Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation have at least temporarily blocked the release of findings by auto-safety regulators that could favor Toyota Motor Corp. in some crashes related to unintended acceleration, according to a recently retired agency official.George Person, who retired July 3 after 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview that the decision to not go public with the data for now was made over the objections of some officials at NHTSA.
"The information was compiled. The report was finished and submitted," Mr. Person said. "When I asked why it hadn't been published, I was told that the secretary's office didn't want to release it," he added, referring to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Welcome to the corporate state, Obama-style. Not to mention some old-fashioned bureaucratic CYA:
Since March, the agency has examined 40 Toyota vehicles where unintended acceleration was cited as the cause of an accident, Mr. Person said. NHTSA determined 23 of the vehicles had accelerated suddenly, Mr. Person said.
In all 23, he added, the vehicles' electronic data recorders or black boxes showed the car's throttle was wide open and the brake was not depressed at the moment of impact, suggesting the drivers mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake, Mr. Person said.
"The agency has for too long ignored what I believe is the root cause of these unintended acceleration cases," he said. "It's driver error. It's pedal misapplication and that's what this data shows."
Mr. Person said he believes Transportation Department officials are "sitting on" this data because it could revive criticism that NHTSA is too close to the auto maker and has not looked hard enough for electrical flaws in Toyota vehicles.
"It has become very political. There is a lot of anger towards Toyota," Mr. Person said. Transportation officials "are hoping against hope that they find something that points back to a flaw in Toyota vehicles."
The existence of this report is one reason, suggests Walter Olson, why the Democrats in Congress (abetted by the NY Times) seem in an enormous hurry to pass a new auto regulatory bill. After all, automobiles have been sold in this country for only about 100 years, so every day counts in getting new regulatory infrastructure in place
The recall of millions of Toyota cars and trucks because of persistent problems of uncontrolled acceleration has exposed unacceptable weaknesses in the regulatory system. These weaknesses are allowing potentially fatal flaws to remain undetected. Democrats in Congress are pushing legislation to improve regulation and oversight of auto safety. It should be passed into law without delay.
As Olson points out, the NY Times has bent over backwards to ignore recent NHTSA findings in its reporting. This in particular is the enormously flawed logic of the regulator:
N.H.T.S.A. could fine Toyota only $16.4 million for delays in revealing problems with defective accelerator pedals that left the throttle open after being released. That's pocket change for a company of its size.
Pay no attention to that free market behind the curtain. The billions of dollars this acceleration problem has cost Toyota in recalls, repairs, lost sales, and damage to reputation are irrelevant -- only fines imposed by the Administration (and torts by its allies in the litigation industry) matter. And if the same problem beset government-owned GM, anyone want to bet what the penalty would be? They would probably get a new bailout from Obama to pay for the recall costs. In fact, even without the NHTSA findings, this Toyota problem is really no worse in terms of incidence rates or costs than any number of other recalls by US manufacturers. The only difference is the media attention lavished on the problem.