A U.S. scientific panel will conduct a broad review of vehicle electronics to see if they pose safety risks, an investigation prompted by massive Toyota Motor Corp recalls for unintended acceleration.
David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), opened the first meeting of the National Academy of Sciences panel on Wednesday with instructions to cover electronic throttles and other systems used throughout the industry.
The result of your work is important to us, not only because we need to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration, but for your advice on a range of proliferating electronics systems and issues that might affect motor vehicle safety, Strickland said.
The panel -- made up of electronics, engineering, automotive and safety experts from industry, academia and government -- will work with NHTSA and congressional investigators already looking into Toyota throttle systems.
The NAS review could take several months at least, officials said.
Government highway safety investigators aided by space agency scientists are focusing on whether Toyota throttles contain a software or other glitch that could cause a vehicle to suddenly move forward on its own.
The problem led to two massive recalls in late 2009 and in January of this year. Safety regulators are looking to see if dozens of crash deaths are related.
Investigators have for months blamed acceleration problems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles on floor mats that can jam the accelerator and faulty gas pedals that do not spring back as designed.
Strickland said on Wednesday that his agency's investigation is ongoing and preliminary results will not be known until late summer or fall.
NHTSA, which has reviewed unintended acceleration complaints in Toyota vehicles for years, reiterated on Wednesday that the agency has never found any link between the problem and electronic throttles.
Toyota has said its throttle systems are sound, but it has hired an engineering consultant to explore the matter further. Congress is also investigating Toyota.
Strickland was careful to cast the NAS review as research into industrywide issues, not just another examination of Toyota.
Complaints of runaway Toyota vehicles, in particular, have eclipsed all other vehicle-related news. But complaints of unintended acceleration are not exclusive to Toyotas. We have received complaints of unintended acceleration for every major vehicle manufacturer, Strickland said.
(Reporting by John Crawley; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)