Sudden Unintended Acceleration Claims Lives
In 2009, California Highway Patrol officer, Mark Saylor, and his wife, daughter and brother-in-law died in a car accident. Mark was driving a 2009 Lexus ES 350 -- loaned from Bob Baker Lexus of El Cajon, CA -- at the end of Highway 125 when the vehicle did not respond to pressure he placed on the break. The Lexus collided with a Ford Explorer and continued accelerating through a T intersection until it struck an embankment, tumbled into a riverbed and burst into flames.
Since Mark Saylor was a CHP officer, no one could understand why he was not able to harness the vehicle he was driving and bring it to a safe, complete stop. However, the details of the crash became clearer when the frantic 911 phone call Mark's brother-in-law, Chris Lastrella, made as the car was accelerating out of control was broadcast publicly. There was nothing they could do to stop the vehicle.
At least 19 occupants of Toyota vehicles have died in crashes similar to this one. The only understanding the public has for these fatal accidents is that they were all caused by sudden unintended acceleration that the driver could not prevent nor stop.
The Saylor accident happened at the pinnacle of what has since been called the Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) problem. Toyota had initially denied there was anything wrong with their vehicles, and blamed consumers for installing floor mats incorrectly. The extent to which they attempted to fix the problem was offering to replace mats or post warning signs, but were otherwise negligent.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has conducted eight investigations into the causes of SUA in Camry, Lexus ES 350, Sienna and Tacoma models, but most of these investigations have been short and not thorough enough to locate the root cause. Any results claimed that the acceleration was caused from nothing more than interference with the pedal caused by floor mats or trim.
The tragic death of Mark Saylor and his family has exposed the serious and real nature of this problem and has put pressure on Toyota and the NHTSA to locate the root cause. In spite of this, Toyota attributed the Saylor crash to an "unsecured all-weather floor mat" that was stuck in the accelerator pedal. Reports stated the mat was not properly secured and had melted with the accelerator pedal during the fire. They also said the installed mat was not the correct kind of mat for the vehicle, though the correct brand.
Some are skeptical that this was the true cause of the crash, because the report ambiguously states that the accelerator pedal was burned on to the mat, not the mat on top of the accelerator. Further, the concern is that this is not the true cause of SUA and that Toyota and Lexus owners, as well as the rest of the public, are still at risk for these types of accidents. It seems the manufacturers are not treating the dangers of having an unidentified defect, or many defects, in vehicles widely driven by the public appropriately.
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