Toyota Tells Senators SUVs are Safe and Getting Safer

Safety is a Shared Responsibility

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26 -- Toyota told the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee today that safety is a shared responsibility among automakers, government and consumers, and that Toyota is doing its part to lead the way in applying advanced technologies to provide SUV occupants greater protection.

"Toyota's internal corporate philosophy is not only to meet, but to exceed, the motor vehicle safety standards in every market where we sell vehicles," said Chris Tinto, director, technical and regulatory affairs for Toyota Motor North America. "Consistent with Toyota's philosophy of continuous improvement -- or kaizen -- we do not wait for Federal requirements before incorporating safety technology."

Vehicle design is an evolutionary process and, as automotive technology has advanced, Toyota has integrated new safety features in all of its vehicles. These include, but are not limited to:

  * Antilock Brake Systems, available on all Toyota and Lexus SUVs;
  * Brake Assist systems that help drivers apply full braking in an
    emergency situation, available in most Toyota and Lexus SUVs;
  * Vehicle Stability Control, an active safety system to help reduce skids
    and maintain driver control.  Toyota was first to the market with this
    technology in 1997 Model Year Lexus passenger car models, and today
    leads the industry in its adoption across a wide variety of vehicle
    types.  Toyota plans to have Vehicle Stability Control technology
    available on 100 percent of its SUV fleet by next year;
  * Side airbags to protect an occupant's torso, now available on most
    Toyota and Lexus SUV models; Toyota was one of the first in the world to
    offer a side curtain shield airbag in 1998 in a passenger car for
    improved head protection, which is now available in the majority of its
    SUV fleet;
  * Rollover sensors, to provide an additional trigger for the side curtain
    shield airbags.  Toyota was one of the first in the world to adopt a
    production rollover sensing system that is now featured in the 2003
    Toyota Land Cruiser and the Lexus LX 470;
  * Crumple zones which help to absorb energy and dissipate loads in
    collisions;
  * High strength body structures to help lessen intrusion into the occupant
    compartment in a crash;
  * Front cross beams for improved partner protection in frontal and side
    crashes.

In addition, Tinto noted that Toyota is ahead of schedule in meeting all voluntary industry guidelines on side airbags to help reduce injury potential to children, achieving full implementation across its entire SUV and passenger car fleet by the 2003 Model Year.

Tinto also stressed that seat belts play a key role. "Too many Americans ignore the single most effective safety system in the vehicle. It is essential that primary seat belt usage laws go on the books in all 50 states," Tinto told the committee. "Data show that the usage rates in states with primary belt laws average 80 percent vs. 69 percent for states without these laws.

"Just improving belt usage to the 90 percent rate currently found in California, for example, could save thousands of American lives per year -- far exceeding any technological advances that we could now envision. This change could be implemented quickly, with an immediate result in lives saved. This would be especially useful in rollovers, to keep occupants inside the vehicle where it is safest."

Toyota also is working with government agencies around the world in cooperative research efforts to improve all aspects of vehicle performance. Toyota has worked closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, safety advocates and other automakers to devise voluntary standards to address the issues of rollover, side impact, and compatibility.

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