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Investigators seek clues to Prius wreck from black box data

Unlike later models, the black box in the 2005 Prius only records crash data from the moment the air bag deploys.
Unlike later models, the black box in the 2005 Prius only records crash data from the moment the air bag deploys.
  • Toyota and federal safety officials extracted data from a wrecked 2005 Prius
  • Driver said the car accelerated on its own on March 9; she was treated for minor injuries
  • Toyota spokesman: Black box in 2005 Prius contains data only from moment airbags deploy
  • 2005 Prius was part of recall to address the risk of accelerator entrapment in floor mat

Harrison, New York (CNN) -- Investigators from Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday inspected a wrecked Prius and extracted data from the car's event data recorder they hope will help determine what caused the car to speed out of control.

The driver of the car told police the 2005 Prius accelerated on its own as she was driving down her employer's driveway on March 9. She lost control of the car, crossed the road and crashed into a stone wall, police say. She was treated for minor injuries. No other cars were involved in the accident.

A team of six inspectors from Toyota and two from NHTSA spent several hours taking photos and measurements of the damaged vehicle and downloading the black box data from the car, which has been at the Harrison Police Department since the accident. Two independent inspectors from a forensic technology company, hired by the Police Department, also were aiding the investigation.

A Toyota spokesman, Wade Hoyt, said that in this model year Prius, the black box contains data only from the moment the airbags deploy, but not the three seconds before impact that newer models are programmed to record. Hoyt said investigators were pleased they were able to extract any data from the vehicle.

"We are getting information on engine speed, pedal position, that sort of thing," Hoyt said. "I'm happy we have it. It's possible it might not have been in there."

Police say the car's driver, whose name has not been released pending the investigation, has a clean driving record and there is no reason to believe she is to blame for the accident. But Acting Police Chief Anthony Marraccini said driver error is not being ruled out.

"I'm not sure we're going to have conclusive information as to what caused this accident. But we're not ruling out any possible causes." Marraccini said.

The 2005 Prius was part of Toyota's November recall to address the risk of accelerator pedal entrapment in the floor mat. Police say floor mats were not a factor in this particular accident, because they were secured to the seat with nylon ties. A recall to address a sticky accelerator problem did not include the Prius.

Hoyt said he would not speculate about the accident's cause. The Prius is equipped with a brake override feature. "When everything in the car is working correctly, the brakes will override the engine," Hoyt said. "You have to draw your own conclusions."

Hoyt said Toyota will release the data from the black box recorder to the Harrison Police Department, but will not make it public because of privacy and legal concerns. Marraccini said police will make a determination after their investigation how much of the data to make public. "If there's definitive information that shows the cause of this accident, absolutely we'll have to release it," Marraccini said.