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Lawyer, His Experts Call Toyota Systems "Deficient"

Toyota's safety systems are "deficient" because they do not detect problems that lead to unintended acceleration, a plaintiff attorney in acceleration cases and his electronics experts will claim in findings they'll release today at a Washington, D.C., news conference.

Disputing Toyota's claims that its "fail-safe" systems prevent unwanted acceleration will be Tom Murray, a Sandusky, Ohio, lawyer who has brought dozens of unintended-acceleration cases over 20 years, and three British engineers who specialize in electronics and electromagnetic interference (EMI) from signals in or outside the car.

The group also contends that no amount of testing could assure Toyota that EMI or software glitches can't cause unintended acceleration.

On Monday, the group briefed Senate Commerce Committee aides, who are drafting possible legislation addressing electronics and unintended acceleration.

Toyota has repeatedly insisted that its electronics are not a cause of unintended acceleration. It has recalled 7.7 million vehicles in the U.S. over potential unintended acceleration from sticking gas pedals and floor mats that could jam pedals.

Toyota says its engineers have "repeatedly and rigorously" tested its electronic throttle controls and never found an acceleration case due to a defect. Fail-safe systems that cut engine power in a failure, tolerance to environmental extremes (including EMI) and resistance to software glitches "ensure this absolute reliability," says Toyota's John Hanson.

The automaker hired research firm Exponent to analyze its electronic throttle controls, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also is looking at Toyota's throttles.

Murray's engineers -- Keith Armstrong, Brian Kirk and Antony Anderson -- have advised him and other lawyers suing automakers, including Toyota, over alleged unintended acceleration.

Their doubts about electronics controls seemed to be shared by some members of Congress in recent hearings on Toyota's recalls.

Two former senior auto industry engineers also say it is impossible for Toyota to make blanket assurances about its fail-safe technology, which doesn't cover all parts of the engine-control system. The engineers requested anonymity because they still work in the industry.

Kirk claims testing is useless to prevent unpredictable EMI problems because an average vehicle that experienced unwanted acceleration due to EMI would have to be driven for 200 million miles to see the same event again.

"The only way is to design the system so any fault that occurs can't lead to catastrophic failure," he says.

Murray gave the Center for Auto Safety $400,000 to fund its 2003 book Sudden Acceleration: The Myth of Driver Error. Murray now is writing a book on unintended acceleration.

Also to be at the press conference is Frank Visconi, a former police officer from Dover, Tenn., who says his 2007 Toyota Tacoma accelerated and crashed in a field in June 2007. He says it was his fifth incident in the vehicle and says his foot was always on the brake. He says when he tried to get the truck fixed, he was told no problem could be found.

"I'm not an electrical engineer, but when you put your foot on the brake, it's not supposed to accelerate," he says.

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