Lately, it seems as if NHTSA is on a regulatory binge. In addition to proposing mandatory back-up cameras, NHTSA has recently announced a new rule that is intended to prevent “ejections” during a rollover. While this new rule could save nearly 400 lives each year, some critics argue that rollover ejections are limited to un-belted passengers, and that the new mandate amounts to “idiot-proofing.”
These critics may be surprised to learn that, in many cases, someone using their seatbelt can be ejected during a rollover…but there’s more to the story than that.
After nearly a month of denials and anonymous statements, a NHTSA official reported to congress yesterday. From Automotive News (subscription required):
Brakes weren’t applied by drivers of Toyota vehicles in at least 35 of 58 crashes blamed on unintended acceleration, U.S. auto-safety regulators said after studying data recorders.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also saw no evidence of electronics-related causes for the accidents in reviewing the vehicle recorders, known as black boxes, the agency said today in a report to lawmakers.
…“At this early point in its investigation, NHTSA officials have drawn no conclusions about additional causes of unintended acceleration in Toyotas beyond the two defects already known — pedal entrapment and sticking gas pedals,”
Finally, the truth comes out, and we know who was lying about this data three weeks ago, and we know that Toyota’s throttles – as we have said all along – are just fine. Driver error is to blame.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal interviewed recently retired National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) official George Person who alleges that:
- NHTSA’s investigation of so-called “runaway” Toyotas is complete
- After studying 40 alleged instances of sudden, unintended acceleration, NHTSA determined 23 of these reports were plausible
- After reading the engine data recorder in each of these 23 vehicles, EVERY recorder showed that the vehicle’s throttle was wide open at the time of the crash
If this former head of NHTSA’s recall division is correct, NHTSA’s study is done…and it has found that Toyota has no electronic throttle problems.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that the early results of the NHTSA investigation into “runaway” Toyotas found that the problem was driver error. This wasn’t shocking information – we’ve been saying that driver error is the cause of these incidents for months.
However, this story has taken an interesting turn. An anonymous source at the Department of Transportation (the branch of the government that oversees NHSTA) told Just-Auto.com last week that the story in the WSJ was planted by Toyota.
Mike Ramsey, the reporter at the WSJ, has denied this allegation and said that he viewed NHTSA data when making his report. Toyota has denied these allegations as well.
The facts are that either:
- An anonymous NHTSA employee incorrectly claimed that Toyota planted a story, or
- A reporter at The Wall Street Journal did someone at Toyota a favor and ran a story that was completely false
The question is, who’s lying?
Yesterday, NHTSA announced a record $16.4 million dollar fine against Toyota for “failing to notify the auto safety agency of the dangerous ‘sticky pedal’ defect for at least four months.” Unfortunately, this announcement seems to be about more than penalizing Toyota for making a mistake – this move is political. Here’s why: