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Toyota Nearing Sudden Acceleration Settlement with Feds

Deal may cost maker $1 bil – but avoid criminal prosecution.

by on Feb.10, 2014

Toyota appears to be reaching a settlement with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regarding the unintended acceleration issues that have plagued the maker.

Toyota may soon write a check for more than $1 billion to settle a government investigation related to its sudden acceleration problems, avoiding the possibility of criminal prosecution.

Several media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and the Detroit News, are citing “unnamed sources familiar with the negotiations” to describe what appears to be a deal that would end a four-year investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The government had been looking into the possibility that Toyota had intentionally misled federal regulators about possible defects involving its vehicles.

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Starting in late 2009, Toyota ordered a series of recalls covering more than 14 million vehicles worldwide for various problems that could potentially cause them to surge out of control. Up to that point, more than 3,000 complaints had been received by both the maker and federal regulators, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) linking the problems to at least five deaths. (more…)

July 4th is Deadliest Driving Day in United States

A less desirable sort of “independence” is happening on roads.

by on Jun.29, 2010

Is the U.S. distracted by politics from what really works in preventing highway deaths?

As the United States celebrates Independence Day, an average of 148 people die in motor vehicle crashes each year – far above the daily average.

An analysis of Federal fatal crash data shows that July 4, August 13, July 15, and January 1 were the days with most crash deaths during 2004-2008. That compares with 114 deaths that occurred on the average day, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

“Why do we tolerate so many highway deaths?” asks Adrian Lund, president of the independent Institute.

In Lund’s view, it is not that U.S. society has become unconcerned about motor vehicle crashes. Rather the U.S. emphasizes the wrong aspects of the threat, while ignoring many proven ways to reduce deaths and injuries on the highway.

For example, Lund notes that Congress held extensive public hearings on the Toyota safety defects, even though the risk to millions of Toyota drivers is statistically small. On the other hand, speeding is a factor in one-third of all highway deaths.

Compared with the Toyota controversy, there is no clamor for Congressional action calling for tough enforcement against speeding. There is no victims’ advocacy group urging installation of speed controls on all vehicles that could prevent drivers from exceeding the legal limit. (Try getting these past angry voters – Z)

Lund points out that instead, Congress repealed the national maximum speed limit in 1995. Since then state after state has raised speed limits on many roads, costing thousands of lives. A petition to require controls to cap the top speed of large commercial trucks has languished for three years.

Safety Analysis!

Meanwhile, distracted driving and cell phone use behind the wheel are getting all the attention. With much fanfare, states are enacting bans targeting various aspects of phone use by drivers, especially texting.

Yet, according to Lund, there is little evidence that the laws will work.


First Look: The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010

NHTSA and Toyota safety lapses prompt tough new legislation.

by on May.05, 2010

NHTSA is just the latest regulatory agency under scrutiny for its failure to regulate.

As a result of the fatalities and law breaking at Toyota, as well as lapses in enforcement at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration during unintended acceleration deaths, automotive regulations are about to be stiffened.

It’s not necessarily a good thing.

In a way this is a sequel: Ten years ago the fatalities and safety violations surrounding failing Firestone tires and Ford Explorer rollovers produced legislation that changed auto safety regulations and the practices of all auto and tire makers.

As the past is prologue to the future, it is not surprising that the new regulations will affect all automakers, and increase the expense of new vehicles by requiring them to pay fees to NHTSA to regulate them.

At stake are some key election year issues: How big and powerful should the government be? How are your tax dollars spent? What are they are spent on? And ultimately whether our safety agency is doing its job, as specified by the laws your representatives wrote, instead of being subverted by automakers or the former employees of automakers turned regulators.

Two aspects of new law are troublesome

The first is the incorporation of new fees or taxes instead of working within DOT’s generous budget. NHTSA, apparently, cannot be properly funded with the $79 billion taxpayers already provide. So big government gets bigger, instead of more efficient. Why is the working assumption by politicians always that more (borrowed) money has to be spent? (See Is NHTSA Underfunded in DOT’s $79 Billion Budget?) DOT has a huge budget, but little of the money is allocated to auto safety. Motor vehicles are responsible for 95% of the nation’s transportation deaths but only 1% of the Transportation budget.

The second problem is as worrying. NHTSA would also get the authority to impose unlimited fines on automakers. I’m not against fines, but no matter how egregious the behavior of auto companies – or in the current headlines, say, Wall Street firms or oil companies – the U.S. government was set up to provide limits to power with checks and balancesnot un-limits to power.

