Toyota Acceleration Complaints Cite 34 Deaths, U.S. Data Show

Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles have been linked to 34 deaths by consumers filing complaints with the U.S. government over unexpected acceleration, according to the Transportation Department.

The total jumped by 13 fatalities since Jan. 27 as nine more filings were added to a database the department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration uses to track deaths, injuries and consumer complaints.

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“It is normal for NHTSA to receive an increase in consumer complaints after a recall is announced and the public learns of a safety defect,” Olivia Alair, a spokeswoman for the department, said in an e-mail yesterday. “The agency is quickly gathering more data on all of these additional complaints to help guide our examination of sudden acceleration, the Prius braking system, as well as other safety issues.”

Toyota of Toyota City, Japan, the world’s biggest automaker, has recalled almost 8 million vehicles on five continents to repair defects linked to unintended acceleration. At least three U.S. congressional committees plan hearings into how Toyota and NHTSA have handled complaints.

The automaker also announced a recall Feb. 9 involving braking in 437,000 Toyota hybrids, including the Prius, the top- selling vehicle in Japan. On the same day, U.S. safety officials said they were reviewing Toyota’s Corolla, the world’s best- selling car, after complaints about how it steered.

The number of complaints about Prius braking grew from 124 on Feb. 3, when NHTSA opened its investigation, to 1,120 on Feb. 11, according to the agency’s database.

Stringent Controls

“We take all customer complaints seriously,” Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss said yesterday in a statement. “That’s why we are taking steps to implement more stringent quality controls, investigate customer complaints more aggressively, keep open lines of communication with safety agencies and respond more quickly to safety issues we identify.”

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Toyota dealers have repaired 225,000 recalled vehicles for gasoline-pedal problems and are performing 50,000 repairs on a day, Bob Carter, group vice president for the company’s U.S. sales unit, said Feb. 10.

Safety Research & Strategies Inc., a Rehoboth, Massachusetts, group that provides data to plaintiffs’ attorneys and consumers, says there have been 2,262 documented incidents in the U.S. of unintended acceleration involving Toyota vehicles from 1999 through Jan. 29, 2010. The group fo

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