This exclusive investigation by chief investigative correspondent Brian Ross, producer Joseph Rhee and the ABC Investigative Team first revealed how Toyota had for years ignored complaints from hundreds of its owners about cars suddenly accelerating out of control.
Airing first on ABC News Nightline, Good Morning America and World News with Charles Gibson, the ground-breaking ABC News reports uncovered a Toyota owners' rebellion that exposed the automaker's slow reaction over the years to serious safety problems and helped prompt the company to acknowledge defects, shut down sales and manufacturing, recall almost nine million cars and apologize to its customers.
The ABC News team began investigating the issue after Toyota publicly maintained the only causes for the runaway cars were either floor mats that trapped the gas pedal or driver error. The original report revealed that more than 2000 Toyota owners had filed complaints about sudden, uncontrolled acceleration leading to hundreds of accidents and at least 16 deaths.
Many of the owners insisted floor mats or driver error were not involved in their cases, and safety expert Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies, Inc. suggested there could be a problem or glitch with the cars' electronic computer which controls acceleration.
In its response to the initial ABC News report, Toyota claimed that the federal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had cleared its cars of any defects other than the floor mats. The very next day, NHTSA took the extraordinary step of rebuking Toyota for the statement, saying Toyota had not been cleared of anything and that the investigation of the uncontrolled acceleration was continuing.
This ABC News investigation represented a turning point in the coverage of Toyota's safety problem, as dozens of other news outlets began to follow-up on the findings and thousands of readers sent comments to The Blotter, reporting similar cases of runaway Toyotas.
Just weeks after our initial report, Toyota announced that it would modify its vehicles to provide a brake override system in some of their models that allows drivers to cut power to the accelerator.
Meanwhile, the ABC Investigative Team continues to follow this important story, despite Toyota dealers' recent move to pull advertising off ABC stations in the Southeast citing "excessive stories."
On January 21, 2010, Brian Ross reported on how Toyota continues to be plagued with sudden acceleration cases, with almost 60 new incidents reported since the floor mat recall. Just hours before that report was to air on World News with Diane Sawyer, Toyota announced yet another massive recall and suspended sales and production of eight car models due to "sticky" gas pedals that could cause cars to race out of control.
In a testament to the impact of the Ross investigation, a New Jersey man used the team's reporting to avoid a high-speed car crash. After seeing the broadcast and watching a video on how to stop a runaway Toyota on "The Blotter," Kevin Haggerty was able to bring his revving car under control. Haggerty told ABC News that the Ross unit reporting helped save his life.
You can follow the continuing investigation at www.abcnews.com/RunawayToyotas.