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Published: Friday, 3/19/2010

Regulators: No brakes used in N.Y. Prius crash


As federal regulators yesterday said that computer data shows no brakes were being applied in a Toyota Prius that crashed last week in suburban New York City, the automaker began its effort to improve its image damaged by a recent rash of recalls stemming from brake problems and sudden acceleration in several vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. asked U.S. broadcaster ABC News to retract and apologize for an "irresponsible" report it aired last month suggesting electronics as the cause of sudden acceleration in its cars.

The world's largest automaker is working to repair its reputation after recalling 8 million vehicles worldwide to fix defects linked to bursts of speed.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said yesterday that evidence from a Toyota Prius involved in a Harrison, N.Y., crash tied to unintended acceleration found no sign the car's brakes had been applied.

The disclosure prompted an angry response from the police captain investigating the cause of the accident. He said his probe was not over and driver error had not been established.

A housekeeper driving the car on March 9 told police that it sped up on its own down a driveway, despite her braking, and crashed into a stone wall across the street.

Technicians from Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration examined the wrecked 2005 Prius outside police headquarters in Harrison on Wednesday. NHTSA said information from the car's computer systems indicated there was no application of the brakes and the throttle was fully open. It did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Toyota has said mechanical flaws, such as accelerators that stick or snag on floor mats, are at fault in sudden acceleration, with no evidence of failures in the electronic-control systems of its cars and trucks. A Feb. 22 ABC News report challenged that assumption.

The network "relentlessly promoted" a view that electronics in Toyota and Lexus models were a cause of sudden-acceleration complaints, without providing "credible scientific evidence," Christopher Reynolds, Toyota's U.S. general counsel, said in a March 11 letter to ABC News President David Westin.

"Toyota deserves a public retraction and formal apology from ABC News for your irresponsible broadcast," Mr. Reynolds said in the four-page letter, as reported this week by the Web site gawker.com.

Jeffrey Schneider, a spokesman for ABC News, said yesterday the company's lawyers will respond to Toyota.

Toyota faces more than 100 class-action and individual lawsuits related to vehicle defects.

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