Cantwell Secures Commitment from Toyota Executives to Turn Over Withheld Accident Data

Information could provide answers to cause of fatal Washington state accident involving a Toyota vehicle subject to recall for unintended acceleration problem

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) secured a commitment from Toyota executives to turn over ‘black box’ data that could provide answers to the cause of a fatal 2007 car accident in Washington state that may have involved unintended acceleration. Chris Eves, 29, of Bellingham, WA, was driving a three-month-old Toyota Tundra on October 17, 2007, when the vehicle veered and crashed head-on into a tree on a rural road north of his hometown. The cause of the crash was initially attributed to driver error. But the vehicle’s high speed and the reason why it veered off the road remain unsolved.

The victim’s parents, Ron and Lori Eves, also of Bellingham, have sought to access information about the accident from the vehicle’s event data recorder, or EDR. Doing so requires Toyota’s cooperation, but until today, Toyota’s North American operations had refused to approve retrieval of the EDR information. The EDR is connected to the vehicle’s air bag and records such information as speed and pressure on the gas and brake pedals before and after point of impact. Subsequently, the Eves learned that the 2007 Toyota Tundra was among the millions of vehicles on Toyota’s October 2009 and January 2010 recall lists for problems with the driver-side floor mat and accelerator pedal, either of which could cause unwanted acceleration. At a Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing this afternoon, Cantwell pressed Toyota executives to turn over this EDR data.

“I’m asking this because one of my constituent’s sons died in a single-vehicle crash, driving one of the recalled 2007 Toyota Tundras,” Cantwell told the Toyota executives at the hearing. “His parents have the truck’s EDR and a request to the company to give them access to the software to read its contents. Toyota has turned them down. In my state, there is a law pending in the Washington legislature as a result of Toyota’s refusal. So I want to know – can you provide that information to Mr. Eves’ family, so that they can have this data and information?”

Mr. Yoshimi Inaba, President and Chief Executive Officer of Toyota Motor North America, Inc., responded, “We will be glad to do so. This is our desire also to find out what has happened. And very, very sorry about what has happened to this family.”

Upon hearing the news of Toyota’s commitment, Ron Eves, Chris’ father, said, “I’d like to thank Senator Cantwell and people like her that have a passion for the truth and keeping the system honest. A great amount of stress has been lifted off of us with this news. We’ll be able to have closure because the information we didn’t have before will come out.”

During the hearing, Cantwell also said that while entrapment of the accelerator pedal by faulty floor mats does explain a percentage of the reports of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, she believes other potential causes need to be explored, such as the electronic throttle control and the engine control module software.

“I am glad that Secretary LaHood is looking at electronic throttle controls and engine control modules across the industry,” Cantwell said. “I am concerned that unless all of the critical variables associated with one of these reports can be first identified and then reproduced, there may not be definitive answers. Toyota’s solution is to have a brake override. It is not really a solution, as much as a failsafe strategy.”

Watch a video of Senator Cantwell’s discussion with Mr. Inaba. (Senator Cantwell’s opening statement begins at 07:45, and her Q&A begins at 45:30.)