A joint investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Toyota into the highly publicized incident last week of a runaway 2008 Toyota Prius near San Diego, CA may begin to answer questions raised after the owner's credibility was challenged. In particular, the brakes reportedly exhibit a pattern of wear that's inconsistent with the story told by the vehicle's owner, James Sikes. According to a draft memo written for the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, the condition of the brakes suggests that they "weren't applied at full force over a sustained period at high speeds" reports the Wall Street Journal, but rather "the driver may have intermittently applied moderate pressure on the brakes."

Representatives from NHTSA and Toyota also couldn't duplicate the sudden unintended acceleration in testing that was allegedly experienced in the same car last week, though Sikes' lawyer claims these findings are not surprising: "I don't think that is surprising insofar as NHTSA has never been able to recreate these events and Toyota has denied that they even occur."

Finally, Sikes said after the incident that his accelerator pedal was stuck to the floor and he was braking hard at the same time. His particular Prius, however, is fitted with a brake override system that cuts engine power if the accelerator pedal and brake are applied at the same time. Investigators from both NHTSA and Toyota reportedly tried to recreate the same scenario with the vehicle in question and failed due to the brake override system performing as it was intended.

Toyota has announced a press conference for later today to share more of the investigation's results, which will likely further erode confidence in Sikes and his story. Some experts have questioned why Sikes didn't follow the advice of a 911 operator and shift his Prius into Neutral, as well as his explanation later of being afraid that the car would flip if he took it out of Drive. Also, Jalopnik.com reported last week that Sikes is some $700,000 in debt as well as behind on lease payments for the Prius in question. Puzzling behavior and circumstantial evidence aside, this investigation appears to offer the first hard evidence that what happened on Interstate 8 last week may not have been Toyota's fault.

[Source: Wall Street Journal, CNN, Jalopnik | Image: Toyota]]