Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Toyota's Troubles Are Washington's Troubles


The blame game has already begun.

From Washington to Detroit to California there is one question being asked time and again: Why didn't NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) move quicker on Toyota?

Despite the agency claiming it was and has been aggressive, many people are still bothered by how long it took the folks in DC to get a recall from Toyota .

A good portion of the criticism is warranted, given the track record of NHTSA inquiries about unintended acceleration that were opened and later closed without action. Why didn't someone at NHTSA connect the dots and say, "We've had numerous complaints about unintended acceleration and multiple investigations, maybe we're missing the boat here?” That didn't happen until press reports late last year about Toyota models speeding up uncontrollably turned up the heat on NHTSA, which in turn turned up the heat on Toyota.

When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is asked if his department was asleep at the wheel, he shoots back that his agency has pressed Toyota for several months on the issue. And yes, NHTSA did take the unusual step of going to Japan in December to meet with Toyota executives about the urgency to act. A message the Department of Transportation repeated with Toyota in mid-January. Without those two meetings, Toyota may not have recalled 2.3 million vehicles for sticking gas pedals.

Still, none of that excuses the fact NHTSA had complaints and investigations into Toyota's acceleration issues going back to 2004. And starting in 2007 the issue started coming up more often. One wonders if the entire situation would still be on the back burner if there had not been a deadly crash last fall in San Diego where the victims are calling 911 screaming for help as their Lexus keeps accelerating until it crashes. The 911 call from the car is chilling.

There are other stories, most not as horrific. But you can bet those anecdotal reports of unintended acceleration will be brought up when Secretary LaHood and NHTSA representatives are finally questioned on Capital Hill.

All swirl around the big question: Why didn't the Federal Government move faster on Toyota?


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