[UPDATED] Braking News! Government Report Clears Toyota Software as Cause of Sudden-Acceleration Problems

UPDATE, FEB. 24, 12:47 P.M.: In my mailbox yesterday was a recall notice from Toyota for my wife's Highlander.

Today, I learned she is not alone: Having already recalled nearly
8 million of its models in the U.S., Toyota announced it is calling back another 2.17 million to correct brake- and acceleration-pedal interference issues–in other words, floor mats sticking to the pedals.

My wife's recall concerns a master brake cylinder cup.

Courtesy of Elizabeth James
Elizabeth James, who was quoted in the Weekly cover story, was driving on an interstate when her Prius accelerated out of control. She crashed through a forest and landed in a river.

ORIGINAL POST, FEB. 8, 1:14 P.M.: There is no link between unintended acceleration and electronic throttles in Toyota cars and trucks, according to a government report issued today after a 10-month investigation.

Congress ordered the probe after Toyota recalled nearly
8 million of its best-selling models in the U.S. over
defective floor mats and accelerator pedals. A harsh public, media and legal backlash against the the world's largest automaker followed.

The Weekly was actually in front of the complaints with an April 22, 2009, cover story by Paul Knight, who interviewed Prius owners with horror stories about their cars
inexplicably crashing through forests, garage doors
and gas stations.

Meanwhile, high-profile legal battles against Toyota have been playing out in Santa Ana courtrooms.

That's where a federal judge combined several class-action and personal-injury complaints against the automaker into one massive lawsuit that is headed for trial in 2013. It's before U.S. District Judge James Selna in Santa Ana because his federal district includes Torrance, home of the automaker's U.S. headquarters.

Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas separately filed an unfair-business-practices suit against Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., punctuating his March 2010 announcement with, “We need to make sure that when Toyota says, 'Oh, what
a feeling' and, 'Moving Forward,' they are talking about great cars.

That case centers more on whether Toyota knew its cars had problems while selling them to consumers. But when it comes to the issue of sudden acceleration, there is no connection to Toyota's software-driven throttles, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said this morning while releasing the probe that culled the investigative talents of NASA engineers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The cause of the problems? According to the feds, it's the same thing Toyota has maintained all along: loose floormats and sticking accelerator pedals.

The government findings cheered not only Toyota brass, but also its shareholders. Toyota's U.S.-traded shares jumped 4.5 percent in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

So far, Toyota has paid nearly $50 million in government fines. Analysts estimate the automaker faces up to $10 billion in potential liability from the lawsuits pending in Santa Ana and courtrooms around the country.

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