A new report from a National Academy of Sciences panel has said that the NHTSA was justified in closing a probe into Toyota's 2009 and 2010 unintended acceleration cases.
More than 8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles, including models like the Toyota Prius hybrid, were recalled worldwide to fix alleged faults that were claimed to be responsible for a spate of car accidents.
Automotive News reports that Louis Lanzerottie, a New Jersey Institute of Technology physics professor, explained that "It's impossible to prove a complete negative, but all the data available to us indicated the conclusion that there was no electronic or software problem".
Toyota launched an investigation into potential software and electronic throttle faults, but found no issues. The company did fix sticky gas pedals and relocate floor mats, that could potentially result in the throttle becoming jammed open.
Toyota also concluded that driver error was to blame in several instances, where drivers had pressed the gas pedal to the floor, rather than the brake pedal. The company had gathered data from the car's in-built black-box recorder, that stores data from the seconds before and after an accident.
However, the report does stress that an electronic cause for unintended acceleration hasn't been ruled out completely - only that it's completely untraceable.
The NHTSA closed its inquiry as no evidence was found that unintended acceleration causes were due to electronics. Critics claim this shouldn't be used to exonerate Toyota simply through lack of data.
We're not so sure - in a legal system that practices "innocent until proven guilty", absence of proof should really be enough to prevent a witch hunt...
Both Toyota and the NHTSA are determined to make improvements, even so. Toyota said "We share the goal of NAS and NHTSA to make America's vehicles even safer" in a statement on the company's website.
The NHTSA is looking into ways of ensuring similar situations aren't repeated, including failsafes that allow the brake pedal to override accelerator input. The design of gas and brake pedals is also being looked into.
Toyota is rightly still in the clear for the time being, but we're sure this is a debate that will continue to rumble on...