But accounts from motorists, interviews with auto safety experts and a Los Angeles Times review of thousands of federal traffic safety incident reports point to another potential cause: the electronic throttles that have replaced mechanical systems in recent years.
The Times found that complaints of sudden acceleration in many Toyota and Lexus vehicles shot up almost immediately after the automaker adopted the so-called drive-by-wire system over the past decade. That system uses sensors, microprocessors and electric motors to connect the driver's foot to the engine, rather than a traditional link such as a steel cable.
For some Toyota models, reports of unintended acceleration increased more than fivefold after drive-by-wire systems were adopted, according to the review of thousands of consumer complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said the automaker could not explain the trend. But Toyota has held that electronic control systems, including drive-by-wire, are not to blame.
NHTSA maintains it has not found any electronic defects. "In the high-speed incidents, which are the type of crashes in which death or serious injury is most likely, the only pattern NHTSA has found to explain at least some of them are pedal entrapment by floor mats," a spokeswoman wrote.
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