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Originally published March 2, 2010 at 5:37 PM | Page modified March 2, 2010 at 8:33 PM

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U.S. may require accelerator override in new cars

The Obama administration is considering requiring all cars and trucks sold in the U.S. 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 Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration is considering requiring all cars and trucks sold in the U.S. 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.

"We're looking at it," LaHood told the Senate Commerce Committee. "We think it is a good safety device."

The panel's chairman suggested "strong legislative action" was needed, including brake overrides, which would require a relatively inexpensive software upgrade.

The comments came as the government raised to 52 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 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, the president of Toyota Motor North America, said the company would be delivering three data readers to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday 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 has been going wrong.

There was a fresh indication Tuesday of how the broad recalls and safety questions have affected Toyota's business. The company's U.S. sales fell 9 percent in February while rivals General Motors and Ford posted healthy gains. As part of its effort to rebuild customer loyalty, the company said it will offer repeat buyers two years of free maintenance.

The giant Japanese automaker has said 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.

The new number of 52 reported deaths — up from 34 previously — came from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), part of the Department of Transportation. Federal officials haven't formally confirmed the links between deaths and Toyota defects but have received a spike in complaints since Toyota began a series of big recalls in October.

Adding to Toyota's woes, the automaker said Tuesday it is repairing more than 1.6 million vehicles around the world, including the U.S. and Japan, for potentially leaky oil hoses. NHTSA also continues to look into steering complaints from drivers of Corollas.

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