By on November 14, 2011

Remember the uproar over Unintended Acceleration in Toyotas? After more than a year of investigation, NHTSA has yet to find a definitive cause for the furor… although the experience was not an entire waste. In fact, the most interesting result of the entire situation was that it cast light on NHTSA’s inefficacy as much as it did embarrass Toyota’s quality control. And to help clarify what exactly the lessons of the Toyota flap were, the DOT’s Inspector General has released a report detailing its criticisms of the federal safety regulators. According to the report [PDF], NHTSA’s Office of Defect Investigation (ODI) has not

  • Adequately tracked or documented pre-investigation activities.
  • Established a systematic process for determining when to involve third-party or Vehicle Research and Test Center (VRTC) assistance
  • Followed timeliness goals for completing investigations or fully implemented its redaction policy to ensure consumers’ privacy. [Ed: gee, you think?]
  • Established a complete and transparent record system with documented support for decisions that significantly affect its investigations.
  • Developed a formal training program to ensure staff has the necessary skills and expertise.

In his response, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland largely concurred with the audit’s findings, and is working with the ODI to improve investigation processes, transparency, privacy controls, staffing, training and more. In short, the government has reached the same conclusion that I reached on the day of the angst-filled Toyota testimony before congress, to wit:

Congress holds hearings like these to uncover shocking evidence and to impress its constituents with its dedication to their safety and well-being. Having been enticed into believing that sinister conspiracies exist in Toyota’s software code and the halls of the NHTSA, the House Energy Committee uncovered only one actionable solution to the ongoing scandal: [improving] NHTSA’s investigative capabilities. Put differently, after hours of posturing congress finally met the enemy and he was them.

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6 Comments on “Inspector General: NHTSA Needs To Rethink Defect Investigation...”

  • avatar

    Interesting, but I’d also like to see 2010 data. If UA is such a big deal with regard to safety, the above NHTSA data would make one reasonably expect Ford to be under heavier investigation and on larger public display than Toyota was. Perhaps that’s just too naive.

  • avatar

    So it does include the cop killing Lexus brand?

    UA was caused by sticking accelerator pedals that Toyota fixed with a shim? Or was it loose floor mats?

    UA or not it did highlight Toyota’s internal memo about money saved money not having to do the floor matt recall. What about all of those “world-wide recalls that contine through the last one last week?

    GM did not do to bad considering they smoked Toyota at the beginning of the data chart.

  • avatar

    I’m a Prius owner and I’ve also owned 2 Fords. I’ve personally experienced stuck gas pedals in both Fords, and I’ve experienced flawless performance from the Prius.

    Let me say that again:
    Ford: 2
    Toyota: 0
    Lower is better.

    No, data is not the plural of anecdote, but it does make me skeptical of the hype.

    Also, since I’ve had stuck gas pedals in 2 of the last 5 cars I’ve owned (or driven regularly as part of the family), I’d submit that learning how to deal with a stuck gas pedal is a skill that every driver should have.

    For the record, my Tempo had a binding throttle cable at somewhere around 140k miles. The stuck pedal in my Ranger was probably because it got tangled up in a floor mat. Both were manual transmission cars, so I just put in the clutch and dealt with the (rather noisy) problem while I was coasting. We’ve put about the same number of miles on the Prius as I have on those two Fords combined, and I’m not reluctant to shift the Prius into neutral, hit the “Park” switch, or turn the car “off” if I have to — given my experience with the Fords, and the hype, I’ve done a few practice drills in the Prius and feel confident that I could deal with it competently.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve driven a Lexus CT200h, and the gear shift controls aren’t the usual PRNDL & don’t make it obvious how to put it in N. I assume the Prius is the same. It’s a good practice to know exactly how to execute such a maneuver if you buy a car; it’s a shame that those who were in accidents were not so prepared.

      I’ve never experienced a sticky gas pedal. I honestly think they’re pretty rare anymore. I also believe that the majority of UA cases were the result of the driver hitting the gas when they thought they hit the brake. I don’t have proof, but it does seem the simplest & most reasonable cause.

  • avatar

    To properly put UA in perspective, one needs to dig deeper, and use the approach favored by engineers when creating an FMEA, namely speaking in terms of severity, where severity is not a function of occurrence, or the ability to detect the existence of the fault during the manufacturing process.

    By taking each occurrence for each vehicle line, or cross-vehicle common sub-/system, and multiplying it by say, 10 for deaths, 8 for injuries, 6 for vehicular or property damage, 4 for a pants-filling near-miss, 2 for a lesser incident, these issues could be put into better context, better understood and acted on with a deliberate, rather than possibly extingent, priority.

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