This “divine right of kings’ proposal” in my view demands moderation. Moreover, given the amounts of money involved, it is likely to be the cause of much lobbying in “pay to play” Washington as corporations work behind the scenes to kill it, so it contributes to the ongoing problem of money in politics.

The first House hearing on what will be a complex bill occurs tomorrow in front of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee. There will also be hearings later in the Senate on a similar, but slightly differing bill. Ultimately, unelected staff members of the politicians holding forth at the hearings will reconcile the two bills.

Some of the upcoming testimony no doubt will be a rehash of the obvious problems widely discussed during multiple Toyota hearings in both the House and Senate. (See Horror of Saylor Fatal Lexus Accident Reviewed at Opening of Congressional Hearing) However, this will be the first public discussion of the proposed changes, including the unlimited fines, additional user fees, new compliance reports and strict timelessness requirements.

Invited witnesses include:

  • David Strickland, Administrator, NHTSA
  • Dave McCurdy, President and Chief Executive Officer, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
  • Michael J. Stanton, President and Chief Executive Officer, Association of International Automobile Manufacturers
  • Joan Claybrook, Former Administrator, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Clarence Ditlow, Executive Director, Center for Auto Safety
  • Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies, Cato Institute

This is a mixed group from an auto industry perspective. Both Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator, and Ditlow, a Nader acolyte, have already suggested drastic changes in safety regulations and increases in fines during previous Toyota hearings.

Moreover, much of what they have said makes sense. The real governance issue is how to reform auto safety regulations, instead of allowing populist rhetoric and industry bashing to become law.

NHTSA, of course, already has extensive power to regulate motor vehicles — and is about to get more. The new legislation seeks to improve auto safety and strengthen NHTSA by increasing the agency’s almost non-existent expertise in vehicle electronics (See NHTSA Has Five Electrical, One Software Engineer!), and requiring new safety standards for vehicles run largely by electronic systems.

The law also seeks to beef up the agency’s enforcement authorities, while increasing transparency and accountability in auto safety. Moreover, as always in Washington, there is the “who pays” for the additional expense argument. Short fiscal answer: no matter who pays, they only pay about one-third of the real cost, we are borrowing and printing money to cover the rest.

Most of the new bill appears consistent with Congressional intent as stated in previous legislation. NHTSA was established in 1970 to save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce the economic cost of crashes. The Federal agency conducts crash data analysis, research, and rule making for vehicle safety. It is also responsible for overseeing issues related to fuel economy, child car seat performance, and – especially after deadly Firestone tread separations – tire safety.

NHTSA is also responsible for collecting consumer complaint data, investigating potential vehicle defects, and overseeing recalls of vehicles with safety defects.

Here is a closer look at what is in the draft of what will eventually become the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010. As always, the devil will be in the details of the final bill.

Vehicle Electronics and Safety Standards

The legislation would strengthen NHTSA’s sadly lacking expertise in electronics by creating a new Center for Vehicle Electronics and Emerging Technologies within NHTSA. The objective is “to build, integrate, and aggregate the agency’s expertise in new technologies across all vehicle safety components, including research and development, defects investigation, and rulemaking.” It would also encourage engineering students interested in vehicle safety to work in government by establishing a fellowship program. (more…)

National Academy of Sciences and NASA to Study Unintended Acceleration Issues for DOT

Secretary LaHood launches two “major” investigations on a relatively rare but troublesome and controversial safety issue.

by on Mar.30, 2010

What on earth is going on with those Toyotas?

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced two investigations designed to answer questions surrounding the issue of unintended vehicle acceleration.

LaHood also asked the U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General to assess whether the NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation conducted an “adequate review” of complaints of alleged unintended acceleration reported to NHTSA from 2002 to the present.

The ongoing controversy of the problem in Toyota and other vehicles have led to numerous charges from critics that NHTSA is underfunded and improperly staffed to deal with safety matters. It appears particularly weak in the area of electronic controls and systems, as automakers continue to expand rapidly their use in all vehicles.

There are also charges that former NHTSA employees working for Toyota  prevented thorough investigations and delayed safety recalls.

The independent National Academy of Sciences will examine the subject of unintended acceleration and electronic vehicle controls across the entire automotive industry. A panel of experts will review industry and government efforts to identify possible sources of unintended acceleration, including electronic vehicle controls, human error, mechanical failure and interference with accelerator systems. The study is expected to take 15 months. See The Case for “Black Box” Electronic Data Recorders

NAS experts will look at software, computer hardware design, electromagnetic compatibility and electromagnetic interference. The panel will make recommendations to NHTSA on how its rulemaking, research and defect investigation activities may help ensure the safety of electronic control systems in motor vehicles.

