NHTSA Investigation Reveals Other Potential Factors Leading to Fatal Lexus Crash

On September 29, I wrote about a fatal crash that occurred this past August near San Diego, California that led Toyota to recall approximately 3.8 million vehicles.   According to investigators, the 2009 Lexus ES 350 being driven by a California Highway Patrol Officer  as a loaner vehicle from a Lexus dealership accelerated to as fast as 100 mph before striking another vehicle, launching off an embankment, rolling several times and bursting into flames.  Four people died in the crash.  Just before the crash occurred, a 911 call from one of the vehicle’s passengers told police the vehicle had no brakes and that the accelerator was stuck.  Investigators believed the driver’s side floor mat was the culprit. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s investigation into the California crash is  revealing  more potential factors in the cause of the crash than just the design of the driver’s side floor mat., including the following:

  • The driver’s side floor mat was made for the Lexus RX400h SUV, not the Lexus ES350.
  • The Lexus at issue had a keyless ignition, which uses a start/stop button to start and stop the engine. There is no traditional key to turn if you need to shut the engine off in an emergency. In the case of the ES350, the button needs to be held for three seconds before it will turn off the engine if the car is in gear. Toyota says it considered this a safety feature to prevent the engine from turning off if the button were pressed accidentally. However, the NHTSA report points out that the Lexus at issue was traveling 100 mph—that’s the equivalent of traveling one and a half football field in three seconds.  Also, NHTSA pointed out that there is no instruction near the dashboard that tells owners or operators about how to shut down the engine by holding it down for three seconds..

The initial report filed by the NHTSA can be reviewed by going here.