I'm not sure whether this decision is based on anything more than attemtping to end the endless string of lawsuits.
Here's a question, though. If these Toyotas have a systematic problem that causes frequent unintended acceleration events, presumably these are occurring all over the world? Are they? Or are these purported system faults only present in vehicles designed for the US market, to some specific DoT requirements that donlt affect other markets?
This question came to mind when you went to Tokyo recently, Junko, and mentioned the Oklahoma lawsuit. Do they have a similar string of lawsuits in Japan?
Japan is certainly not a litigious country as the U.S. is, but yes, a number of sudden acceleration cases have been reported in Japan, and it has definitely come to an attention of Japan's Ministry of Transportaion. Although not the most recent story, th following NY Times article articulates the situation in Japan.
As of 2009-2010, Toyota had reports of hundreds and hundreds (at least) of SUA incidents in Japan and Europe. I have the documents that list these in detail. They are extremely similar in many ways. The drivers often report being terrified.
In the European cases, there may have been something like an actual "sticky pedal." This may have been due to the wearing through of the gas pedal part that served as the housing for the magnets that activated the pedal position sensors inside the pedal. These gas pedals were made of pretty flimsy and flexible plastic, (I have seen a video showing how they twist when pressed) and this twisting, combined with the very narrow clearance between the magnet and sensor parts, led to the wearing a
As I was saying, there exists at least one photo of a gas pedal that clearly shows how a hole had been worn through the side of the housing, exposing the sensors within, and possibly also causing the arm of the pedal to catch on the jagged edge of the hole when moved by the foot of the driver. If I recall correctly, this was in documented in Germany.
So if the sensors are exposed to the environment in the footwell of a vehicle where there is plenty of water, dirt, and also can be salt..what could happen? Could this have been one form of a "sticky pedal?" Maybe, and then that would be an example of a mechanical defect that could lead to an erroneous signal, I think (I am not an engineer).
As far as lawsuits outside the US, I know for certain that there were Toyota SUA victims outside of the US who wanted to sue the company. I don't know what happened to them other than their claims could not be consolidated in the federal court in California...and they may have been unable to sue under their own local laws.
Dr. T. Hubing of Clemson University published a study of changes to resistance caused by contact with salts. This study did not use Toyota components. But it relates. The changes to resistance were found to be spectacularly non-linear in relation to the concentration of salts. I just mention this paper because I think this is another piece in this very complex puzzle of how hardware and software can potentially interact in many unanticipated ways to produce failures in these vehicles. However...I had better shut up because I don't really know enough about this to discuss it intelligently. So please look up that paper and you will see what I mean.
This isn't much of a surprise given the way the courts work in this country. Toyota probably wants to get ahead of the floodgates being burst open and do some damage control. I doubt that they will face the same problem in toher coutnries given the tendency towards litigation in the U.S. But I guess we shall see...
Tell that to the victims who have been fighting with Toyota for years! Legal experts had said, as late as early November, it would take Toyota to lose a few more cases ( beyond Oklahoma case) before Toyota starts thinking of settlement. This is a BIG suprise for everyone involved.
I guess Toyota just wanted to be pro-active about the whole situation. It will cost them a lot more in legal fees, PR and other expenses if they allow the accumulation of unsettled lawsuits to slow them down in the coming years. Regardless, this is a major victory for victim's families--although who knows how much they will actually get in settlements.
See, but this doesn't really give me a warm and fuzzy. I know that in the US especially, people seem to relish the "get rich quick" option, if it materializes. You have so-called ambulance chasers who make a living at this sort of thing. Even if the problem was not the car, but the driver, the lawyers will do whatever they can to get to those "deep pockets." So I'm not necessarily convinced just by the testimonials.
If these unintended acceleration reports have been going on for such a long time, I would have expected for Toyota to update their code in such a way that, when people dig into it with a fine tooth comb, they wouldn't find apps which open the throttle to maximum in the event the app crashes. And keep it that way indefinitely.
EVEN IF this wasn't the cause, EVEN IF most of these events were trumpted up by greedy people, one would expect "proactive" to mean to fix even the appearance of a problem.
The New York Times article does show that these reports are a whole lot more prevalent in the US than elsewhere. Perhaps we have more greedy people in the US.
There was a case with Honda about Civic Hybrid mileage claims where if you opted in, you could get $1k or so off a new car... From Honda's standoint, that's much better than giving away cash.. I wouldn't be surprised if toyota did something similar.
@Bert22306 You ask:"Here's a question, though. If these Toyotas have a systematic problem that causes frequent unintended acceleration events, presumably these are occurring all over the world? Are they? Or are these purported system faults only present in vehicles designed for the US market, to some specific DoT requirements that don't affect other markets?"
I can confirm that UA incidents have occurred in many different countries in many different makes and marques and model years of vehicle. However, the recording of these incidents is very patchy. As far as I am aware, the US is the only country with a publicly accessible vehicle complaints database (the NHTSA ODI database) and consequently making comparisons between one country and another is really not very meaningful.
In the case of Toyota here are 5 well-documented examples that I know of:
November 19th 2012 : CHINA : A Toyota Zelas car was seriously damaged after a crash due to a failure of the braking system during cruise control on the Hanghzou-Pudong Expressway. (Source China Radio International). Toyota (China) declared on Tuesday 4th December 2012 that the failure of the braking system of a Toyota Zelas during cruise control on Hangzhou-Pudong Expressway is still under investigation, Shanghai newspaper Eastday reported on 6th December 2012.
Jan 19th 2010 theage.com.au:Woman freed from 'hanging' car. Woman leaving a level 1 carpark in an office block in George Street, Parramatta, Sydney, Australia lost control of her Toyota Corolla, hit the building's brick wall and smashed through it. The vehicle was left hanging in mid air with the driver trapped. Also Couriermail.com.au Video
July 2006 : France: A Highway employee was fatally hit near Nantes in July 2006.The driver has been released. The prosecution has appealed. "It's a victory," says Maitre Yvan Trebern, pleased. His client had just been set free. In July 2006, he was on the road on vacation and at the wheel of his almost new Toyota Rav 4. At the Bignon toll, south of Nantes, his car did not stop, killing Stephanie Mat, an employee of Autoroutes du Sud de la France. This 46 years old mother was killed on the spot. Whose fault was it? The court repudiated the<court appointed> expert. The motorist, a 55 years old Toulousain, has always questioned the cruise control. From the time of being taken into custody, he cited the inability to stop with a hard brake pedal. "At about 700 meters from the toll, I tried to deactivate the cruise control. It did not work. I was travelling at 130 km / hr," he insists. "There was a software problem," said the driver, familiar with speed control.
Feb 22 2005 France: Toyota Corolla speed regulator fails to disengage at a toll station on the Chambery - Grenoble Autoroute. 5 people hospitalised. Le Monde