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Toyota Story Blaming Driver Error for Crashes Didn’t Come from NHTSA

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Toyota is looking bad again. Federal regulators say the automaker planted a recent story in The Wall Street Journal that blamed driver error for accidents involving the unintended acceleration of some of its vehicles.

Since last November, Toyota has recalled about 8.5 million vehicles worldwide to resolve the floor-mat interference and sticking pedal problems that may lead to incidents of unintended acceleration. Some vehicles are subject to both recalls. Complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) attribute 93 deaths to sudden acceleration of a Toyota vehicle.

Earlier this year, Toyota agreed to pay a record $16.375 million fine levied by the NHTSA for concealing information related to a January recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticky accelerator pedals. The company also faces more than 200 lawsuits resulting from the sticky accelerator and floor mat recalls.

The Wall Street Journal had written that a NHTSA analysis of dozens of data recorders from Toyota vehicles involved in sudden acceleration crashes had revealed that the “throttles were wide open and the brakes weren’t engaged at the time of the crash,” suggesting that the driver was hitting the gas pedal by mistake instead of the brake. The report cited anonymous sources.

ABC News is reporting that both the NHTSA and the Department of Transportation (DOT) are refuting the Journal article. A top DOT official told the network that the Journal piece was “completely unsourced and misleading,” and that “no information in that article came from NHTSA.”

“Engineers at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are continuing to investigate the possible causes of sudden acceleration, along with the National Academy of Sciences and NASA,” said DOT spokesperson Olivia Alair told ABC News. “We will follow the facts and inform the public when our investigation comes to an end.”

According to the Web site Just-Auto.com, a spokesperson for NHTSA pointed to Toyota itself as the source of the article, which was published Tuesday.

“That story was planted by Toyota,” the NHTSA spokesperson told just-auto. “Toyota is the source – yes we know that for definite.”

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