Toyota's decision to replace accelerator pedals on millions of its vehicles will not completely fix the company's sudden acceleration problem, believes an auto safety expert who has been tracking reports of runaway Toyotas.
Toyota has been plagued by cases of runaway vehicles and has blamed the problem solely on the accelerator pedal getting caught in the floor mat.
Toyota today said it will change the design of its accelerator pedals as well as the shape of the floor under the pedal in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, saying the remedy will "address the root cause of the potential risk for floor mat entrapment of accelerator pedals" in its vehicles. The recall affects Toyota's Camry,Avalon, Prius, Tacoma and Tundra and the ES250, IS250 and IS350 from Lexus.
However, safety expert Sean Kane said the recall doesn't address hundreds of runaway Toyota cases he has uncovered where owners insist floor mats cannot be blamed. "What concerns me is that this recall still doesn't get to the root cause of the non-floor mat sudden acceleration cases," said Kane, who heads the firm Safety Research & Strategies. Overall, the firm says it discovered over 2,000 Toyota sudden acceleration cases involving 16 deaths and 243 injuries.
An ABC News investigation revealed that many Toyota owners are in rebellion and have refused to accept the company's explanation for their sudden acceleration incidents.
In Portland, Oregon, Marianna Eisner's Lexus crashed into a truck after it shot out of control on the freeway in September.
Said Eisner, "I did have a fleeting thought that this may be the day that I die."
She said that prior to the incident, she had already heard about the floor mat problem and made a point of checking hers.
"The mat was nowhere near the accelerator," said Eisner.
The driver of a Toyota Camry whose wife was killed when their vehicle went over a cliff in California said that even with his foot on the brake he could not stop his car.
"All of a sudden," said Bulent Ezal, "the car surged with force and I was thrown back to the seat."
Elizabeth James said her Toyota Prius suddenly shot up to 90 miles an hour when her foot was not on the gas pedal. "I'm absolutely certain that in my situation, it was not the floor mats," said James.
James and other Toyota owners believe that their accidents may have been caused by a glitch in the electronic computer system that controls the throttle. According to Kane, complaints of runaway Toyotas shot up after 2002, the same year the company went to an all electronic throttle control system with no mechanical fall back.
"You can't discount the electronics given all of the things that are going on, given all of the reports, given all of the evidence," said Kane.
Sudden Acceleration and Toyotas
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has conducted numerous investigations of sudden acceleration cases in Toyotas since 2003 and has found no electronic defects.
On a phone conference call with reporters Wednesday, Toyota officials continued to reject any electronic problem.
"We can come up with no indication whatsoever that there is a throttle or electronic control system malfunction," said Toyota spokesman Irv Miller.
Even so, in a major concession, Toyota did announce an important change in their cars' electronic acceleration system Wednesday.
Toyota to Introduce "Smart Brake" Feature
As ABC News had previously reported, under the current Toyota design, the brake is not powerful enough to stop a runaway car at full throttle.
As part of the recall, however, Toyota announced that it will install a brake override system in some of its vehicle models. The "brake to idle" feature, which is standard on most German vehicles, allows the driver to override a car's acceleration by hitting the brake. Kane applauded the decision, saying regardless of the cause of sudden acceleration cases, the measure will save lives.
"That type of fix will bring control to the driver very quickly, and will likely prevent crashes," said Kane.
In a statement, the NHTSA applauded the addition of the brake override, saying that it was "particularly pleased that Toyota is taking this additional step.
But Toyota owners won't be able to get the newer or shorter gas pedals or the brake over-ride until next year.
The brake override system will be made standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus product lines beginning with cars manufactured in January 2010.
For owners of existing vehicles, Toyota will begin sending recall notices before the end of the year, starting with Camrys, Avalons and ES350s.Dealers will be able to make the modifications on some models beginning in January.
A fatal accident near San Diego this August that took the lives of California Highway patrol officer Mark Saylor, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law drew attention to the problem of 'runaway Toyotas.'
Right before the crash, Saylor's brother-in-law called 911 from the backseat of the vehicle and said urgently, "Our accelerator is stuck. We're in trouble…There's no brakes."
Toyota said the problem was the wrong-sized, all-weather rubber floor mat in the car which was caught and held down the gas pedal.
In Tokyo, the president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, formally apologized, saying, "Four precious lives have been lost. I offer my deepest condolences."