The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received a surge of new complaints involving Toyota vehicles in the last three weeks. The additional reports came as the NHTSA and two different congressional committees step up their probe of Toyota and the way it handled safety issues affecting between 8 and 9 million U.S. vehicles.
The NHTSA had on record 17 complaints of acceleration-related Toyota crashes involving 21 deaths between 2000 and 2009. Since January 27, the agency has received reports of an additional 13 deaths and 10 injuries allegedly caused by sudden acceleration accidents since 2005, bringing the total number of people killed to 34.
According to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is leading one of the congressional investigations, the number of deaths allegedly linked to Toyota amounts to more than all other auto manufacturers combined.
Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss said that the company is reviewing the new reports.
“We take all customer reports seriously and will, of course, look into new claims. We are taking steps to implement more stringent quality control across the company, to investigate customer complaints more aggressively, to keep lines of communication open with safety agencies, and to respond more quickly to any safety issues we identify,” Voss said today.
In addition to the new complaints involving sudden, unintended acceleration, the NHTSA said it has received more than a thousand new complaints about braking problems with the 2010 Prius.
Toyota issued a recall of some 437,000 Prius cars and other hybrids because the vehicles had the potential to lose braking power while traveling over rough or icy terrain. Lat week the company announced that a software upgrade will fix the problem.
Many automotive and safety experts believe that electronics are also to blame for the acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles, but Toyota denies that there is a connection and insists the problem is a mechanical one, caused by either floor mat interference or a sticky accelerator pedal.
The NHTSA is currently investigating whether a software or electronic glitch could be responsible for some of the unintended acceleration crashes.
The NHTSA has received 1,120 complaints of braking problems on the Prius involving 34 deaths and 6 injuries.
“The agency is quickly gathering more data on all of these additional complaints to help guide our examination of sudden acceleration, the Prius braking system, as well as other safety issues,” said Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair.