Scientific Panel To Review Unintended Acceleration

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The government said Wednesday it had not uncovered any electronic problems in runaway Toyotas as a scientific panel started work on an extensive study to determine what prompts some vehicles to suddenly accelerate.

A National Academy of Sciences panel held its first meeting to review the potential causes of unintended acceleration in vehicles across the entire auto industry. The 12-member panel is expected to report its findings in the fall of 2011.

More computerized than lubricated, new cars and trucks are vastly more complicated than their predecessors. Congress has criticized the government's auto safety agency for lacking the expertise to understand the role that electronics play in vehicles, an issue at the heart of the mystery of Toyota's recalls.

David Strickland, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told the panel that his agency's Toyota investigation was ongoing but had not determined any electronic connection to the problems.

Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles because of problems with sticking gas pedals and accelerators that can become entrapped in floor mats.

NHTSA engineers have been conducting a separate review of Toyota's electronics, working with NASA scientists to try to determine what caused the acceleration issues. The teams hope to complete the study by late August.

NHTSA officials said unintended acceleration in Toyotas may have been involved in the deaths of 93 people over the past decade. It was a slight upgrade in the number of deaths linked to the problem — in May, the government tied 89 deaths to the issue.

The agency has received about 3,000 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas. Most of the complaints involve vehicles being driven at speeds of 15 miles per hour or less.

But Strickland said complaints of unwanted acceleration was not solely a Toyota problem and asked the panel to review potential issues with electronic throttle controls and other vehicle electronics.

Toyota paid a record $16.4 million fine for its slow response to an accelerator pedal recall and is facing hundreds of state and federal lawsuits.

In the aftermath of the recalls, Congress is considering an upgrade to auto safety laws to toughen potential penalties against automakers, give the government more powers to demand a recall and push car companies to meet new safety standards.

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