WASHINGTON - NASA and the National Academy of Sciences are joining the U.S. government's efforts to investigate the root causes of the unintended acceleration issues that have prompted Toyota's major vehicle recalls.
The National Academy of Sciences -- an independent body using scientific experts -- will examine the broad subject of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire automotive industry. Separately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is the Department of Transportation's auto safety agency, has enlisted NASA engineers with expertise in areas such as computer-controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity to investigate the issue of unintended vehicle acceleration in Toyotas.
"We are determined to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration," said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "For the safety of the American driving public, we must do everything possible to understand what is happening. And that is why we are tapping the best minds around."
LaHood has also asked the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general to review whether NHTSA's Office of Defect Investigation has the necessary resources and systems to identify and address safety defects as it moves forward.
In a released statement, Toyota said it was "confident in our vehicles and in our electronics" and would cooperate with the review efforts.
"These studies are just the kind of science-based examination we have been calling for," Toyota said. "Bringing some sunshine to this subject is bound to separate fact from fiction, which is good for Toyota, the industry and the motoring public."
The National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council will examine the broad subject of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire industry over the course of 15 months. This will not be limited to Toyota, but will cover all manufacturers. A panel of experts will review industry and government efforts to identify possible sources of unintended acceleration, including electronic vehicle controls, human error, mechanical failure and interference with accelerator systems.
The experts will look at software, computer hardware design, electromagnetic compatibility and electromagnetic interference. The panel will make recommendations to NHTSA on how its rulemaking, research and defect investigation activities may help ensure the safety of electronic control systems in motor vehicles, NHTSA said.
The NHTSA review of the electronic throttle control systems in Toyotas is to be completed by late summer. NHTSA has brought in NASA engineers and other experts in subjects such as electromagnetic compatibility as part of a shorter-term review of the systems used in Toyota vehicles to determine whether they contain any possible flaws that would warrant a defect investigation.
"NASA's expertise in electronics, hardware, software, hazard analysis and complex problem solving ensures this review will be comprehensive," NHTSA said. "Currently there are nine experts from NASA assisting NHTSA, and additional personnel will join the team if needed."
Both studies -- from the National Academy of Sciences and from NHTSA -- will be peer reviewed by scientific experts. The total cost of the two studies is expected to come to approximately $3 million, including the cost of purchasing cars that have allegedly experienced unintended acceleration to be studied.
LaHood also asked the U.S. Department of Transportation inspector general to assess whether the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation conducted an adequate review of complaints of alleged unintended acceleration reported to NHTSA from 2002 to the present. The IG will determine whether ODI had the appropriate number of personnel and staff expertise to assess and address the technical issues raised by the complaints and whether the data was sufficient to identify specific defects that caused unintended acceleration. That information will help Department of Transportation officials determine whether more resources are necessary for pursuing defect investigations.
"We are bringing the best minds and talents to resolve this issue," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "We will not rest until we have identified and addressed any potential vehicle-related causes of unintended acceleration."