The fallout from Toyota’s cover-up of unintended acceleration problems and the lack of action at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continues to reverberate in Washington in ways that will affect all automakers and possibly make our roads safer.
David Strickland, Administrator of NHTSA, in a speech before the Rubber Manufacturers Association annual meeting, said that recall investigations will be made faster, and the recall form simplified to shorten the length of time drivers are “exposed to risk” if there is a problem with a vehicle.
In return, Strickland – while acknowledging that the auto industry faces complex issues involving rising fuel prices, energy independence, climate change and environment concerns, the wireless world – said he expects “automakers to deal with us honestly, thoroughly, and in a timely manner.” (See Toyota Broke Law! NHTSA Seeks Maximum Fines)
Strickland, an Obama Administration political appointee who took office this past January, has previously said “no mistakes” were made by the safety agency under him or prior administrators, an assertion that was met with open skepticism by many during the Congressional hearings on the Toyota fiasco. (See NHTSA Did Its Job Handling Toyota Floor Mat and Pedal Recalls, Claims Administrator David Strickland )
NHTSA is charged by critics 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 50 deaths are now alleged to have occurred because of these safety related defects, and hundreds of lawsuits have been filed.
In addition, an open issue remains about whether Toyota engine control software could also be causing some of the ongoing incidents. NHTSA now has NASA scientists with expertise in a computer-controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity studying unintended vehicle acceleration in Toyotas. (See National Academy of Sciences and NASA to Study Unintended Acceleration Issues for DOT)
“NASA’s review will be comprehensive and will assist us in determining whether Toyota vehicles contain any flaws that would warrant a defect investigation,” said Strickland.
It took a visit to Japan by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and the former acting administrator of NHTSA to force Japanese executives to initiate the first Toyota unintended acceleration recalls. It later emerged in Congressional hearings that Toyota’s American executives are mere figureheads, with no power to order a safety recall, a power they still lack.
Since his confirmation in January, Strickland said that the bulk of his time was taken up by Toyota matters.
“I knew going in that the stuff for Toyota was going to be prevalent, but I had no idea how intense it was really going to be,” said Strickland. “You’ve all seen the press coverage, the hearings on the Hill. As you’ve probably seen in the news in just the last couple of days, there’s even legislation to be introduced that deals with some of the issues—for example, requiring brake over-ride systems in all passenger vehicles.” (See First Look: The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010)
“We will do our job with an open mind and careful, scientific methods,” Strickland said.
“I believe in NHTSA’s consumer protection mission. To fulfill that mission, I expect us to be active and pro-active. And I believe we are putting the right framework in place to strengthen our Nation and our industry,” Strickland concluded.