The Toyota Fiasco: Where Were the Regulators?

by Rena Steinzor | February 22, 2010

Saturday’s Washington Post crystallized a trend of reporting in recent days showing that neither misaligned floor mats nor defective pedals are to blame for all acceleration problems in Toyota cars, at least not in the 2005 model Camry. The car, which has neither piece of offending equipment, does have electronic acceleration controls that are beginning to emerge as a potential cause of the problem. If those computerized systems are at the heart of even a small universe of Toyota’s problems, as long-time auto safety expert Clarence Ditlow told the Post, the problem should raise “a huge red flag.”

Automobile manufacturers have been working for several years to perfect electronic controls in their cars because those systems are much lighter and therefore are important in the effort to improve fuel economy by giving engines less weight to drag around. But you can scour the public record of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in vain to find any mention that federal regulators are focusing on the problems caused by electronic systems, a fact that is a damning indictment of how far the agency sank into lethargy during the Bush years.

NHTSA’s job is to spot trends in auto manufacturing and get out ahead of them, not to react after a sufficient number of deaths and injuries have brought defects to the front pages of newspapers across the country. Investigating “defects” after the fact is not a viable alternative to ...

Congress Says Ask, but Toyota and Fellow Automakers Say Don't Tell: The Story of NHTSA and Industry Secrecy

by Shana Campbell Jones | February 22, 2010
Ten years ago, after NHTSA received reports of numerous deaths and injuries linked to Firestone tires and Ford Explorers, Congress passed the TREAD Act, bolstering the authority of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to identify possible defects in vehicles and tires by collecting information (“early warning data”) from auto and tire manufacturers. The law requires disclosure of data about incidents involving deaths or injuries, injury and property damage claims (including lawsuits), consumer complaints, warranty claims, field reports (problems ...

Where is NHTSA? Toyota Recall and the Missing Regulator

by Sidney Shapiro | January 28, 2010
When my children were growing up, they loved the “Where’s Waldo” book series. Each page had an illustrated picture chock full of people and objects; hidden somewhere among the mass of detail was a small picture of a cartoon character named Waldo. When the Toyota Motor Corporation announced this week that it was stopping the production and sales of several of its car models because of a dangerous problem with unintended acceleration, we had a “Where’s Waldo” scenario. The National ...

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