The Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with Infantino, LLC, issued a recall on March 24, 2010 of two models of baby slings that have caused at least three infants to fatally suffocate.
The models – “SlingRider” and “Wendy Bellissimo” – were sold from January 2003 through March 2010 at Walmart, Burlington Coat Factory, Target, Babies “R” US, BJ’s Wholesale and other retailers.
The slings pose two distinct risks of suffocation to infants who are carried in them. Some infants may suffocate when the sling curls the baby’s body, bending the baby’s chin to her chest, thus constricting the baby’s airway. Additionally, a baby whose mouth or nose is pressed up against the sling’s fabric may be unable to breathe.
Parents should immediately discontinue using the baby sling and make sure that it is not re-sold or given to others. Thank you to personal injury lawyer Bob Kraft for alerting me to this serious recall.
Last week, big business shill Theodore H. Frank wrote an op-ed drawing on data from a Los Angeles Times article reviewing the fifty-six fatalities attributed to sudden uncontrolled acceleration problems with Toyotas. Frank noted that, in about half of the car crashes, the driver’s age could be ascertained from the LAT‘s compilation and the ages of the drivers skewed to the elderly.
The next day, blogger Megan McArdle tracked down the ages of “all but a couple” of the drivers involved in the Toyota crashes and revealed that the “overwhelming majority” were over fifty-five years old.
A lot of people have hypothesized that the sudden uncontrolled acceleration accidents involving Toyota might be caused by a computer or electronic bug in the cars’ throttle. Since there’s no reason to believe that Toyotas with a computer bugs would discriminate against older drivers, Frank and a host of other bloggers* trumpeted the results as proof that there is no electronic problem with Toyota’s computerized engines and that, in fact, the blame lay with older drivers’ driving skills (or lack thereof). (Question(s): McArdle used a cutoff age of 55 and up. Are 55 year olds, in today’s world, frail or senescent? Most research does not show a significant decline in driving ability until a couple of decades after 55 and I know many people in their sixties who are in far better physical shape than I am. What would her findings have been if she included only drivers 70 and up?).
Ted Frank and a bunch of his colleagues from the (shallow end of the) think tank business used the findings to question the honesty of drivers who reported uncontrolled acceleration problems, likening them to frauds like “balloon boy.”
So what should we conclude? Should we conclude that the whole “Toyota panic” is merely a media-driven phenomenon about routine errors committed by all elderly drivers?
I don’t think so. As I blogged over a month ago, in 2009 forty-one percent of complaints of sudden uncontrolled acceleration involved Toyotas, while Toyota only held sixteen percent market share – a fact that was lost on a lot of people. Since the time I posted that blog, NPR’s Robert Benincasa did something that the government does not do - track reports of sudden uncontrolled acceleration by make and model – and found that, since 2002, Toyota has seen a troubling rise in complaints of sudden uncontrolled acceleration. The problem doesn’t seem to be old people and driving; the problem seems, if anything, to be old people and Toyotas specifically.
In addition, the “older driving theory” doesn’t account for the most spectacular Toyota crash of all – the (physically fit) California state trooper whose recorded conversation with a 911 operator details his efforts to get his Lexus to brake.
Ultimately, I think we – whether as consumers or jurors or simply concerned citizens – need to come to grips with the fact that there may be a problem with Toyotas that we may never directly explain. A lot of people have theorized that Toyota’s problems may lie with a computer bug inside its engines. (Competing explanations – floor mats, driver error, etc. – don’t seem to account for the disproportionate number of Toyotas involved in these crashes). If it’s the case that there’s a computer bug that plagues Toyotas, we may never find out precisely what it is and why, in some cases, it caused crashes. Toyota’s engines may forever remain to us a bit of a “black box” - a computerized system that we can’t see inside or fully understand.
People tend to assume that, if there’s a computer programming error, we can simply pore over the code and figure out if there’s an error. After all, computer programming is just logic and logic is supposed to be completely transparent. But, as science fiction writers like Isaac Asimov have shown us, you can start with a few logical principles that dictate the behavior of computers or robots and wind up with some completely unintended consequences.
We are all familiar with real life examples of this. One dramatic, and fairly recent example, was the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 (which was caused in part by computers behaving in unexpected ways). Giant companies like Microsoft come out with products like Windows Vista that are so ridden with programming problems that they become unsalable.
Sometimes the bugs are never figured out. When a program that you’re running crashes, often the product’s designer has no reason why it crashed – that’s why, after the program returns to life, it asks you for permission to send a report to the manufacturer for analysis. My friends in computer programming tell me that, very often, software engineers are unable to untangle the reasons for these errors.
We may never get to the bottom of Toyota’s uncontrolled acceleration car crashes. But that does not mean the problem is not real. Or that Toyota should not be held accountable for its failure to investigate and address these issues.
The Boston Globe reports today that experts from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will soon descend upon Cape Code to investigate a car accident where a Harwich woman’s 2010 RAV4 drove through the wall of a doctor’s office in Yarmouth.
The woman reported that her car accelerated after she depressed the brake. The woman said that, after driving through the wall, she looked down and her foot was on the brake.
