Product Liability

Toyota will make brake override system standard in all US vehicles

Toyota Motor Corp. will install a new brake override system in all of its newly built vehicle models in North America by the end of 2010, said the company’s highest ranking U.S. Executive Yoshimi Inaba.

The new braking system (sometimes called a “smart pedal” or “smart throttle”) will be commanded by software that shifts the engine to idle when it detects the driver is attempting to brake while the vehicle is accelerating. The brake override will work when the vehicle is traveling at a moderate or high speed and the driver applies the brake and accelerator pedals simultaneously. The software then gives precedence to the brakes over the accelerator pedal.

Toyota is already implementing the new system in its Camry and Lexus ES 350 models. The new technology will be phased in for other models throughout the year.

Few automakers outside of Germany include a brake override system in their vehicles. Toyota’s decision to make the technology standard in all of its vehicles may help polish the company’s image and reputation, which have been tarnished by sudden acceleration reports and the company’s sluggish acknowledgment of the defect.

Mounting reports of sudden, unintended acceleration and the tragic accidents that the defect sometimes caused prompted Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to announce a recall last September of nearly 4 million Toyota cars and trucks. The recall is the second largest consumer product recall ever to occur in the U.S.

According to Toyota, the company will install brake override systems in its higher-end model recalls: the Camry, Avalon, and ES 350. Other models covered by the recall will just have the accelerator pedal shortened to ensure it can’t be jammed in full open position. No plans to install the brake override system in the other recalled models currently exist.