Product Liability

Transportation secretary says people should stop driving recalled Toyotas

Toyota’s recent recall of 2.3 million cars and sport utility vehicles over “sticking” accelerator pedals follows a larger recall last October of 4.2 million vehicles for possible floor mat entrapment. The recalls have created an undercurrent of fear of confusion among Toyota owners, many of whom no longer feel their cars are safe to drive.

Apparently, the Department of Transportation is as confused as everyone else. Testifying before a House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation this morning, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that owners of the recalled Toyota models should stop driving their vehicles them until Toyota is able to repair them.

“My advice is [to] anyone who owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it, take it to a Toyota dealer because they believe they have the fix for it,” LaHood told the Congressional hearing.

Later today, LaHood retracted that advice, saying that it was “obviously a misstatement.” He then fell back on the Department’s official stance, which is that Toyota owners could continue to drive their vehicles unless they notice signs that that accelerator pedal is sticking.

But the question remains, if these Toyotas are too unsafe to be sold (a DOT official flew to Tokyo to order the sales suspension and recall), then aren’t they too unsafe to drive?

LaHood’s comments suggest that nobody really knows what is causing Toyotas to speed out of control or even how frequently sudden acceleration incidents occur. In the four months since the floor mat entrapment recall was announced – the one that advised Toyota owners to remove the floor mats from their vehicles — 60 incidents of runaway Toyotas have been reported, even without interference of  floor mats or sticking accelerator pedals.

As evidence mounts that something else may be causing the cars to accelerate unexpectedly, more and more questions are being raised about how Toyota handled the problem since its onset.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating reports in 2004 that the electronic throttle control in 2002-03 Camry and Lexus ES models failed to control engine speed. Subsequent investigations have been unable to reproduce the reported problems.

But reports of sudden acceleration have continued. Growing concern over the safety of some of the best-selling cars in America has prompted Congress to launch a series of inquiries and investigations, including probes of other automakers that use the same or similar throttle assemblies to determine whether they might be a common denominator in unintended acceleration reports.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman plans to hold a hearing next month to determine “how quickly and effectively” Toyota responded to complaints about sudden acceleration.

“Like many consumers, I am concerned by the seriousness and scope of Toyota’s recent recall announcements,” Waxman said.