LA Times Stokes Unintended Acceleration Fears

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Unfortunately for Toyota, rumors of rampant incidents of unintended acceleration have been irresponsibly perpetuated by news organizations more concerned about ratings than facts. The L.A. Times has been particularly aggressive in their efforts to slander Toyota and stoke public fears. Two “news stories” have printed un-substantiated opinions as fact and used incendiary imagery to stoke fear in the hearts of Toyota owners.

While the L.A. Times isn’t alone in this practice, they’ve been leading the charge. Here’s what Toyota owners need to know.

NOTE: It should be stated clearly for all to hear that our blog isn’t living up to any high journalism standards. We were completely and totally wrong about the 2009 Tundra diesel and the Tundra hybrid…embarrassingly so. When we accuse other journalists of being “sloppy,” it shouldn’t carry a lot of weight. Still, the truth must be told.

When Toyota announced their voluntary recall in September, two reporters (we’ll call them V and B) began gathering data to see if they could embarrass Toyota somehow. Two weeks later, they published this story with the headline “Toyota’s runaway-car worries may not stop at floor mats.” The article hints that Toyota’s electronic control systems might be faulty, a very scary prospect that probably got their article a lot of page views…yet 6 NHTSA investigations have determined unequivocally that there’s no problem with Toyota’s throttle control systems.

Yes, that’s 6 separate investigations that determined Toyota’s throttle control system is completely safe. Yet the L.A. Times asks “Might a vehicle’s complex electronic features make it hard for drivers to react quickly when accelerating out of control?

Obviously V and B have not driven one of the vehicles in question, because there’s nothing complicated about the gearshift, start button, or the function of the pedals. The only complexity is in the system behind these things…which is where the slander comes in. “Complex electronic features” insinuates there’s some sort of bug in Toyota’s throttle control system. Not true.

Additionally, many of the accusations leveled at Toyota in this article advocate that a person in a panic situation might not be able to control their vehicle. No kidding?! Panicked people aren’t rational. There’s no way to “panic proof” an automobile, and it’s not a reasonable standard when it comes to assessing safety.

V and B didn’t stop with the “runaway” accusations. Two and a half weeks later they published this story, which claims that Toyota and NHTSA are irresponsibly ignoring “1,000’s” of cases of runaway Toyotas. While the reporters make some interesting points, it’s hard to give V & B a lot of credit for being objective when they lead with this image:

The lead image for the L.A. Times second "runaway Toyota" smear story (click the image to see the original).

The lead image for the L.A. Times second "runaway Toyota" smear story (click the image to see the original).

Talk about a smear job! That picture and the headline “Runaway Toyota cases ignored” make it look like a Toyota will plunge off a nearby cliff at a moment’s notice. Ridiculous.

It’s true that NHTSA and Toyota systematically exclude complaints without investigation, and the process may need a review. However, accusing NHTSA and Toyota of negligence in their response is irresponsible and incendiary. Here’s why:

  • NHTSA (and Toyota) HAVE to figure out a way to disqualify some complaints as a matter of practicality. With tens of thousands of claims filed with NHTSA every year for every make and model on the road, NHTSA can’t investigate each and every complaint.
  • Not all complaints are equal. Some people file a complaint with NHTSA because they really have a problem to report, and others complain because they’re angry with the manufacturer, because they’re trying to secure some sort of financial benefit, or because they’re trying to avoid prosecution. After all, it’s much easier to say “my car accelerated on it’s own” that it is to say “I was negligent.”

Specifically, let’s look at what types of claims were thrown out:

  • Cases of unintended acceleration sustained for more than 1 second. Why? Because, according to NHTSA and their decades of investigation experience, most of these cases are the result of driver panic.
  • Cases of vehicles that couldn’t stop. Why? Because, according to a NHTSA study from 2004, most vehicle brake systems can stop an out-of-control vehicle with ease. If there’s a point to be made in the L.A. Times article, it’s here. The results of the study are (obviously) not correct.
  • Cases where the complaint isn’t specific as to the “cause” of the problem, meaning the owner didn’t register a specific enough complaint. When owners aren’t specific about their problem, their complaints are ignored.

So what complaints does NHTSA listen to? Complaints from safety experts, police investigators, auto repair professionals, and specific complaints that match an existing pattern. Since the year 2000, NHTSA has investigated Toyotas for unintended acceleration 9 times…seems like NHTSA is doing their job.

V and B do make some valid points. NHTSA’s processes could probably stand some improvement and Toyota needs to upgrade their vehicle computer systems. However, there’s no disputing that these articles are designed to scare people, and for that we say BOO.

Filed Under: Auto News

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  1. tundra manny says:

    It seams ever since the redesigned tundra was unveiled that every attempt has been made 2 slander,discredit and defame the tundra has been attempted from imho schewing the crash test rateing 2 trying 2 insult great americans and make us look unpatriotic . Some mags imho have gone against cold hard data in an attempt to look patriotic ignorently destroying their credibility . Every time any problem surfaces it is blown way out of proportion to perpetuate their bias opinions and agendas . This is just one more example of this thinking ? How unpatriotic is that?

