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No easy answer for the Toyota problem

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What does all this mean? As our testing confirms and government regulators and Toyota have said recently, it is extremely difficult to re-create the out-of-control incidents being reported. Reports on Monday regarding a runaway Prius in San Diego were once again inconclusive. It is impossible to rule out any possibilities: electrical, mechanical, design or driver-related.

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So where do we go from here? The Transportation Department and NHTSA should take the lead in coordinating an effort that involves all manufacturers. Perhaps by sharing data and working collaboratively, they can find an answer that working individually has rendered elusive.

We need to focus on the right problem. Toyota's embarrassment about communication lapses and likely government regulatory fixes miss the point. Our roads will be safer when the root cause of unintended acceleration is known.

The case for saving property and lives should be obvious. But there is another risk for consumers: Toyota's legal bill for unintended-acceleration cases will be in the billions. Soon enough, entrepreneurial lawyers will realize that other car companies are vulnerable. And who ends up covering this tab? Future car buyers -- in the form of higher prices.

The writer is chief executive of Edmunds.com, which recently announced a competition with a cash prize for anyone who can demonstrate in a verifiable manner the reason for unintended acceleration.


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