By on July 12, 2015

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is blocking former chief David Strickland from testifying in a California civil lawsuit for Toyota on issues regarding its push-button start systems in some of its cars.

According to the Detroit News, NHTSA officials told lawyers in a letter that Strickland would be barred from testifying in the case as an expert witness.

“The agency has been roundly criticized for its relationship with Toyota in terms of recent enforcement actions, particularly regarding unintended acceleration,” NHTSA’s lawyer wrote in the letter. “Given this history, Mr. Strickland’s testimony as a former NHTSA administrator describing Toyota’s actions or conduct in this matter with approval, will likely diminish the agency’s ability to pursue a vigorous enforcement review of Toyota moving forward.”

Congress has said NHTSA wasn’t tough enough on Toyota when it looked into issues that its push-button start system could leave cars running without the keys present.

Toyota said it asked Strickland to testify on general matters in the lawsuit, but the agency barring the former administrator to testify is being praised as a harder line for what people say is a too-familiar relationship between former safety officials and automakers.

“For too long there has been a revolving door at NHTSA which allowed former NHTSA employees to seek lucrative employment with the same auto manufacturers they had at one time been charged with regulating,” Christine Spagnoli, a lawyer for the owners suing Toyota, told the Detroit News. “Hopefully, the denial of Mr. Strickland’s request to testify on behalf of Toyota is a sign that the new administrator recognizes that these historically cozy relationships between agency employees and the companies they are charged with regulating often results in undermining public trust.”

After leaving NHTSA in 2014, Strickland joined a Washington D.C.-based law firm that has also represented Fiat Chrysler. Former NHTSA officials are not allowed to directly lobby for automakers for two years after leaving the safety administration.

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33 Comments on “Former NHTSA Boss Blocked From Testifying in Toyota Case...”


  • avatar
    Eyeflyistheeye

    Well, I hope that won’t preclude him in testifying about the case of the missing Mallomars.

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Toyota was pretty much railroaded regarding unintended acceleration. In most cases, it was caused by human error. Only the improperly installed floor mats was a legitimate cause. Any coziness between former NHTSA employees and Toyota needs to be proven.

    The other issue, accidentally leaving the engine running on vehicles with push button start, needs to be fixed. Most modern cars have chimes and other warnings to remind the driver. It may seem like only “stupid” people forget, but we are in transition between key and keyless start, so it helps to have a reminder.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      It wasn’t – TTACs Jack Baruth wrote an excellent and eye opening piece on the findings.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        I found a whole bunch of articles from TTAC staff.

        I also found this one from the NYTimes about NASA engineers unable to duplicate the problem:
        http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/09/business/09auto.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

        What Toyota was guilty of was not fully disclosing its research. Unintended acceleration could happen under extremely controlled conditions in a lab with full access to the car’s computer. But driver error needs to be included as a likely cause.

        • 0 avatar
          APaGttH

          Toyota knew it had issues with the floor mats and gas pedals and did recalls in other parts of the world, but cozied up with the NHTSA to avoid a costly recall in the United States. They then made changes to vehicles in other parts of the world, but not in the United States.

          The even had a PPT deck that was as striking as the infamous “Pinto memo,” highlighting how they saved $100 million in the US by avoiding a floor mat and pedal entrampment recall.

          They KNEW of a problem.

          They covered up the problem here.

          They fixed the problem in other countries.

          People died.

          Toyota made it difficult for accident investigators every step of the way, refusing to provide black box readers, and saying time and time again the data in their black box system was “garbled” or “inconclusive” on accidents.

          They continued to try to cover up their floor map and pedal entrapment issues.

          Jack outlined all of it here.

          Had Toyota done the recall in 2007, as outlined in their PPT deck, as done in other countries, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I know that you really, really want for Toyota to be just as bad as GM, but it just isn’t. Not even close.

