Gopal Raghavan of Thousand Oaks, California, who has a doctorate degree from Stanford University, filed a petition seeking the investigation in June. He contended that his 2009 Lexus ES350 sedan surged suddenly in a parking lot while being driven by his wife, crashing into some bushes and smashing the front of the car. He wrote in his petition that she did not press the gas, which was documented by the car's event data recorder. He believes the car's electronic throttle control malfunctioned.
Raghavan also cited event data recorder information in two other crashes involving Toyota vehicles and asked NHTSA to do a more detailed analysis of the cars' hardware and software. But the agency wrote that his petition was based on "misconceptions" about how the event data recorder samples and records data before a crash. "The crashes are all consistent with pedal misapplications by the driver mistaking the accelerator pedal for the brake when attempting to park the vehicle," the agency wrote.
Raghavan said Friday that the event data recorder shows no movement in the gas pedal until one second before the crash, which he says doesn't make sense. NHTSA, he said, told him that the gas pedal was being pumped between the samples taken every second by the event data recorder, a contention he disputes. "It's a great coincidence that it just happens right in the middle," he said.
Complaints have brought investigations and recalls totaling 10 million vehicles as well as multiple lawsuits and a $1.2 billion penalty for hiding information from NHTSA. The recalls were for mechanical problems – faulty brakes, sticky gas pedals and floor mats that could trap the accelerator. But although Toyota has denied it has problems with electronic throttle controls, allegations of problems have lingered.
In May, NHTSA rejected a Rhode Island engineer's request for a similar investigation after his wife got into a crash in a 2010 Toyota Corolla. The agency said it put over 2,000 miles on the man's car but could not find any problems with the throttle or transmission systems. A message seeking comment from Toyota was left Friday for a company spokeswoman.