WASHINGTON — Complaints of deaths connected to sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles have surged in recent weeks, with the alleged death toll reaching 34 since 2000, according to new consumer data gathered by the government.
Complaints to a database maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the popular Toyota Prius hybrid grew by nearly 1,000 in just over a week.
On Monday, Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair said the NHTSA is quickly gathering information to help guide the government's examination of sudden acceleration, the Prius braking system and other issues.
Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled 8.5 million vehicles globally during the past four months because of problems with gas pedals, floor mats and brakes.
The government typically receives a surge in complaints following a recall. None has yet been verified.
The new complaints reflect the heightened awareness of the massive recalls among the public and underscore a flurry of lawsuits on behalf of drivers alleging deaths and injuries in Toyota crashes. Three congressional hearings are planned on the Toyota recalls.
In the past three weeks, consumers have told the government about nine crashes involving 13 alleged deaths between 2005 and 2010 due to accelerator problems, according to a NHTSA database. The latest complaints come on top of information from consumers alleging 21 deaths from 2000 to the end of last year.
The database also shows that new complaints skyrocketed over the 2010 Prius gas-electric hybrid, which was recalled last week to replace braking software.
When the NHTSA opened its investigation of Prius on Feb. 3, the government had received 124 consumer complaints. Through Feb. 11, the government had a total of 1,120 complaints alleging 34 crashes, six injuries and no deaths.
The government has renewed an investigation into potential electromagnetic problems in vehicles built by Toyota and other manufacturers. Consumer groups have pointed to potential electrical problems, while the company has said recalls to fix sticking gas pedals or accelerators that can become jammed will address the problem.
Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss said the company takes "all customer reports seriously and will, of course, look into new claims." Toyota was taking steps to improve quality control and investigate customer complaints more aggressively, Voss said.