            The floor mat issue arose when a dealership installed floor mats from an SUV in a sedan. The floor mat was too big, the dealership was too cheap or lazy.

            Nothing to do with the automaker at all. The feds studied the Saylor crash and found no wrongdoing.

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            @Pch101

            It came up within the walls of Toyota way before the wrong and doubled up floor mat accident by CHP officer in California.

            http://www.foxnews.com/story/2010/02/22/toyota-boasted-saving-100m-on-recall-documents-show.html

            If you don’t like Fox here is a source from the other end of the spectrum.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/22/business/22toyota.html

            Toyota knew there was an issue – issued broader recalls in other geographies back in 2007, and limited the recall in the US by cozying up the NHTSA, and then documented that as a “win.”

            Again – Jack covered all of this on TTAC.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            Nice job of taking that out of context.

            Automakers often negotiate major recalls with NHTSA. Do you not know how these things work, or do you not want to know?

          • 0 avatar
            APaGttH

            @Pch101

            Who is the one trying to spin the story now?

            Here is what you wrote:

            …The floor mat issue arose when a dealership installed floor mats from an SUV in a sedan…

            I have proven that isn’t true. This issue happened and was discovered in other nations, and observed in the United States far before Lexus SUV all weather mats were overlaid the regular mats in a Lexus sedan.

            The evidence of that is indisputable.

            The evidence is also indisputable that Toyota did corrective action of floor mats and gas pedals in other parts of the world, while, ehem, “negotiating” with NHTSA to reduce the scope in the United States – even when comparable vehicles and floor mats were recalled around the world.

            The evidence of pedal entrapment in some accidents with Toyota products is also, indisputable.

            Toyota was fined for obfuscation and dragging their feet on a known problem – rightly so.

            GM was nailed for obfuscation and dragging their feet and, “ehem” “negotiating” wink wink with the NHTSA.

            The NHTSA has been called out for letting consumers down over the Toyota botched recall and the GM ignition swtiches. In both cases they had evidence right under their nose that highlighted both issues – and in both cases these issues were, “negotiated” away.

            I’m on the record here as stating the following:

            * The average driving slob should be able to figure out how to deal with a gas pedal jammed in a floor mat – with that said the Toyota push button start design was counter-intuitive to UI/UX and different from a number of manufacturers for an emergency shutdown procedure – Toyota has changed that.

            * The average driving slob should be able to deal with a loss of power steering and power brakes in an ignition switch failure – and probably shouldn’t have four pounds of crap hanging off their keys.

            * If anyone is getting a free pass in recall and dragging their feet land, it is Takata and Honda. No driver can anticipate or react to a Claymore mine exploding in their face and Honda seems to be deep into recalling (I say flippantly to be clear as you love to get pedantic) every car and SUV they ever made that had an airbag in it. There is strong evidence Honda knew there was a problem with Takata airbags and was complicit with it.

            If one dismissed Toyota drivers as “idiots who deserve it” for not dealing with pedal entrapped floor mats, the same standard can be applied to GM owners who are “idiots who deserve it” for not being able to cope with a power steering and power brake loss (the power part is lost, both still work). And a number of the GM accidents involve speeding, drugs, alcohol, and lets not forget in one case, a suicide – note and all.

            The Takata airbag issue is a whole different ball game. You can be Dale Earnhart Jr. and Danica Patrick’s illegitimate love child and not be able to do anything when you get a face full of shrapnel, not have no corrective action you can take at all that doesn’t break some law, to make yourself safe.

            Toyota – I can rip out the floor mat and waith for my recall provided zip tie. Problem solved.

            GM I can make sure the only key hanging from the ignition is the key to turn the ignition. Problem solved.

            Exploding Claymore mine Takata airbag…well…I guess I can hope I don’t get into an accident.

            That’s the ultimate hall pass. But lets not change the story that poor Toyota was without any fault and did zero wrong around their gas pedal design in relation to their floor mats. Lets also not change the dialog when Toyota knew they had a problem before it ever even became a headline in the United States, and tried to bury the problem, and prevented a recall.

