Toyota “Black Boxes” Not Providing Sufficient Data

Aug 27, 2010

A new Toyota Tundra pickup struck an oak tree off a rural road in Washington state in 2007, killing the 29-year-old driver, in what in many ways seemed liked a common sort of tragedy.

When this April the driver's parents and a U.S. senator finally prevailed upon Toyota to examine the contents of the truck's crash data recorder, the electronic readings suggested a collision that was far from ordinary.

The data indicated the truck had been going 177 mph when it hit the tree, much faster than what the pickup possibly could go, safety experts said. Yet a separate reading from the recorder put the speed at 75 mph before impact.

As the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration conducts its investigation into unintended acceleration in Toyotas, the crash data recorders or "black boxes" in the vehicles have become a primary piece of evidence. But long-standing reservations about the reliability of the data -- some of which have been voiced by none other than Toyota officials -- raise doubts about how much the safety agency can rely on them to determine the cause of the crashes.

"The Toyota EDRs are so unreliable that even Toyota has challenged their reliability in court," said Clarence Ditlow, director of the Center for Auto Safety. "Given the demonstrated errors, NHTSA can't rely upon them in its investigation."

Toyota has been reluctant to reveal the contents of the crash data recorders, which some have used in lawsuits against the company. The family of the driver of the Toyota Tundra that struck the oak in Washington state repeatedly asked the automaker to provide a reading from the data recorder, but Toyota refused. It wasn't until Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) pressed the company in hearings in March that Toyota offered to read the data.

[via The Washington Post]

Photo courtesy of Dion Gillard and re-used under the Creative Commons license.