NASA Specifically on Toyota Issues


Separately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, DOT’s vehicle safety agency, has enlisted NASA engineers with expertise in areas such as computer controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity to help tackle the issue of unintended vehicle acceleration in Toyotas.   At least 52 deaths are allegedly the result of  the well-publicized problems and an ongoing series of recalls for Lexus and Toyota models. (more…)

Traffic Fatalities for 2009 Reach Record Low

Calendar year 2009 traffic fatalities continue downward trend.

by on Mar.11, 2010

NHTSA is charged with failing as the nation's safety agency in the ongoing Toyota unintended acceleration and stuck accelerator pedal matters

The U.S. Department of Transportation today announced that the number of overall traffic fatalities reported at the end of 2009 reached the lowest level since 1954, declining for the 15th consecutive quarter.

Secretary LaHood released the preliminary data ahead of a scheduled hearing this afternoon by the Subcommittee On Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection of the U.S. House Representatives.

NHTSA is charged with failing to do its job as the nation’s safety agency in the ongoing Toyota unintended acceleration and stuck accelerator pedal matters.

More than 60 deaths are now alleged to have occurred because of safety related defects. Moreover, it took a visit to Japan by the former acting administrator of NHTSA to force a Toyota recall, since Toyota’s American executives had no power to do so.


The U.S. fatality record speaks for itself, but the timing of its release was clearly designed to give David Strickland, the current administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, talking points to use in NHTSA’s defense at the hearing.    (more…)

NHTSA Has 60 Unverified Unintended Acceleration Complaints about “Fixed” Toyotas

Reports confirmed by the safety agency. Alleged fatalities at 54.

by on Mar.04, 2010

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed yesterday that it had received ten reports of acceleration problems on Toyota vehicles, which had been fixed according to the proscribed Toyota recall method.

[Editor's note: As of this evening:The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received more than 60 complaints from Toyota owners who report they are still experiencing sudden unintended acceleration despite having their vehicle repaired by a Toyota dealer. This number increased from the original ten in our original story when we asked NHTSA for the current status. -Ken Zino ]

NHTSA administrator David Strickland confirmed a Los Angeles Times story citing Safety Research and Strategies, a consulting firm looking at Toyota complaints.

The key word is “unverified,” but the complaints, which NHTSA is in the process of investigating, raise more doubts about the assertions by Toyota executives made earlier this week before a Senate panel that unintended acceleration issues are solved by floor mat and pedal entrapment recalls on more than  six million vehicles in the U.S.

Total Recall!

“I want to be absolutely clear, as a result of our extensive testing, we do not believe sudden unintended acceleration because of a defect in our E.T.C.S. has ever happened,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, executive vice president for Toyota, said in his Senate testimony.

NHTSA also said that it now has reports of 52 fatalities and 38 injuries in incidents alleged to have been caused by unexpected or uncontrolled acceleration of a Toyota product.   (more…)

Toyota Expands Service Campaign for Leaking Oil Hoses. Latest Action is not Safety Recall.

Reuters says Toyota replacing oil hose in 933,800 U.S. vehicles.

by on Mar.01, 2010

Toyota Motor Sales will replace an oil hose in about 933,800 vehicles in the United States because of the risk of a leak that could damage, the automaker confirmed to Reuters on Monday.

It was the latest blow to its quality image, which is suffering from ongoing recalls, safety investigations on more than 10 million vehicles globally.

Toyota’s quality control head,  Shinichi Sasaki, and North American President Yoshimi Inaba are scheduled to appear before a Senate committee on tomorrow  for a third hearing on its and  the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s handling of complaints and 34 alleged deaths involving sudden or uncontrolled  acceleration.

In the defective oil hose case, Camry, Avalon, Rav4 and Lexus vehicles with V6 engines are affected. An engine oil hose may leak Toyota said in a bulletin sent to U.S. dealers and obtained by Reuters on Monday.

Toyota says t has taken this step in the interest of customer satisfaction -  informing owners that Toyota and Lexus dealers will modify their vehicle prior to them experiencing the condition.

This is actually the expansion of  two previous service actions. For phase three revealed today, there are approximately 128,800 Avalon (2007 – 2009 model year) and 89,000 RAV4 V6 (2007 – 2009 model year) vehicles involved in the United States.

Last year, Toyota also announced phases one and two of this service action  on approximately 342,200 Toyota Avalon (model year 2005 – 2006), Camry (2007 – early 2010) and RAV4 V6 (2006 model year), and 374,000 Lexus ES 350 (model year 2007-2008) and RX 350 (model year 2007-2009) vehicles.

Owners of the involved vehicles will receive a notification by first class mail.

