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Toyota on Capitol Hill Provides Little Clarity

Toyota
AP
Toyota

Once again, Toyota executives are on Capitol Hill getting grilled about unintended acceleration.

Once again, the hearing will end without an understanding of what's behind complaints of Toyota's racing suddenly speeding up.

Once again, I can hear supporters and critics saying these hearings are a joke.

Both are right.

Let's start with critics of Toyota.

They are frustrated. They feel like Toyota and the outside firm it hired to investigate if the electronics in Toyota and Lexus models is faulty, Exponent, are primarily interested in deflecting complaints. What about the work Exponent has done that found no issues in the electronics? Representative Waxman is unimpressed, saying, "Toyota has repeatedly told the public it has conducted extensive testing for electronic defects. We can find no basis for these assertions." He's not the only person in Washington who feels that way.

But supporters of Toyota counter that there's been no definitive proof the electronics in its vehicles are causing unintended acceleration. They point out that NHTSA investigators have examined the Lexus driven by a woman who told a harrowing story of her car racing out of control. What have investigators found? Nothing remarkable. No wonder Toyota supporters think the Japanese automaker is being treated unfairly in Washington.

Sadly, it's unlikely we'll learn much from this second round of congressional hearings. Among the few positives to come out of all these hearings is the fact Toyota now moves quickly to recall vehicles and we will likely see new regulations to improve vehicle safety. But as for the main question of what is causing unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, don't hold your breath expecting some answers from these hearings.

So is there any hope we get a better understanding of why Toyota vehicles sped up? Absolutely.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is conducting 38 field investigations and is working with scientists from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences to study vehicle electronics. It's still possible these investigations could turn up a problem with the electronic throttle control in Toyota models. It's also possible; they could find nothing at all.

The point of all this is that we shouldn't get caught up in what's said at these or future congressional hearings. What matters is what the investigations do or do not turn up. Those may ultimately clarify what's behind the complaints of Toyota models suddenly accelerating.

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