Following a year in which Toyota has been plagued by a constant stream of claims that unintended acceleration caused car accidents, leading to the recall of more than 9 million vehicles worldwide, the Japanese auto giant has had some good news in recent months. The newest came in a Labor Day editorial yesterday, in which the Washington Post opined that the early data has indicated that when it comes to unintended acceleration, “electronics was not the issue. Human error was.”
Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data showed that 60 percent of accidents blamed on Toyota were the result of driver error, not electronics. Toyota supporters have used this as a “told-you-so” moment, arguing that attorneys are exaggerating the episode to boost lawsuits. Consumer advocates, on the other hand, point out that the early data sampled only 58 cases, leaving thousands uninvestigated. And the Department of Transportation has said the agency has “drawn no conclusions and released no data. We will follow the facts and inform the public when our investigation comes to an end.”
The Post‘s editorial correctly estimates that when Toyota President Akio Toyoda appeared before Congress in February, he wasn’t going to call his company’s customers liars. It also fairly states that the congressional hearings exposed “a too-close-for-comfort relationship between NHTSA and the industry it regulates” while failing “to provide clarity on what went wrong.” But it is a mistake to assume that preliminary data, based on a fragmented sample, is indicative of the entire fleet of consumers claiming unintended acceleration.
The Toyota accidents related to unintended acceleration over the past few years shouldn’t be considered either completely Toyota’s fault or the consumer’s. Instead of existing within this black-or-white framework, it looks to me like some of these claims have been legitimate, while some have been customer issues mistakenly assumed to be Toyota’s fault. So while the Post concludes with the warning that “the only answer is that the customer is not always right,” they should wait for a more complete analysis before determining that Toyota always is.
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