March 10, 2010 in Business

Toyota Prius hits 94 mph before driver can stop it

Vehicle will be held for investigators
Elliot Spagat Associated Press
 

Federal investigators will examine this 2008 Prius, which accelerated to a speed of 94 mph on Monday before being brought to a halt.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

EL CAJON, Calif. – A Toyota Prius that sped out of control on a California freeway was towed to a dealership Tuesday while federal and company inspectors converged on the car to determine whether a stuck gas pedal was to blame.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration sent two investigators to examine the car after Monday’s incident, said Olivia Alair, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, which oversees NHTSA. Toyota Motor Corp. spokesman Brian Lyons said the automaker is sending three of its own technicians to investigate.

James Sikes, 61, of Jacumba, Calif., told authorities that the accelerator malfunctioned Monday as he drove his Prius on Interstate 8 in San Diego County. The car reached 94 mph during the 20 minutes before a California Highway Patrol officer helped get the Prius driver to slow down and turn off the engine.

The incident comes while Toyota is fighting fears over the safety of its vehicles, which had been revered for their safety and reliability.

Since then, Toyota has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles worldwide – more than 6 million in the United States – because of acceleration problems in multiple models and braking issues in the Prius. Regulators have linked 52 deaths to crashes allegedly caused by accelerator problems.

Sikes’ wife, Patty, said the family’s 2008 Prius appeared to have an accelerator malfunction a few weeks ago but it was brief.

“It took off for a second, and then it just stopped. It was like a little hiccup or something,” she said.

The family got a recall notice and took it to Toyota of El Cajon about two weeks ago but the dealership refused to examine the car, Patty Sikes said.

“They said it must be a mistake because we weren’t on the (recall) list,” she said.

The dealership declined to comment and referred requests for comment to Toyota’s corporate representatives.

Toyota spokesman John Hanson confirmed that the 2008 Prius is part of Toyota’s recall to address unintended acceleration due to floor mat entrapment. The recall, affecting 5.6 million vehicles, was first announced in October.

Hanson said a recall of this magnitude takes time, and Toyota first sends a preliminary notice to owners saying their vehicles are subject to a recall.

“I believe what could have happened is Mr. Sikes could have received his preliminary notification which says, ‘Hello, your car is going to be recalled, and we will notify you when to bring it in.’ ”

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