March 12, 2012 at 10:54 AM ET
U.S. safety regulators have opened an investigation into an estimated 360,000 Ford Taurus sedans for a potential problem with the throttle getting stuck in an open position.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it is investigating the 2005 and 2006 model years.
The NHTSA said on its website that 14 people have complained about the problem. No crashes or injuries have been reported, but several drivers said they felt unsafe when the throttles became stuck. One ran a red light and entered an intersection before the car could be stopped.
A preliminary investigation is the first step in a process that could lead to a recall if regulators determine that a manufacturer needs to address a safety issue.
The agency says the cruise control cable may become detached and hold the throttle open. Drivers have reported that it was hard to stop the car with the brakes, and several said they had to shut off the engine or shift into neutral to stop.
The investigation, opened last Wednesday, does not include a nearly identical car, the Mercury Sable. NHTSA posted documents outlining the probe on its website over the weekend. The investigation could lead to a recall, but so far none has been ordered.
Ford spokesman Daniel Pierce said the company is cooperating in the probe. He said the company was just notified of the investigation and he did not know why the Sable was not included.
One driver said in a complaint to NHTSA on Aug. 27, 2010 that a 2006 Taurus began to accelerate without any pressure on the gas pedal. The driver pushed the brakes to the maximum, but the car ran a red light and stopped halfway into an intersection. The engine revved until the driver shut off the car, and it revved again when it was restarted.
"This is an extremely dangerous situation," the driver wrote. "There needs to be something done about this before it becomes fatal."
On Nov. 27, 2011, a different driver reported that the brakes couldn't stop the car, which went through a red light and around two cars, reaching 70 mph (112 kph) before the driver put it in park and turned it off.
"Wow. The scariest thing I have ever experienced," the driver wrote. "If there was heavy traffic someone would have been killed, no doubt in my mind."
NHTSA said in the documents that it began investigating to assess the scope, frequency and safety-related consequences of the problem.
Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.