During three decades of unintended acceleration reviews that often blamed human error, U.S. regulators tracked less than half the deaths in vehicles made by Toyota Motor Corp.
Even though Toyota's recalls have drawn widespread attention to the issue, 59 of 110 fatalities attributed to sudden acceleration in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration records occurred in vehicles made by Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, and other companies, according to data compiled for Bloomberg News by the traffic safety administration.
The agency received 15,174 complaints involving unintended acceleration in the past decade and has run 141 investigations of the phenomenon since 1980, closing 112 of them without corrective action. The agency's repeated conclusion that crashes occurred because drivers mistakenly stomped the accelerator became a policy position that caused investigators to take complaints of runaway vehicles less seriously than they should have, safety advocates say.
"The agency had made a determination that this was primarily a human factor, driver error, and that's outside NHTSA's purview," said Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator. "The Toyota case has brought new scrutiny to other factors, and NHTSA has to look at other causes."
Ms. Claybrook is president emeritus of Public Citizen, a Washington consumer advocacy group that has sued automakers seeking crash information.
The traffic safety administration, responsible for ensuring the safety of motor vehicles in the United States, hasn't previously disclosed the non-Toyota deaths.
After Toyota's 51, Ford and Chrysler vehicles were linked to the most deaths - 20 for Ford and 12 for Chrysler.
Ford hasn't identified any specific safety trends in its vehicles, said Said Deep, a Ford spokesman. In terms of the broader issue of sudden acceleration, "it is the agency's obligation, if NHTSA believes it's appropriate, that they investigate it," he said.
The agency's death database included crashes of 56 models from various years.
Among the models generating multiple complaints were Chrysler's Jeep Grand Cherokee vehicles that took off and crashed after idling at car washes or service stations and Ford vehicles in which the speed control allegedly failed to disengage or otherwise surged.