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Toyota Recalling 1.1 Million Toyota Corolla and Matrix Vehicles

Toyota Motor Corp. says it will recall about 1.1 million Corolla and Matrix models from the 2005 to 2008 model years to fix certain engine control modules, or ECMs, that may be defective. This marks the latest in a wave of recalls Toyota and its Lexus luxury division have conducted this year.

General Motors Corp. says the recall includes 199,163 Pontiac Vibe models from the same model years. The Vibe and Matrix are sister vehicles built between April 2004 and January 2008 at the former New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., or Nummi,  joint venture between GM and Toyota.

Toyota says in two-wheel-drive versions of the vehicles with the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine known as the 1ZZ-FE, there is a chance a crack may develop at certain soldered points or on the ECM’s circuit board. In most cases the check-engine light comes on if cracks occur. The transmission may shift harshly and the engine may not start. In some cases the engine could stop while the vehicle is being driven.

Toyota says there are three “unconfirmed accidents alleged to be related to this condition,” one of which reportedly involved a minor injury. GM says it knows of no accidents involving Vibes.

Toyota says it will replace the ECMs on affected vehicles at no charge to the owner. Beginning in mid-September the company will notify owners of this recall and advise them on getting their cars repaired. The notification letters will include information about reimbursement for owners who previously paid for an ECM replacement related to this problem. Since GM has wound down the Pontiac brand, owners will have to take their cars to other GM dealerships for service.

Are we worrying too much about unintended acceleration, safety recalls and drivers talking on phones? Some safety experts think so.

Such traffic problems like the recent wave of recalls and the many forms of driver distraction get a lot of attention from news organizations and politicians, but they wind up siphoning resources away from road hazards that matter even more, like excessive speed and failure to use seat belts and motorcycle helmets.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety the rate of highway fatalities, while declining, is still higher than it should be considering advances in the way cars are designed and the safety gear they carry. There are still more than 100 people dying daily in traffic accidents in the U.S. The group says regulators and car makers should concentrate on making cars and roads safer and less on what it calls “issues du jour.”

The Insurance Institute, a safety research and testing group funded by the insurance industry, says recent hot-button topics that have gotten more attention than they deserve include recalls of millions of Toyota vehicles and the use of mobile phones while driving. While these are significant problems, they don’t necessarily have much to do with cutting the number of traffic deaths, the group says.

“The hypervisibility of these issues diverts attention from initiatives that have far greater potential to save lives,” says Adrian Lund, the group’s president. Lund says we should be thinking more about the next big idea in airbags and other safety features built into cars and vehicle body structures that absorb impacts more effectively.

Unlike safety issues that come and go, the problems contributing to so many fatalities have been around for a long time. The biggest is excessive speed, which is a factor in about a third of deaths in crashes, Lund says. Lowering speed limits has helped cut the number of fatalities according to several traffic studies.

But lower speed limits, red-light cameras and other forms of traffic enforcement that people find invasive are so unpopular that politicians and policy makers are often avoid them. Indeed, officials have generally raised highway speed limits in the past several years. This results in more deaths than any recent vehicle defect, Lund says.

By Jonathan Welsh

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