Loose floor mats may be the culprit in accidents involving the hugely popular Toyota Prius hybrid. There have been five deaths due to the crashes, and Toyota Motor Corporation now says that a recall involving 3.8 million vehicles in the United States is now in the planning stages.
The problem may be that loose floor mats are forcing down the accelerators, causing vehicles to accelerate unintentionally. Toyota is investigating the origin of the problem, because there are concerns that it may not stem only from floor mats. If it is the floor mats, they will also address the question of whether the floor mats themselves or the installation technique must be changed.
In the meantime, drivers are being asked by Toyota and U.S. safety experts to remove the driver’s side floor mats immediately on eight different Toyota and Lexus models produced in the U.S. in the last six years.
Ray LaHood, U.S. Transportation Secretary said, “This is an urgent matter.” The government has received reports on 100 accidents that seem to be related to this problem, and seventeen of them involved Toyota vehicles.
One such accident occurred in California and involved an off-duty state trooper and his family, who were killed near San Diego in their 2009 Lexus ES350. Prior to the accident, a passenger in the Lexus called 911 to report that the accelerator was stuck, and the car was travelling at 120 miles per hour.
This recall will include Camry and Avalon sedans, Prius hybrid, Tacoma and Tundra pickups and Lexus IS350, IS350 and ES350.
The floor mat issue has been under investigation in recent years. In 2007, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began an investigation into Toyota floor mats that ended in 2007 and caused the recall of over 50,000 cars.
That investigation involved floor mats in Lexus ES350 models that were not attached with retaining hooks. The conclusion was that in such vehicles the grooves in the floor mat could trap the accelerator. It was also discovered that many drivers did not know that the electronic ignition button on that Lexus model and the Prius can be activated in three seconds. Some car owners are also of the opinion that the Toyota gear panel prevented them from simply putting their runaway vehicle in neutral, claiming the design doesn’t make the operation obvious enough.
The concern is that this issue is not just a floor mat issue. Federal Safety investigators are looking into the issue along with Toyota to determine the root cause, not yet ruling out a mechanical issue.
Irv Miller, Toyota spokesman, said, “Obviously the tragic accident in San Diego was certainly an eye opener for all of us, and we’ve paid very, very diligent attention to moving forward to try to make sure none of us will be reliving that kind of a very tragic situation.”