By on July 31, 2010

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.

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12 Comments on “Former NHTSA Chief: Agency Is Suppressing Evidence...”

  • avatar

    Seriously. Fire LaHood and make him refund the 16.4 mil out of his severance package.

  • avatar

    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.”

    1996 to 2001? But the recalls, the fines and the political circus were in 2009-2010. Am I missing something here?

    • 0 avatar

      I think you have to have your tinfoil hat on.

    • 0 avatar

      Do you seriously think he is not still involved at least somewhat with the organization? All of our governmental agencies are about politics at this point, and I’m not wearing a tinfoil hat.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      Well, let’s see: The Republicans have been flogging the Democrats’ association with the trial lawyers for years. They’ve also been arguing that if the trial lawyers were sent to Mars (the moon will also do in a pinch) that capitalism would flourish as never before.

      Don’t have the time to look it up but I wonder which administration appointed George Person. If it was a Republican then his perspective should be considered in that context. The Bush administration in particular spent a lot of time putting “moles” in the civil service who could carry forth its anti-regulatory philosophy. In addition, we’re moving into a hotly contested election cycle and anything is potential fodder for the Drudge Report sirens. Perhaps TTAC should use sirens on its front page too.

      Now am I being an apologist for the Obama administration? Nope. Just suggesting that real journalism requires drilling down below the surface rather than parroting the Washington Times, which is a Moonie-owned, right-wing paper.

    • 0 avatar

      Are you suggesting that Stickland was just looking for a job in the Washington Post want ads 15 years ago and stumbled upon a listing for associate director of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America? Administration apologists aren’t indulging in much analytical thinking. They can’t afford to.

  • avatar

    Knock me over with a feather!

  • avatar

    “NHTSA has examined 40 Toyotas…” “In all 23 cases…”
    What about the missing 17?

    • 0 avatar

      Apparently, the NHTSA has the capability of sorting stories of alleged SUA into some that are total bunk and some that warrant closer inspection. In this case, 17 were declared prima facie bunk, 23 warranted closer inspection. The closer inspection showed that in all 23 cases, the acceleration was caused by a foot on the gas.

      The capability to separate bunk from at least suspicious cases doesn’t extend to cleaning up the database of lies, a.k.a. complaints database

  • avatar

    The taxtaker government parasites can’t keep their lies straight…Typical government scum.

  • avatar

    Lets see – a couple weeks ago Just Auto, Jalopnik etc. etc. reported Toyota planted the WSJ story and TTAC had a story claiming it was a woman in the DOT. This week we have the same Mike Ramsey from the WSJ with some help from his gal pal Kate Linebaugh and a named woman from DOT. Was this their source the first go round? This weeks story doesn’t seem to validate the Just Jalopnik claims does it? Just Auto has some explaining to do or someone in NHTSA likes to lie to reporters, either way someone needs to come clean.

    There are two factions in NHTSA according to my sources – the actual investigators who would very much like their results made public so as not to look like incompetent monkeys and the second group of front office admin with LaHood at the top conducting a paper shuffle looking for suspicious sentences in 1000’s of documents looking to keep the suspicion alive. The longer this goes on the more obvious it becomes and the worse it smells.

    LaHood can tell them to find something until he’s blue in the face, the result is still going to be the same as it was in their 89 study.

  • avatar

    Just checked Just-auto and Jalopnik – 12:53am Aug 1st – looks like they haven’t read the WSJ article yet –

    I can’t wait for the manufactured news on this one. My guess is they’ll float a story that the retired Mr. George Person was part of a sleeper cell that Toyota secretly planted, or that he was recently released from a treatment centre of one kind or another.

    At least the WSJ was careful not to get too technical this time.

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