WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is considering requiring all cars and trucks sold in the United States to have brakes that can override gas pedals to prevent sudden acceleration problems like those that led to reports of deaths and the recall of millions of Toyotas, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Congress on Tuesday.
The comments came as the government raised to 52 from 34 the number of reported deaths linked to runaway Toyota vehicles and as Toyota executives returned to Capitol Hill for the third time in a week to try to convince lawmakers that they are urgently fixing any problems.
The executives said the automaker will start making available to U.S. safety regulators sophisticated electronic readers capable of deciphering "black box" data on Toyotas involved in sudden-acceleration episodes.
Yoshimi Inaba, president of Toyota North America, said the company would be delivering three data readers to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration today and hoped to make the data more accessible to other systems by the middle of 2011.
A reliable override system could be important to U.S. motorists, relieving anxieties created by the Toyota acceleration reports. The "black box" information could help investigators make their own judgments about what caused the acceleration problems.
The Japanese automaker has said that all new models sold in the United States will have the override system by 2011 and that many recalled vehicles will be refitted with it.
The system automatically deactivates the accelerator when the brake pedal is pressed, allowing the driver to stop safely even if the car's throttle is stuck open.
As they had told congressional panels last week, Toyota executives maintained that sudden unintended acceleration episodes were due to mechanical problems — shifting floor mats or sticking gas pedals — and not by anything in the electronic throttle control systems of Toyota vehicles.
LaHood told the committee, "We are looking at the possibility of recommending the brake override system in all, newly manufactured automobiles." He was responding to a questions by Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., on whether such a system should be mandated on all cars sold in the United States.
"The U.S. government has to do a much better job of keeping the American people safe," he said.