Better World Club

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Recall Troubles Over for Toyota?

NHTSA Finds No Electronic Malfunction Responsible for Unintended Acceleration

Then Toyota Voluntarily Recalls 2 Million More Vehicles for Possible Acceleration Problem...Huh?

On February 8, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the results of its ten month study on possible electronic malfunctions that may have caused the unintended acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles, which resulted in the recall of millions of Toyotas worldwide since 2009. The study, conducted by NASA engineers, found no electronic defects that could have caused the acceleration incidents reported by Toyota customers.

On February 24, Toyota announced the recall of over 2 million more vehicles for an accelerator pedal design flaw that it has cited as the source of unintended acceleration problems since its initial recall. Department of Transportation regulators then stated that the recall announcement ended their investigation into the sufficiency of Toyota's response to the unintended acceleration problem.

So the NHTSA and Toyota are finally friends again. With this most recent recall, it seems like all parties involved might be willing to put the past behind them. But why has it taken so long: both for Toyota to announce its first recall after being notified of acceleration problems in its vehicles and for the Department of Transportation to investigate the source of problems about which it has been aware for at least as long?

Nearly a year ago we wondered if our vehicle regulatory system hadn't fallen into a rut and whether it needed a new Nader. Well, it would seem -- at least for the time being -- that Toyota's acceleration woes have been reason enough for the Department of Transportation to re-evaluate the relationship between automakers and its regulators.

The NHTSA didn't find any flaws in Toyota's electronic systems, but that it needed to enlist the support of NASA experts should have been an eye opener as regards the speed with which automotive technology has outpaced the ability of regulators to effectively monitor the industry and enforce appropriate regulations.

Thankfully, the NHTSA has now decided to propose rules that would require brake override systems and the installation of event data recorders in all passenger vehicles by the end of 2011. It will also broaden its research on the security of electronic control systems in general and will also research the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals to reduce potential misapplication by drivers.

As NHTSA Administrator David Strickland said in his agency's announcement, ''The record number of voluntary recalls initiated by automakers last year is also very good news, and shows that we can work cooperatively with industry to protect consumers.'' Hopefully the lessons learned from the Toyota recall by both the government and the automotive industry will continue to shape the interaction of those two groups in an era of more and better technological innovations.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood can eat his cake, but he should keep some around to have for later as well.

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