Nov. 25, 2009— -- 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.
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.