WASHINGTON (AP) - Unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles may
have been involved in the deaths of 89 people over the past decade,
upgrading the number of deaths possibly linked to the massive
recalls, the government said Tuesday.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that
from 2000 to mid-May, it had received more than 6,200 complaints
involving sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The reports
include 89 deaths and 57 injuries over the same period. Previously,
52 deaths had been suspected of being connected to the problem.
Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled more than 8 million vehicles
worldwide since last fall because of problems with gas pedals,
floor mats and brakes. The Japanese automaker paid a record $16.4
million fine for its slow response to an accelerator pedal recall
and is facing hundreds of state and federal lawsuits.
Toyota said in a statement that it "sympathizes with the
individuals and families involved in any accident involving our
vehicles. We are making an all-out effort to ensure our vehicles
are safe and we remain committed to investigating reported
incidents of unintended acceleration in our vehicles quickly."
The automaker said "many complaints in the NHTSA database, for
any manufacturer, lack sufficient detail that could help identify
the cause of an accident. We will continue to work in close
partnership with law enforcement agencies and federal regulators
with jurisdiction over accident scenes whenever requested."
In the aftermath of the recalls, Congress is considering
upgrading auto safety laws to stiffen potential penalties against
automakers, give the government more powers to demand a recall and
push car companies to meet new safety standards.
Toyota's U.S. sales chief, Jim Lentz, told Congress last week
that dealers have fixed nearly 3.5 million vehicles under the
recall and the company and its dealers have conducted 2,000
inspections of vehicles. Lentz said there was no evidence that
electronics are to blame for the sudden acceleration reports.
NHTSA administrator David Strickland told lawmakers the agency
had spoken to nearly 100 vehicle owners who said they had
unintended acceleration following a recall fix but NHTSA had not
seen pedal entrapment or sticky accelerators in any vehicles that
have been properly repaired.
The government is investigating acceleration problems in Toyotas
and a separate 15-month study by the National Academy of Sciences
is scheduled to begin in July.