Did NHTSA know of Toyota woes back in 2004?

From the "This story just keeps getting uglier" department comes a new bit of information concerning Toyota and its growing sticky pedal problem. The Detroit Free Press is reporting that Toyota and the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration were looking into the problem back in 2004, but an interesting twist led the investigation down a path that ultimately turned up nothing.
The Freep says that this early investigation was strictly limited to incidents of unintended acceleration lasting one second or less, which strikes us as odd considering prolonged periods unintended acceleration are a lot more dangerous than a blip of the throttle. And this is where the story gets a bit tricky. The Freep reports that a 2008 lawsuit stemming from an alleged unintended acceleration-related death of a woman driving a 2005 Camry says that the decision was made to limit the investigation right after a former NHTSA employee, Christopher Santucci, took a job with Toyota.

The lawsuit alleges that the new Toyota employee negotiated a deal with his former coworkers at NHTSA to limit the investigation of unintended acceleration claims to instances of one second or less. Santucci said in a deposition that the NHTSA investigation involved 2002 and 2003 Toyota Camry, Solaras and Lexus ES300 models. NHTSA had reportedly received 139 complaints in the 2004 investigation, but found no defects.

Now that Toyota has officially recalled millions of vehicles, the question remains whether these older models will eventually be recalled as well. The short answer is that we have no idea, but former NHTSA head Joan Claybrook feels that the government safety agency should have taken unintended acceleration claims more seriously in the past.

[Source: Detroit Free Press | Image: Justin Sullivan/Getty]

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