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In January of this year, 17-year-old Saige Bloom of Payson, Arizona died after her 2002 Ford Escape accelerated out of control while she was driving in traffic in front of her mom. The teenager called her mom to say that she couldn’t stop the SUV, which ended up flipping multiple times when she swerved to prevent hitting another car.

After Ford investigated the crash, finding, among other things, scuff marks next to the accelerator that suggested Bloom had tried desperately to release the accelerator, Ford issued a recall of all 2001-04 Escape SUVs with 3.0-liter V-6 engines, with cruise control, sold in the United States, as well as 60,000 sold outside the U.S. According to Ford, the issue is a lack of space between the engine cover and the cruise control cable, which can cause the throttle to get stuck when the gas peddle is almost fully depressed.

NHTSA began its own investigation shortly after Ford did.

The Center for Auto Safety (CAS), a nonprofit consumer group, encouraged the NHTSA to continue its investigation because it says Ford is trying to cover up a larger issue. The CAS claims Ford needs to replace a defective cruise control cable. Raising the engine cover near the cruise control cable is not the correct fix, said the group.

"Replacing the defective cruise control cable eliminates the defect and the need for more clearance," said CAS attorney Michael Brooks in a letter to the NHTSA. "Ford's defect description and remedy have one purpose, and one purpose only, to avoid a civil penalty being imposed by NHTSA for failing to do a timely recall in 2005 when Ford discovered the cruise control cable guide would break and the cable connector would jam against the engine cover resulting in a stuck throttle."

The NHTSA says there have been 68 complaints relating to unattended acceleration in the Escape, including 13 accidents, nine injuries and Bloom’s death.

Ford says if a vehicle’s throttle gets stuck, motorists should “firmly and steadily apply the brakes, without pumping the brake pedal, shift to neutral, steer the vehicle to a safe location, shut the engine off after the vehicle is safely stopped and place the transmission in park.”–Payson Roundup

If the CAS is correct, Ford will have a lot to answer for. If this turns out to be a cover-up on the order of Toyota’s, we can expect some serious lawsuits to follow.

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