            The behavior of the NHTSA, which should have known that there were full recalls in other geographies was equally reprehensible.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            “I have proven that isn’t true”

            You’ve done no such thing. Mark Saylor was killed by a floor mat that was too large for the vehicle. The crash was investigated by the federal government, which made that determination.

            I specifically provided a link to you for the findings in the past. Either you didn’t bother to read it or else you didn’t care for the results.

      • 0 avatar
        Ryoku75

        At Apa:

        Please link me, searching aint easy with the hoards of other Toyota Recall articles.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          I had read the Saylor crash report. It was online with only a few things blacked out. IIRC the wrong mats were in place and not clipped properly in place. The brakes were fried. The car had a push button “off” that had to be depressed for 3 seconds.

          http://www.safetyresearch.net/Library/NHTSA_Santee_Inspect.pdf

          How hard is it to put a 2009 Lexus ES-350 into neutral?
          Honest question and no disrespect meant to the deceased.

          • 0 avatar
            WheelMcCoy

            “How hard is it to put a 2009 Lexus ES-350 into neutral?”

            Some have the mistaken belief putting a moving car in neutral will “flip the car.” I was agog when I read that, but that false knowledge has circulated.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think my VW even chimes if you walk off with the smart key, or if it does, you can’t hear it from outside the car, like you can with most other makes. It just puts up a warning on the instrument cluster.

      • 0 avatar
        APaGttH

        One of my best buds has a Fiesta. Him and his wife switched driving. One dropped the other off, but the person dropped off had the fob. The car was able to keep operating even though the person with the fob left. The problem wasn’t discovered until he or his wife (can’t remember) when to lock up the car and realized they no longer had the fob, and had no way to start the car.

  • avatar
    RHD

    The accidents and tragedies caused by unintended acceleration could all have been avoided if the cars were equipped with manual transmissions.

    That said, does anyone think that driverless cars will perform 100.00% safely? The will have to, because 99.999% just isn’t good enough, and we haven’t even gotten close to that with ordinary cars.

    As an aside, will we have driverless Jeep Wranglers that will drive over boulders and through creeks and countryside without any human input?

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      “The accidents and tragedies caused by unintended acceleration could all have been avoided if the cars were equipped with manual transmissions.”

      +1

      I haven’t heard of one case where a manual was involved with unintended acceleration. With a manual, any acceleration is always fully intended.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      WheelMcCoy – look at any automatic transmission car and I’ll bet that it is extremely easy to pop into neutral. Drive is next to neutral. My wife’s Sienna requires a gentle nudge and voila neutral. My F150 has a column shift and it just requires a light tug and push up.

      People panic and do stupid things. Even the case with the off duty state trooper that was killed in California. The guy hit the brakes till they fried. He did try to unstick the pedal but neutral should of been the first course of action.

      Shutting the engine off kills steering and brake power.

      I don’t know of a single vehicle whether it be a manual or automatic that CAN’T easily find neutral.

      For most, driving is the most technical and dangerous thing we will ever do. (repeat that statement over and over again each time you sit in a vehicle).

      I mean no disrespect to those who died or people who lost friends and family.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        “I mean no disrespect to those who died or people who lost friends and family.”

        Likewise. I may have come across snarky, but I do feel for those who lost loved ones.

        Car manufacturers are addressing the problem with radar that will engage the brakes if a low speed collision is imminent. Volvo and Mazda come to mind. But their systems wouldn’t have helped the state trooper.

        On a manual, getting to neutral is easiest: step on the clutch. On an automatic, you still need to find the gate and in a panic situation, it’s not that straight forward.

