead if there was an issue with the electronic components that control acceleration.
Toyota says the recall of the "sticking gas pedals" covers Haggerty's problem, but he says his gas pedal was never stuck.
In its statements, Toyota does not claim the "sticking gas pedal" recall is a complete fix and says it will continue to investigate other incidents of unwanted acceleration, including those cited by ABC News.
Toyota said its Thursday recall would cover Haggerty's Avalon. Haggerty, however, says he does not have a sticky gas pedal.