After SoCal P.R. Victory, Toyota On Counteroffensive (But Still Secretive)

We're hard-pressed to think of any other facet of life where a company that might have caused accidents worth possible millions in liability and lost sales is able to investigate itself. But that seems to be the case as Torrance-based Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. gets another crack at a runaway car investigation -- this one in New York.

As we've been reporting, the car company was allowed to have two of its engineers inspect a Prius in San Diego that reportedly accelerated as fast as 90 miles an hour as its driver tried to stop it (and a California Highway Patrol officer witnessed some of it, including smoke coming from its brakes). Toyota's blame-the-victim conclusion, in which it said the car was working fine and couldn't have done such a thing, was a huge P.R. victory for the company as the media swallowed its side, even though the investigative involvement of a pro-auto-industry congressman should have set off warning signs about a campaign against the driver.

Now USA Today reports that the company has sent six -- count 'em -- six inspectors and engineers to check out another Toyota Prius that got away from a woman in New York. The company wants to see if the vehicle's black box has any clues to offer in the March 9 crash. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, by the way, is only sending two investigators, as it had in the San Diego incident earlier this month.

Of course, this the same company that had been secretive about what data its cars' black boxes contained and how to access it. In fact, until this month, only one computer in the nation could even access the onboard data storage devices, and it could only be done via proprietary software owned by the carmaker. Other automakers are open about access to their black box data.

The Associated Press recently found that Toyota "has been inconsistent -- and sometimes even contradictory -- in revealing exactly what the devices record and don't record, including critical data about whether the brake or accelerator pedals were depressed at the time of a crash."

So now all of a sudden the black boxes are Toyota's friend? How about an independent examination of those boxes, huh Toyota?

In the case of a Toyota Avalon that had been brought to a dealer more than once after its driver complained of sudden acceleration, the black box was found to have its brake-data recorder section in the "off" mode. The driver and three passengers died in what might have been a bout of sudden acceleration in Texas. (Family members are suing the carmaker).

States the AP: "One attorney in the Texas case contends in court documents that Toyota may have deliberately stopped allowing its EDRs to collect critical information so the Japanese automaker would not be forced to reveal it in court cases."

But yeah, let's just trust this mega-corporation to investigate itself and make proclamations that question the character of the very people who put down hard earned money to buy its products.

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