In several posts on this blog, I have harped on the topic of black boxes being key to both Toyota establishing its innocence and for diagnosing an electronics problem if it exists in its vehicles.
Most people have a strong opinion now on whether Mr. Sikes staged a hoax of a runaway Prius in Southern California last week. Amidst the flare-up came another seemingly minor twist on the black-box front that Toyota doesn’t seem to want anybody else to understand. For a long time, Toyota has maintained that their black-boxes (event data recorders) could store only 2-5 seconds of vehicle data for (experimental) use by them but not by others. Furthermore, only they could read the data, and a consumer can get the data only through a court order. And Toyota has said that they had exactly one laptop in the US that could access said data. Recently, there was a report that NHTSA was given 3 such devices but that report has not been confirmed as far as I know. (Data from cars made by the Detroit Three can be read directly by consumers today).
Then, the Southern California event with a Prius (supposedly) runs away, afflicted with a claim of sudden unintended acceleration. Toyota is now confidently reporting that their analysis of the vehicle data showed that the brake and accelerator pedals were being alternatively pressed *250* times, i.e. over a duration of several minutes. ( The implication is that Mr. Sikes was just faking the situation. He may have well been, but it could not have been because the situation could not be repeated – SUA incidents have not been repeatable posing a major challenge for those trying to find the problem source). So, when the data are in Toyota’s favor, they are able to read several minutes’ worth of data about the status of braking and accelerating. Now, please watch this video clip on CNN. No braking and acceleration data available even for a few seconds! Toyota would very likely say “The features and recording time depend upon model year and other ‘variables’”.
Here is what Toyota should do: Release to the public a table that shows for various model years (and VIN ranges if applicable), which data and how much data are recorded. So, the next time a SUA event happens, everybody knows beforehand what can be expected. That sounds fair. Right?