Toyota sending Prius expert to aid investigation

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Published: March 12,2010

Tags: lawsuit, prius, product recall, product safety, Toyota

HARRISON, N.Y. — Toyota is sending an engineer to help with the investigation of an accident in which a driver said her Prius accelerated on its own and slammed into a stone wall.

Harrison police Capt. Anthony Marraccini said today that Toyota told him a “technical analyst engineer” would come to the New York City suburb next Wednesday to help with questions about the Prius’ electronic data recorder.

Toyota has recalled more than eight million vehicles to address problem with gas pedals. The driver in Monday’s accident, a 56-year-old housekeeper, said she was easing her employer’s 2005 Prius down a curving driveway when it began to accelerate on its own. She said that she tried to brake but that the car sped up and lurched across a two-lane road and into a stone wall.

She said she did not know whether the gas pedal got stuck. She was not seriously hurt.

Marraccini had requested Toyota’s help in decoding the data recorder.

Toyota’s written response said the engineer “will provide that expertise. … He can answer your technical questions about the readout process.”

The recorder can sometimes reveal what was happening in a car before a crash. In a report last week, The Associated Press found that for years, Toyota has blocked access to such data.

Toyota spokesman John Hanson said Toyota’s policy is, “Whatever agency has jurisdiction over an accident like this, we will always cooperate with them.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it is also sending an inspector to see the vehicle. No time has been set for that examination.

Marraccini, who is the department’s acting chief, said he would make sure there was no federal objection before allowing Toyota access to the vehicle on Wednesday.

Marraccini said that because the Prius has not been turned on since the accident and has been secured by the police department, it might provide an opportunity to get some answers.

“My belief is that there have to be some brilliant-minded people that are familiar with these type of systems, whether it’s in the federal or private sector, that can assist in determining the issues or nonissues that may be at hand here.”

Sen. Charles Schumer said he wants Toyota to allow independent access to the computer on the wrecked Prius. The New York Democrat said Toyota’s pledge to cooperate with the police investigation was not enough.

Schumer said he also wants the automaker to provide access to the software and all the vehicle’s mechanical components.

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