Publication: The New York Daily News

Friday, March 05, 2010

In the 2004 crash in Evansville, Ind., that killed 77-year-old Juanita Grossman, attorneys for her family say a Toyota technician traveled from the company's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., to examine her 2003 Camry.

Before she died, the 5-foot-2, 125-pound woman told relatives she was practically standing with both feet on the brake pedal but could not stop the car from slamming into a building. Records confirm that emergency personnel found Grossman with both feet on the brake pedal.

A Toyota representative told the family's attorneys there was "no sensor that would have preserved information regarding the accelerator and brake positions at the time of impact," according to a summary of the case provided by Safety Research & Strategies Inc., a Rehoboth, Mass.-based company that does vehicle safety research for attorneys, engineers, government and others.

One attorney in the Texas case contends in court documents that Toyota may have deliberately stopped allowing its EDRs to collect critical information so the Japanese automaker would not be forced to reveal it in court cases.

"This goes directly to defendants' notice of the problem and willingness to cover up the problem," said E. Todd Tracy, who had been suing automakers for 20 years.

Randy Roberts, an attorney for the driver in that case, said he was surprised at how little information the Avalon's EDR contained.

"When I found out the Toyota black box was so uninformative, I was shocked," Roberts said.

Toyota refused comment Thursday on Tracy's allegations because it is an ongoing legal matter, but said the company does share EDR information with government regulators.

"Because the EDR system is an experimental device and is neither intended, nor reliable, for accident reconstruction, Toyota's policy is to download data only at the direction of law enforcement, NHTSA or a court order," the Toyota statement said.

Last week, Toyota acknowledged it has only a single laptop available in the U.S. to download its data recorder information because it is still a prototype, despite being in use since 2001 in Toyota vehicles. Three other laptops capable of reading the devices were delivered this week to NHTSA for training on their use, Toyota said and 150 more will be brought to the U.S. for commercial use by the end of April.

By contrast, acceptance and distribution of data recorder technology by other automakers is commonplace.

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