As a temporary step, Toyota will have dealers shorten the length of the gas pedals beginning in January while the company develops replacement pedals for their vehicles, the Transportation Department said in a statement provided to the AP. New pedals will be available beginning in April, and some vehicles will have brake override systems installed as a precaution.
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, was expected to provide more details Wednesday on the fix. The Japanese automaker announced the massive recall in late September and told owners to remove the driver's side floor mats to prevent the gas pedal from potentially becoming jammed.
Popular vehicles such as the Toyota Camry, the top-selling passenger car in America, and the Toyota Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid, are part of the recall. It includes the 2007-10 model year Camry, 2005-10 Toyota Avalon, 2004-09 Prius, 2005-10 Toyota Tacoma, 2007-10 Toyota Tundra, 2007-10 Lexus ES350 and 2006-10 Lexus IS250/350.
On Tuesday, Toyota announced a recall of 110,000 Tundra trucks from the 2000-03 model years to address excessive rust on the vehicle's frame.
The recall involving the accelerators was Toyota's largest in the U.S. It was prompted by a high-speed crash in August involving a 2009 Lexus ES350 that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family near San Diego. The Lexus hit speeds exceeding 120 mph, struck a sport utility vehicle, launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.
A family member in the runaway Lexus made a frantic 911 call moments before the crash, telling emergency responders that the accelerator was stuck and the driver couldn't stop the car. The call ended as someone was overheard urging others to hold on and pray, followed by a woman's scream.
In Japan, Toyota President Akio Toyoda called the fatal crash "extremely regrettable" and offered his "deepest condolences" to the California family.
Investigators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined that a rubber all-weather floor mat found in the wreckage was slightly longer than the mat that belonged in the vehicle, and could have snared or covered the accelerator pedal.
The government has attributed at least five deaths and two injuries to floor mat-related unintended acceleration in the Toyota vehicles and has received reports of more than 100 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck. A Massachusetts-based safety consultant who has investigated the Toyota cases, however, has found more than 2,000 incidents involving 16 deaths and 243 injuries potentially tied to the Toyota gas pedals.
To fix the problem, Transportation officials said dealers will shorten the length of the accelerator pedal on the recalled vehicles and in some cases remove foam from beneath the carpeting near the pedal. They said owners of the ES350, Camry and Avalon would be the first to receive notification because the vehicles are believed to have the highest risk for pedal entrapment.
Toyota plans to install a brake override system on the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES350, IS350 and IS250 models as an "extra measure of confidence," NHTSA said. The brake override system, commonly called a "smart brake," will ensure the vehicle will stop if both the brake and the accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously.
Dealers will be instructed on how to modify the pedals before the end of the year and will begin shortening the accelerators in 2010. New replacement pedals are expected to be available for some models beginning in April and will be provided even if the vehicles have already received a modified pedal under the recall.
The automaker and government regulators have been discussing a potential fix for several weeks. In late September, Toyota announced the recall and told owners to remove driver's side floor mats and not replace them until the company had determined a remedy for the problem. The automaker said unhooked floor mats or replacement mats stacked on top of the originals could lead to stuck accelerators.
In early November, Toyota issued a statement saying NHTSA had confirmed "that no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver's floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured." But in a rare rebuke, NHTSA accused Toyota of releasing misleading information about the recall, saying removing the mats did not "correct the underlying defect." Toyota said it was not the company's intention to mislead anyone.
If a vehicle accelerator pedal becomes stuck and a driver can't dislodge it, Toyota advises drivers to press on the brake with both feet and then shift the vehicle into neutral, which will disengage the transmission. The automaker says drivers should continue braking until the vehicle comes to a stop.
A driver can also try shutting off the engine or turning the key to the "ACC" position on the ignition. Drivers will not lose control of the steering or the brakes. But once the vehicle is turned off the driver won't have the benefit of power brakes or power steering. For vehicles that have a start/stop button for the engine, drivers are advised to hold the button for three seconds to turn it off.
For more information, owners can contact Toyota at 800-331-4331 or the NHTSA hot line at 888-327-4236.
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Toyota Motor Corp.: http://www.toyota.com