  2. mk says:

    The sky is falling, the sky is falling – I’ll think I’ll just file a lawsuit.

    Fricking idiots nowadays printing such crap should have their journalism license taken away. Oh wait, they don’t need a license to print garbage do they. Welcome to freedom of press in America.

  3. tundra manny – I agree. The people screaming about patriotism and “buying American” often fail to realize that these types of arguments are facist. Freedom applies to more than just speech, right? These people need to think before they speak. Thanks for commenting :-)

  4. mk – I really hesitated to go in this direction (not interested in making enemies with the L.A. Times), but their reporting here was incendiary. I think that Manny is right – it’s popular to gang up on Toyota right now.

  5. TXTee says:

    All forms of media are becoming more opinon-based than factual. The sad part is that people aren’t taking the time to get the real details before jumping to conclusions, because overall we as humans are lazy. It’s easier to just believe what you’re told or given as info than try to find out more to support a case. Until one of my 3 Toyota/Lexus products does something to make me initiate a claim or feel that it is unsafe, I refuse to jump on the bandwagon. Again, if we as humans weren’t so lazy, we wouldn’t ask for all these creature comforts from the manufacturers which seem to be the root cause of the supposed troubles. Wipe your feet and clean your carpet…we get rid of mats. Paddle on the floor like the Flinstones….get rid of engines. LOL…my point is that driving has become a “casual” experience when we should be more focused. And half if not more of the problems cropping up can be avoided. Start blaming the drivers, lack of common sense, and actually knowing how to drive.

  6. Mickey says:

    Everyone ever wonder why the newspaper is becoming obsolete? They don’t have real journalist anymore that are willing to do the job right. Proven facts to justify a story. If no proven facts it’s just a story.

  7. TXTee – Here here. A profound sense of personal responsibility should be a requirement to be a U.S. citizen. People are too quick to say that something is someone else’s fault, ESPECIALLY when someone else is a big faceless entity like a large corporation or a branch of the government.

  8. Mickey – The big thing now is to ask questions that can’t be substantiated, but it’s OK because they’re just “questions.” Like I said, we’re not pristine examples of journalistic integrity or anything, but the L.A. Times seems a little out of line.

  9. mk says:

    TXTee and Mickey – well said and agree.

    Jason, I might have to look up that word ‘incendiary’. My journalism abilities are lacking just like the so-called journalists nowadays printing such garbage and my ‘midwestern’ English speaking/comprehension ability is not that advanced. Get er’ done!

  10. LOL – I hope I spelled it right…

  11. TXTee says:

    Newspaper is just too hard to fold and read and flip to page 32A to continue and I’ll be darned but I just smudged that nasty ink all over my hands and my business suit. Oh wait a minute I forgot I wear polos and jeans to work…never mind! Let me get back to my keyboard now. But that is a true point about journalism that Mickey brought up. No one (besides Jason of course) knows how to research or write anything worth saying anymore. Plus it’s so much easier and cost efficient to try and correct your blunders by updating a webpage…HUH? I never said that! is the new theme.

  12. Ken says:

    This is typical of the media. Most of the time these imbeciles have NO idea what the hell they are talking about to begin with. They just talk to hear their heads rattle and try to bend everything out of proportion. I am satisfied that a prerequisite to being a journalist is to be a complete moron.
    I am just scared to DEATH of my runaway 07 Tundra. I have removed the floormats and equipped it with a giant grappling hook in the bed, cuz I put so much stock in the media.

  13. Ken – LOL. Please send photos of the grappling hook.
    TXTee – I can’t remember the last time I touched a newspaper either. The print industry is dying a slow, miserable death, and the desperation these old newspapers feel is forcing them to lower their standards. I appreciate your comments, but I have to say I don’t think we’re much better. It’s a slippery slope.

  14. TXTee says:

    Point exactly..it’s just much easier to make “updates” on a web page because you can retract/change it so easily. You know there’s sarcasm in that other post! -smile-

  15. LOL – I get it now.

  16. Mickey says:

    Mk from websters “Main Entry: 1in

  17. Mickey – I think you’re right about the way the news is produced. These organizations are operating under an old model and the new model has yet to catch up. I think that, 10 years from now, local and national news organizations will be healthy once more, but in the meantime we’re going to see a lot of news organizations go under.

  18. Carrie Elsass says:

    Perhaps it’s time to retract your story decrying the reporting on acceleration problems? I think it’s become clear that there is in fact an issue.

  19. Mickey says:

    Really Carrie? I don’t think so. If you don’t think this is a vendetta against Toyota why haven’t the media highly publicize the brake issue on Ford’s new hybrids but what you see is the Prius’s brakes being publicize. Give me a break the media is going for the jugular period.

  20. William says:

    I really like these articles, objective and good point of view…
    Congratulations ‘Tundraheadquarters’

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