Toyota by the Numbers

At least 34 people have died in accidents involving Toyota vehicles that allegedly accelerated out of control in the past decade. The number seems to jump higher the more publicity is given to these "freak" accidents.

Thirty-four is an awful number. But we need to put this in perspective. In the last decade over 400,000 people died in traffic accidents. That's about the same number as the total number of American soldiers that died during World War II. The number of injuries is over 18 million, which is staggering.

The "Traffic Safety Facts 2008," issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation, reports 37,261 fatal traffic victims and 2,346,000 injuries  in 2008 alone. The economic cost of these accidents is estimated to be over 230 billion dollars.

There were 20,553 fatal single-vehicle crashes and 546,000 single-vehicle injury crashes.

But many questions have not been answered yet.

Toyota may be to blame for those 34 deaths during 10 years -- 3.4 on average per year -- but it may be necessary to ask for an analysis of the 20,553 fatal single-vehicle crashes in 2008. How many different carmakers were involved? How many are known to be "freak accidents," and how many of these were connected to a Toyota-built car? Are the products of the other carmakers without faulty systems? Projected over a decade, about 200,000 fatal single-vehicle crashes happened. In this period, 34 people died in "out of control" accidents involving Toyota cars.

In an item by Consumer Reports about the high number of Toyota "out of control" incidents, the following remark also raises questions:

Looking at all complaints on 2008 models through November, we find that Toyota had a significant increase after the media attention following the California tragedy and the company’s safety advisory mailings to owners. In November, the total count for Toyota and Lexus rises to 80 incidents, representing 48 percent of the complaints from all brands.

Why this sudden rise of complaints? Are Toyota cars suddenly more unreliable after October, or is the suggestion created by media attention so strong that drivers feel less safe?

How many Toyota cars have been cruising the streets of America in the last ten years? Is the number of 34 deaths acceptable considering the total death number of about 400,000? Participating in traffic is a dangerous game, and cars are man-made products. Of course, cars should be produced as reliably as possible, but without clear numbers of other carmakers, the number of Toyota freak fatalities circulating in the media doesn’t tell us much -- apart from the fact that 34 tragedies happened. Again, in the same period, about 400,000 other tragedies happened as well.

Singling out Toyota needs to be justified by an exceptionally high number of defects caused by a lack of Toyota's famous quality control, and this can only be done by a comparative survey. Now, we have no clue how other carmakers perform. Thirty-four fatal "freak" accidents over 10 years involving many millions of Toyota cars seems to be a surprisingly low number. If this is the case, Toyota should be applauded for it, not condemned.

In other words, we need much more data before we trade our Toyotas for a Government Motors car.