New York Runaway Toyota Prius a Case of Driver Error?

Photo: 911 tapes released of Calif. runaway Toyota Prius incident

New computer data has cast doubt on a case of an alleged "runaway" Prius in Harrison, N.Y.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today said an examination of the "vehicle's onboard computer systems" found there was "no application of the brakes and the throttle was fully open." The findings contradict the driver's claim that she was had hit the brakes, but they failed to stop the car.

On the morning of Tuesday, March 9, a 56-year-old woman in Harrison said her Prius suddenly accelerated as she pulled out of a driveway and sped across the street before it slammed into a stone wall.

At the time, acting Harrison police chief Capt. Anthony Marraccini supported the driver's account of stepping on the brake pedal. However, after reviewing the vehicle data provided by Toyota, Marraccini reversed himself and told reporters "human error" may have been the cause of the crash.

Asked for comment on NHTSA's statement, Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons deferred to local law enforcement. "Toyota's role was to assist the Harrison Police Department with its accident investigation," said Lyons. "They will be issuing the final investigation report, including the information provided by Toyota and NHTSA.

On the day of the accident, the driver of the Prius told police she had not previously experienced problems with sudden acceleration in the car, because of news reports she was taking the car to a local Toyota dealership to be checked.

"She said the car accelerated and continued to accelerate," Marraccini told ABC News. "She said she tried to brake." According to Capt. Marraccini, the driver kept hitting the brakes, but the car wouldn't stop. The vehicle traveled about 150 feet before the driver lost control, crossed two lanes and hit a stone wall. The woman suffered an injury to her knee.

Marraccini said his department checked to see if the floor mat might have caused the accident. "From our investigation, it doesn't appear the floor mat was the cause," he said. The floor mat was secured to the car floor with the factory-issued hook and also tied to the seat base with a plastic tie. Marraccini said he believed it had been taken to a Toyota dealership to be serviced.

Toyota held a press conference in San Diego Monday to present the findings of an investigation into the circumstances of an alleged runaway incident on Interstate 8 on March 8. Toyota representatives said the electronic data from the 2008 Prius driven by James Sikes did not match the account of the incident given by Sikes, in which he claimed that the car's accelerator was "stuck."

At the press conference, Bob Waltz, Toyota Motor Sales vice president for product quality, restated Toyota's position that the company has pinpointed the causes of sudden acceleration incidents, and that there is no glitch in the electronic throttle, as some have claimed. "We believe that we have identified the two causes of unintended acceleration," said Walz. "Sticky gas pedals and floor mat entrapment."

At the same press conference, Toyota spokesman Mike Michels added that no one liked to talk about the other cause of sudden unintended acceleration -- drivers. "There are also human factors," said Michels. "NHTSA will tell you that the vast majority of sudden unintended acceleration incidents are due to human factors."

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