Toyota dealers will replace the VVT-i oil hose with a newly designed one at no  charge  to the customer. The repair will take approximately one hour. However, Toyota says depending upon the dealer’s work schedule, it may be necessary to make the vehicle available for a longer period of time.

This Limited Service Campaign will be offered until March 31, 2013.

Towns Claims Toyota Withheld Rollover Data

Legal woes expand, again, at the beleaguered Japanese maker.

by on Feb.27, 2010

Is Inaba caught in a potential legal trap and the crossfire of Congressional elections?

Edolphus Towns (D-NY) said yesterday that a review of documents obtained under subpoena from a former lawyer at Toyota indicate that Toyota “deliberately withheld records” it was legally required to produce in response to discovery orders in litigation.

Where these latest charges lead is not immediately clear – and this matter is already subject to contentious litigation in California. However, without doubt this  complicates the tarnished quality  image and very real legal troubles that Toyota faces with respect to its handling of safety matters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is also looking at whether Toyota acted according to U.S. law while recalling six million Toyota and Lexus vehicles in the United States after it became aware of problems with the sticking accelerator pedals and uncontrolled vehicles. The vehicles in question have been subject to several, ever widening, recalls since last fall, and at least 34 deaths are now, alleged, to have resulted from Toyota safety defects in the U.S.

Many of the documents in question, which Towns in his press release did not provide, apparently contain specific comments on  tragic “rollover” cases in which a driver or passenger was injured, including cases where victims were paralyzed.

The former Toyota lawyer in question, Dimitrios Biller, was Managing Counsel in the Product Liability Group of Toyota Motor Sales, USA (TMS), from April 2003 to September 2007.

In this position, Mr. Biller was part of the defense of some of the largest tort cases filed against Toyota, including “rollover” cases involving dead or seriously injured victims.

Viewers of might recall that we reported at length last year, that Dimitrios Biller, the attorney involved in Toyota’s rollover litigation from 2003 to 2007 has a troubling prior history of suing employers, including the prosecutor’s office in California, where he also once worked before being dismissed. (Click here, and here.)

Congressman Towns, who – never ever forget – is up for re-election at a time when voters are clearly exasperated with ineffectual incumbents for their lack of action on financial regulation, fiscal responsibility and job creation, among other policy failures, subpoenaed Biller’s documents on Thursday, February 18, 2010 before the well-publicized hearing he chaired took place on February 24.

Former Toyota attorney Biller claims in his own separate and ongoing Federal fraud and racketeering case against Toyota in California that information had been withheld from accident victims in as many as 300 civil lawsuits.

Included in the cited — but we repeat unsupplied documents-  is apparently a memo by Biller to his superiors at Toyota, noting that Toyota has failed to produce any e-mails or other electronic records in response to discovery orders.

Toyota has succesfully suppressed the full release of Biller matter documents in a California Federal court.

The Towns’ Committee now officially says it has found multiple references to heretofore-unknown “Books of Knowledge” that were kept electronically, in which Toyota engineers kept their design and testing data across all vehicle lines and for all vehicle parts.   (more…)

LaHood Defends NHTSA in Toyota Safety Recalls

DOT secretary says, not convincingly, safety is a priority.

by on Feb.23, 2010

While NHTSA slept, people died.

Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, continued his defense of the actions – and from where we sit in-actions – of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before a Congressional sub-committee today.

Republican LaHood testified under oath before a sub-committee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that was examining how Toyota and NHTSA have handled the sudden acceleration problems.

La Hood claimed that NHTSA first became aware of the now deadly unintended acceleration issue – at least 34 deaths alleged and still counting – in Toyota Lexus ES350 model in 2007.

This is a selective cutting of the data, according to critics, who allege that such complaints existed years before this incident.   (more…)

Toyota Halting Production in Kentucky and Texas

The full-size truck plant in San Antonio takes biggest hit.

by on Feb.16, 2010

Toyota officially confirmed late today that is suspending production once again  at two U.S. plants to trim growing inventory levels because of slow sales.

Press reports earlier today coming out of Japan claimed that Toyota was preparing to shut plants in the U.S. once again due to a continuing slump in sales. Toyota in the U.S. did not respond to requests from at that time for clarification.

This latest hiatus follows the shut down by Toyota – at the insistence of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration — of six North American plants for one week in January. The production halt then was in conjunction with a stop sale following the recall of 2.3 million Toyota vehicles for sticking gas pedals leading to unintended acceleration on at least eight models.

NHTSA, itself under attack for its lack of action in unintended acceleration or gas pedal entrapment issues at Toyota, now has reports of 37 deaths, which allegedly were caused by Toyota safety defects.   (more…)