WASHINGTON -- The National Academy of Sciences plans to expand its panel probing unintended acceleration in Toyotas and other vehicles after consumer advocates complained that the investigators lacked electronics expertise.
The proposed 12-member panel, which was formed at the request of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the wake of Toyota's massive recalls, will add some nominees who have not yet been identified, Academy President Ralph Cicerone said in a letter to the consumer groups.
“We have concluded that it would be beneficial to supplement the expertise of the committee,” said Cicerone's July 8 letter, which was released by the Academy.
The panel, whose proposed chairman is New Jersey Institute of Technology physics professor Louis Lanzerotti, is reviewing possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration following 89 reported deaths from Toyota vehicles.
Its recommendations to improve electronic throttle controls and other control functions are due next June.
Consumer advocates complained that the proposed panel didn't contain a single member with expertise in “intermittent failure mechanisms” that can occur in vehicles' electronic controls.
“Unfortunately, the present panel composition does not have the electronic sophistication or objectivity to produce the type of study that Congress and the public expect,” said the letter from Public Citizen's Joan Claybrook, the Center for Auto Safety's Clarence Ditlow and other consumer advocates.
At the panel's first meeting last month, David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said: “We must do everything possible to fully understand if there are vulnerabilities in these systems to cause this happening.”