The 2010 RAV-4 is one of the models recalled by Toyota in January.
It will be interesting to see what the NHTSA investigators determine.
OK, so unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard countless stories about the massive global Toyota recall for problems with sudden uncontrolled acceleration. Millions of cars have been recalled in the US and Europe.
Now guess how many Toyota cars have been recalled in the company’s home country of Japan. Just try and guess.
If you guessed zero, it’s too bad there’s no prize for the right answer. Because you’d be spot on.
Why haven’t any Toyotas been recalled in Japan? Is it because Japanese Toyotas are somehow immune to the accelerator problems that have led to horrific car crashes elsewhere?
Nope, it’s because Japanese consumer protection and products liability laws are astoundingly weak. (The country only has one full-time auto recall investigator, who is augmented by about a dozen temp workers).
In the 1970s, Fumio Matsudo, sometimes referred to as the “Ralph Nader of Japan,” tried to blow the whistle on some unsafe Nissans. He was rewarded for his actions with his arrest and criminal blackmail charges.
Maybe the tort reform crowd from think tanks like the Manhattan Institute can move to Japan. It sounds sort of like their version of utopia. The rest of us can be glad that we live in Massachusetts, in the good old United States, where our legal system at least makes some effort to protect us from unsafe products.
NPR’s OnPoint program, broadcast from Boston’s own WBUR, had a terrific hour-long program on the Toyota recall today. You can listen here.
The pro-business blog Point of Law insists, citing to an article in Popular Mechanics, that the dangers posed by Toyota’s acceleration system are overblown. Meanwhile, Department of Transportation head Ray LaHood is telling Toyota owners to stop driving (at least until political concerns cause him to backtrack).
Who do you trust?
Someone should tell Popular Mechanics that forty-one percent of reports of sudden uncontrolled acceleration are about Toyotas. Meanwhile Toyota held about 16 percent of US market share in 2009. Sounds statistically significant to me.
Earlier this week, a third wrongful death lawsuit was filed against Toyota relating to acceleration problems that have caused Toyota vehicles to accelerate suddenly and uncontrollably.
This third lawsuit was filed by lawyers for Trina Renee Harris, a 34-year old mother of two, who was killed when her 2009 Toyota Corolla slammed into a cement divider on a toll road. There were no skid marks or other evidence of an attempt to brake.
Harris’ apparent inability to stop the car is consistent with reports of other recent Toyota crashes. In August, an off-duty California state trooper and three of his family were killed after the Lexus they were driving accelerated to 120 m.p.h. In a telephone call to 911 that the family made while trapped in the speeding Lexus, the family explained to 911 dispatch that the car was accelerating without their being able to control it.
Another Toyota driver, Bulent Ezal, had his Camry suddenly accelerate in a restaurant parking lot and plunge 70 feet off a cliff, landing in the ocean. Ezal’s wife was killed in this accident.
Thankfully, not all of the accidents have been fatal. One driver, Joseph Hauter, survived a crash that occurred when his 2008 Toyota Camry suddenly accelerated at a gas station. Investigators are looking into several other non-fatal accidents in multiple states.
Thus far, there have not been any reports of Massachusetts Toyota drivers being involved in sudden acceleration crashes. However, Massachusetts drivers need to take precautions because Toyota cars seem especially prone to this problem. As the Consumerist blog reports, 41 percent of sudden acceleration complaints that were made in 2008 were for Toyota and Lexus models.
Lawyers for the car accident victims in these cases believe that the problem lies in an electronic throttle system that was installed in many Toyota models. The electronic throttle system does not have any mechanical link between the accelerator pedal and the engine. In addition, there is no override system for the electronic throttle, so that pressing the brake when the throttle is stuck will not cause the accelerator to shut off.
Toyota has instituted a nationwide recall to attempt to address the problem. The vehicles affected by the recall include:
- 2009-2010 RAV4
- 2009-2010 Corolla
- 2007-2010 Camry
- 2009-2010 Matrix
- 2005-2010 Avalon
- 2010 Highlander
- 2007-2010 Tundra
- 2008-2010 Sequoia
Lexus models were not included in this recall, although, as noted above, Lexuses have been the subject of complaints and at least one wrongful death suit. If you own a Toyota model listed in the recall, or one not listed that you are concerned about, you can call Toyota’s customer service department at 1-800-331-4331.
As this Times article details, Graco Children’s Product, Inc. has recalled 1.5 million of its baby strollers because defective hinges on the stroller can amputate children’s fingers.
The defective strollers were sold in Massachusetts stores including Walmart, Babies R Us, Toys R Us, and Target between 2004 and 2008. The strollers affected by the recall are strollers marketed as part of the Graco’s Passage, Alano, Spree Travelers and Travel Systems lines.
The official recall notice can be read by clicking here.
If it seems to you that between the Toyota recall, the Graco recall, the crib recall and others, there has been a wave of massive product recalls lately, you’re right. As the Pop Tort blog explains, this increase in product recalls is partly the result of stepped-up enforcement by the Consumer Products Safety Commission after years of neglect under the Bush administration.