URGENT: Toyota and Lexus Safety Alert

Date: September 29, 2009

In the wake of a tragic crash that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. issued a news release September 29, 2009, urging owners to remove the driver’s side floor mats from eight Toyota and Lexus models immediately, and not to replace them with any other kind of floor mat.

The warning from Toyota is an emergency measure pending a massive recall. Because of a problem with the way the mats are secured, they could come loose and cause the accelerator to stick in an open position. The vehicle could then speed out of control.

Toyota announced that it was working out the details of a huge recall, affecting 3.8 million vehicles. According to Reuters, U.S. transportation officials have launched an investigation into 100 separate incidents that may be related to the defect, including 17 accidents and five deaths.

The recall will include the Prius hybrid, recent Avalon and Camry sedans, Tacoma and Tundra pickups and the Lexus IS250, IS350 and ES350 models.

The ABA Journal reports that U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood described the issue as “an urgent matter.”
Owners of the following vehicles should remove the driver’s floor mat:

•    2007-2010 Camry
•    2005-2010 Avalon
•    2004-2009 Prius
•    2005-2010 Tacoma
•    2007-2010 Tundra
•    2007-2010 Lexus ES350
•    2006-2010 Lexus IS250 and IS350

The accident that prompted the warnings occurred August 28, 2009, at 6:30 PM, on State Route 125, near San Diego, California. Officer Mark Saylor, 45, a 20-year veteran of the California Highway Patrol, was driving north on State Route 125 with his wife Cleofe, 45, their daughter Mahala, 13, and Cleofe’s brother, Lastrella, 38, all of Chula Vista.

As they were on the highway in their 2009 Lexus ES350 loaner car, the floor mat apparently came loose under the accelerator, which became stuck. The car started speeding up, despite Saylor’s efforts, and reached at least 120 MPH.

The speeding car entered an intersection, rear-ended another vehicle, then went over a curb and through a fence before hitting an embankment, where it became airborne. The Lexus landed in the San Diego River basin, rolling several times before it went up in flames. A harrowing 911 call, released by the highway patrol, tells the tragic story, capturing the family’s last words as they desperately tried to reassure each other, “Hang on,” “Pray.”

Anyone who finds themselves with a stuck accelerator and rapid acceleration of the vehicle should attempt the following actions, recommended by Toyota:

•    First, if it is possible and safe to do so, pull back the floor mat and dislodge it from the accelerator pedal; then pull over and stop the vehicle.

•    If the floor mat cannot be dislodged, then firmly and steadily step on the brake pedal with both feet. Do NOT pump the brake pedal repeatedly as this will increase the effort required to slow the vehicle.

•    Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral (N) position and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.

•    If unable to put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine OFF, or to ACC. This will not cause loss of steering or braking control, but the power assist to these systems will be lost.

•    If the vehicle is equipped with an Engine Start/Stop button, firmly and steadily push the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine. Do NOT tap the Engine Start/Stop button.

•    If the vehicle is equipped with a conventional key-ignition, turn the ignition key to the ACC position to turn off the engine. Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel.

•    Position to turn off the engine. Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel.

According to USA Today, Toyota and Lexus dealers nationwide are available to check floor mats. Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons told reporters, “If there’s any doubt in their mind… [owners should] go ahead and visit the dealer.”
For owners who do not wish to remove the floor mat, cars can be inspected at Toyota dealerships, or check their own floor mats according to Toyota’s instructions.

Recalls: How to Protect Yourself

1.    Make sure you keep your address updated with DMV.
2.    When buying equipment like car safety seats, always send in the registration card. That’s how the manufacturer finds you to notify you of a recall.
3.    If you get a defect corrected at your own expense, save all receipts and paperwork, so you’ll be prepared if you’re eligible for reimbursement.
4.    Go to SaferCar.gov and check to see if any recalls have been issued for your vehicle.
5.    While you’re there, sign up for email alerts or an RSS feed, so you’ll know about recalls immediately.
6.    If your vehicle has a safety problem, report it to ODI. You can file a report online or call the Vehicle Safety Hotline at 1-888-327-4236.
7.    Remember that, no matter what happens with a recall, you still have the right to file an independent lawsuit for any defect-related injuries.

Shulman DuBois, LLC, is located in Portland, Oregon, and serves clients in all Oregon cities and counties, including: Portland, Beaverton, Multnomah County, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin, Troutdale, Sellwood, Corvallis, Salem, Eugene, and Albany.