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State Farm says it alerted feds to Toyota problems in 2007

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State Farm says it alerted feds to Toyota problems in 2007

Christine Tierney and David Shepardson / The Detroit News

Insurance giant State Farm alerted U.S. safety regulators in late 2007 that it was seeing an uptick in reports of sudden-unintended acceleration incidents in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles, a company spokesman said today.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials confirmed that they had been notified by State Farm but were already investigating reports of unintended acceleration from drivers of Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

Still, the disclosure by the country's largest auto insurer, reported by the Washington Post, is bound to turn up the pressure on both NHTSA and Toyota.

State Farm, which maintains a vast trove of crash data from its customer base of more than 40 million, also passed on a report to NHTSA of a 2007 accident that contributed to a small recall.

State Farm spokesman Dick Luedke said the insurer has received "numerous claims about alleged unwanted acceleration problems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles in recent years."

"State Farm notified NHTSA in late 2007 about an uptick in situations involving alleged unwanted acceleration in Toyotas," he said, adding that the company communicates regularly with NHTSA about product-related claim trends.

A spokeswoman for the federal agency confirmed that NHTSA had received a copy of a claim letter to Toyota dated Sept. 7, 2007, related to the crash of a 2005 Camry. "Our investigative staff reviewed the report and added the information to our complaint database," said spokeswoman Karen Aldana.

NHTSA already was conducting a formal investigation which led to a recall of Toyota floor mats on Sept. 26, 2007, that included the Camry, she said.

The agency also reviewed other claims from the insurer. "NHTSA had also completed an investigation earlier that year on sudden acceleration in Camrys in which it had reviewed data from State Farm," Aldana said.

Congress is looking into whether NHTSA missed signs when it conducted six separate investigations into sudden acceleration complaints involving Toyota vehicles in recent years.

It wasn't until a highly publicized crash near San Diego in which four people died in August that Toyota produced a more comprehensive remedy than replacing or removing floor mats.

Since September, it has recalled 9 million vehicles worldwide to fix problems that could lead to unintended acceleration.

A Florida senator called today for hearings in the Senate Commerce Committee, in addition to other committee hearings already scheduled.

George LeMieux, R-Fla, asked the committee's chairman, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., to quickly schedule a hearing.

"The American public needs to know the level of risk associated with operating affected vehicles, and Congress needs to know whether federal regulators have fulfilled their proper roles," LeMieux said. "There's a lot of missing information right now about who knew what and when and we ought to expose that information to the public."

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on Wednesday but has postponed it to Feb. 24 after Washington was hit by a fresh snowstorm. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing on Feb. 25.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100209/AUTO01/2090384/1148/rss25/State-Farm-says-it-alerted-feds-to-Toyotas-in-2007#ixzz0f5IYp8vf

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