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Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

**UPDATE**An initial review by federal investigators has turned up no evidence of electronic failures in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in suspected runaway acceleration cases.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told members of Congress in a briefing today that human error was to blame in approximately 60% of the 58 cases it reviewed — since drivers failed to apply the brakes.

Trapped or sticky gas pedals were to blame in the remainder of accidents for which a cause was identified.

The Japanese automaker has repeatedly insisted that electronics aren’t to blame, and that mechanical problems or driver error are responsible for thousands of reports of unintended acceleration. The findings may bolster the company’s argument.

“Reviewing event data recorders is one small part of (NHTSA’s) effort to get to the bottom of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles,” Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said. “At this early period in the investigation, engineers have not identified any new safety defects in Toyotas other than sticking gas pedals or pedal entrapment.”

NHTSA has reviewed data from 58 vehicle black boxes, known formally as event data recorders.

The research “so far has not led to the identification of safety defects other than sticking gas pedals or pedal entrapment,” according to NHTSA’s report to Congress, obtained by The Detroit News.

But NHTSA emphasized that the probe is ongoing — along with help from NASA — and investigators “are continuing to study whether there are potential electronic or software defects in these vehicles.”

Of the 58 cases studied, 35 event recorders, 60%,  showed no brake was applied — a sign the driver hit the wrong pedal…

Partial braking was noted in 14 cases: Brakes were applied late in the crash sequence in nine cases; early in three; and mid-crash in two.

Pedal entrapment was involved in one incident; and in one case, the brakes and gas pedal both were depressed.

Data was inconclusive in one case; there was no data in five; and data from a separate incident was presented in one case.

Toyota said in a statement that NHTSA’s results backed its findings.

Toyota’s “own vehicle evaluations have confirmed that the remedies it developed for sticking accelerator pedal and potential accelerator pedal entrapment by an unsecured or incompatible floor mat are effective,” the company said.

Toyota emphasized that after “more than 4,000 on-site vehicle inspections, in no case have we found electronic throttle controls to be a cause of unintended acceleration.”