The WSJ reports that “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”. Governmental departments suppressing documents? Much like Toyota suppressed their design flaws which landed them a record $16.4m fine? You have my interest…
The senior official is 67 years old George Person, who was chief of NHTSA’s Recall Management Division before he retired on July 3rd from the NHTSA. His division is part of the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation. He should know what he’s talking about and what was going on until a few weeks ago. Person said in an interview that the reason for the report was not being public already is that objections were made by officials at the NHTSA. Politically connected ones?
According to what Person told the WSJ, NHTSA has examined 40 Toyotas since March. For each vehicle, unintended acceleration had been cited as the cause of an accident.
In 23 cases, the NHTSA deemed it could indeed have been UA, so the cases received closer investigation. In all 23 cases, the vehicles’ electronic data recorders showed the car’s throttle was wide open and the brake was not depressed at the moment of impact. According to Person, this suggested that the drivers mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake:
“The agency has for too long ignored what I believe is the root cause of these unintended acceleration cases,” Person said. “It’s driver error. It’s pedal misapplication and that’s what this data shows.”
Someone doesn’t seem to like what the data show.
“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,” clearly referring to Ray LaHood. Olivia Alair, a spokesperson for the Transportation Department said that the NHTSA is still reviewing data from the Toyota vehicles the agency is examining and that the review is not yet complete.
Naturally (and some might say “sensibly”) Toyota didn’t comment. It does make one wonder if the reason the investigation is still “ongoing” is because a certain secretary had ordered a certain agency to keep looking until they find anything?
For those who think the matter can’t possibly be political, and if at all, the poor NHTSA is a victim of the media, George Person has a message: “It has become very political. There is a lot of anger towards Toyota.”
George Person’s damning conclusion: Transportation officials “are hoping against hope that they find something that points back to a flaw in Toyota vehicles.”
Interesting factoid, brought to you by Pointoflaw in 2009, but largely overlooked: NHTSA head David Strickland “served as associate director of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America from 1996 to 2001”, and “was registered as a lobbyist for the group for at least some of that time.” Would that perhaps qualify as yet another conflict of interest? Trial lawyers were ecstatic when one of their was put in charge of NHTSA. Especially because the trial lawyers lobby had been “awash in debt and bleeding members” when Strickland was nominated, the Washington Times wrote. The American Association for Justice had a $6.8m deficit on their books when the paper checked. They can use every penny.