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Published: Monday, 2/7/2011

U.S. report on Toyota's recall woes due Tuesday

WASHINGTON -- The federal government plans Tuesday to release the findings of its investigation into runaway Toyotas, completing a 10-month review that could address whether faulty electronics played a role in the Japanese automaker's series of safety recalls.

The U.S. Transportation Department said it would issue the results of its study, which has examined whether electronics or electromagnetic interference played a factor in reports of Toyota vehicles accelerating unintentionally.

Toyota has recalled more than 11 million vehicles globally since the fall of 2009 to address gas pedals that stuck or became trapped in floor mats, plus other safety issues. The recalls have been a major challenge for the world's No. 1 automaker, which has scrambled to protect its reputation for safety and reliability.

The study, which has been conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA engineers, has not yet uncovered any electronic problems in the vehicles. In August, transportation officials said a preliminary review into event data recorders, or vehicle black boxes, failed to reveal any electronic flaws but said the study would continue.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to comment Monday in advance of the report's release, saying the department would "talk in great detail about this" Tuesday.

Toyota said in a statement that it "looks forward to reviewing the NASA and NHTSA report" regarding its electronic throttle control systems.

Toyota paid the government a record $48.8 million in fines for its handling of two recalls. The company has said it has not found any flaws in its electronic throttle control systems and said the previously announced recalls have addressed the safety concerns.

In addition to the recalls, Toyota began installing brake override systems on new vehicles. The systems cut the throttle when the brake and gas pedals are applied at the same time. The company also created engineering teams to examine vehicles subject of consumer complaints and appointed a chief quality officer for North America amid complaints its U.S. division did not play a large enough role in making safety decisions.

Consumer advocates and safety groups raised concerns that flawed electronics could be causing unwanted acceleration in the Toyotas. They have questioned the reliability of the event data recorders studied by the government, saying they could be faulty or fail to tell the whole story of the individual crashes.

Toyota's safety issues received broad attention from the government after four people were killed in a high-speed crash involving a Lexus near San Diego in August 2009.

The safety agency has received about 3,000 reports of sudden acceleration incidents involving Toyota vehicles during the past decade, including allegations of 93 deaths. The safety agency, however, has confirmed five of them.

Congress considered sweeping safety legislation last year that would have required brake override systems, raised penalties on auto companies that evade safety recalls, and given the government the power to quickly recall vehicles. But the bills failed to win enough support, and it remains unclear if Congress will pursue similar legislation before the 2012 elections.

The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a separate study of unintended acceleration in cars and trucks across the auto industry. The panel is expected to release its findings in fall 2011.



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