The Center for Auto Safety submitted a formal petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on July 16 demanding that the agency investigate its claim that damaged cruise control cables on approximately 320,000 Ford Escapes could lead to unintended acceleration. The consumer advocacy group believes that the cables may have been damaged during repairs for a previously established recall affecting the vehicles.
The vehicles potentially affected by this problem are Ford Escapes with model years 2002-2004. Originally, 470,000 Escapes with those model years and 3-liter V-6 engines were recalled because the accelerator cable might snag on the accelerator pedal, potentially preventing the engine from returning to an idle state.
Unfortunately, during the repair process, damage that could lead to more serious safety problems may have been caused. According to the defect petition, a technical service bulletin (TSB) sent by Ford to dealers in October 2005 cautioned them not to damage the adjacent cruise control cable during the course of recall repairs. In spite of their knowledge of this potential safety problem, Ford has never sent notices to the 320,000 owners who had the recall repairs performed warning them that their cruise control cable may have been damaged. According to the Center for Auto Safety, this lack of notice could have "lethal consequences."
In the petition, a tragic example of the potential danger is cited. In January 2012, 17-year old Saige Bloom died in a car crash in Arizona; after the accident, an expert inspected the engine of the 2002 Escape she was driving and discovered that the cruise control cable was snagged. The accident may well have been caused by unintended acceleration directly resulting from the snagged cable.
Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, believes that Ford should issue a new recall. He also wants the NHTSA to pursue a civil fine against the car maker for delaying the safety recall. Under federal regulations, a car manufacturer must notify the NHTSA about a safety problem within five days of discovering its existence.
There have already been 133 complaints about unintended acceleration with the affected vehicles posted on the NHTSA website, but the agency has yet to investigate the issue. According to a statement from Ford, the manufacturer says, "We are in the midst of our investigation and we have not reached any conclusions. We will work closely with NHTSA to determine the cause of (Saige Bloom's) crash and will take appropriate action if warranted by the outcome of the investigation."
This is not the first time the Center for Auto Safety has filed a defect petition. In 2009, the group asked the NHTSA to investigate Jeep Grand Cherokees with model years 1993-2004 because they were susceptible to catching fire if they were hit from behind. In 2010, the agency listened to the petition, and in June 2012, they upgraded the investigation to an Engineering Analysis, the final step before issuing a mandatory mass recall.