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article imageDoubts cast on Prius owner's California highway incident report

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 14, 2010 in Business
A congressional panel memo obtained on Saturday by the Associated Press reports that federal government and Toyota Motor Corporation investigators were unable to replicate a speeding and out of control Prius.
The California freeway incident, reported last week by a Prius owner, is now beginning to have doubts cast upon it, according to the AP report.
James Sikes, owner of the Prius in question, called 911 last Monday and reported the car’s accelerator pedal was stuck to the floor while driving down the freeway, causing him to lose control of the car. The car reached speeds up to 94 mph before a California Highway Patrol officer pulled along side the Prius, using his loudspeaker to instruct Sikes on how to regain control of the car.
According to the CHP officer, Sikes was instructed to push the brake pedal to the floor and use the emergency brake. Once the car slowed to a speed of 50 mph, Sikes shut the engine down.
Technicians from Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration conducted tests on the car in question, including a full diagnostics, brake inspections, and a test drive.
Test results indicate an inability to duplicate the problems described by Sikes and go on to state that the Prius will shut down, by design, when the brakes are applied at the same time the gas pedal is pressed to the floor. A failure to shut down would cause the engine to “completely seize,” according to a statement in the report by Toyota’s “residential Hybrid expert.”
The memo, prepared for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, states that "Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down.”
Initially seen as another negative incident in Toyota’s recent public backlashing over worldwide recalls of 8.5 million vehicles, the memo states “it does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time.”
Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for California Rep. Darrell Issa, top Republican on the committee, stated that the findings question “the credibility of Mr. Sikes reporting of the events.”
While Mr. Sikes was unavailable for comment, his wife, Patty Sikes, stated that he stands by his story. “Everyone can just leave us alone,” she said. She added “We’re just fed up with all of it. Our careers are ruined and life is just not good anymore.”
Toyota Corporation spokesman Mike Michels said the investigation is ongoing and that the company will be releasing technical findings soon.
More about Toyota prius, Incident report, National highway traffic safety