        • 0 avatar
          Lou_BC

          WheelMcCoy – one of the advantages to manual transmissions is not so much the fact that it can be easily disengaged but the fact that the driver has to be consciously aware of the machine that cocoons him.
          People drive like zombies and when something critical occurs they loose valuable time reacting.
          IIRC there were reports that surfaced when ABS became standard showing that ABS cars were involved in just as many fatal crashes as non-ABS.
          Many surmised that it was because people had not learned how ABS works. My impression was that if you zombie along in your vehicle and you fail to spot a developing situation you will not be able to take corrective action soon enough.

          Another issue is if some other zombie makes a catastrophic error nothing short of an Abrams tank is going to save you.

          • 0 avatar
            WheelMcCoy

            “one of the advantages to manual transmissions is not so much the fact that it can be easily disengaged but the fact that the driver has to be consciously aware of the machine that cocoons him.”

            I hear you. You are preaching to the choir as I absolutely love the manual. I strayed a bit with a recent Mustang 2015 rental which had a fantastic automatic in sport+ mode, but ended the affair after 7 glorious days, and have happily returned my Mazda3 5 speed manual.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Lou_BC,

        “I don’t know of a single vehicle whether it be a manual or automatic that CAN’T easily find neutral.”

        Vehicles that do not have a direct-link to the automatic transmission have been known not to easily find neutral.

        For instance, vehicles that run all commands for everything through the vehicle’s computers will not allow you to shift into reverse while still rolling above a certain speed. You can move the lever to Reverse but Drive will remain engaged until you slow down to below a certain speed forward.

        Next time you drive a BMW 7-series, try it while driving on the highway.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Manual Transmissions may as well be the Holy Cross of the automotive world.

      “Manual Transmissions keep people from texting and driving”

      “Manual Transmissions save people from unintended acceleration”

      “Manual Transmissions helped me give birth to my Daughter “Acura””

      The last manual I saw on the road could barely keep up with traffic, they save lives ‘cuz you’re never going fast enough to get hurt.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        Hah! You forgot a few:

        “Manual transmissions help you lose weight because it’s hard to eat and drive.”

        “Manual transmissions make you a better dancer because of the coordination required.”

        “Manual transmission make you a fun parent when you let your (older) kids sit in the front and shift.”

        “Manual transmissions make you a better lover because you are sensitive to inputs and responses.”

        “Manual transmissions fight dementia by keeping your neurons firing.”

        Although Pch101’s link kinda’ puts the last one into question.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “Automatic transmission(s) improved the older participants’ driving behaviour by safer speed adjustments in urban areas, greater manoeuvring skills, safer lane positioning and driving according to the existing speed limits. However, for younger drivers, automatic transmission had less effect on their driving behaviour. ***Switching to automatic transmission may be recommended for older drivers as a means to maintain safe driving and thereby the quality of their transport mobility.***”

      http://www.researchgate.net/publication/266059355_Why_drive_manual_-Automatic_transmission_improves_driving_behaviour_in_older_drivers

      ___________________

      It’s usually a good idea to review the data first, then form an opinion, instead of starting with the opinion and not bothering with the data.

  • avatar
    wmba

    @ Lou_BC said:

    “People drive like zombies and when something critical occurs they loose (sic) valuable time reacting.”

    Couldn’t agree more. Just wait until the chime goes off on the new “autonomous” vehicle when the computer tells the driver to take over. Despite a dozen lectures at time of purchase, the owner/driver will reliably have forgotten what to do next. That’s because it’s a bit more complicated than shifting to neutral, and that taxed the brains of millions.

    My, my, I will say the gentleman in the photo above seems extremely well fed. No more sushi, now.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      “Just wait until the chime goes off on the new “autonomous” vehicle when the computer tells the driver to take over. Despite a dozen lectures at time of purchase, the owner/driver will reliably have forgotten what to do next. ”

      Fortunately, the Google car team has come to a similar conclusion. That’s partly why they scaled back their ambitions for autonomous cars. There’s hope for common sense… until some company unwisely forges ahead regardless.

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