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."