Saturday, 20 March 2010

As Defective Toyota Crises Revs Up, Transportation Secretary Gets More Involved in Auto Safety

When Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood assumed his duties, his primary focus became stronger measures to prevent distracted driving accidents. However, as the Toyota crisis has accelerated (no pun intended) the Sec. has found his attentions increasingly being diverted to an overhaul of auto safety systems in the country.

Toyota’s problems have laid bare the shortcomings of federal safety regulators for all to see. Secretary LaHood quickly found himself at the center of questions of enhanced auto safety. Left to himself, LaHood would no doubt have liked to continue his efforts into stronger laws against distracted driving. However, he now faces questions from lawmakers, the American public and California product liability attorneys about vehicle safety procedures.

He has promised lawmakers that he will look into systems that can prevent acceleration problems, similar to the ones in Toyota vehicles. Those procedures include the installation of brake overriding systems in all vehicles. These systems would help the motorist control the car when it accelerates to excessive speeds, thereby preventing accidents like the kind that killed four people in San Diego, California in August last year.

Sec. LaHood has also said that his agency will look into mandating black box recorders in all cars. The recorders could provide valuable information to reconstruct an accident in the aftermath of a crash. Besides, he is also looking closely at the problem of federal auto safety regulators acting as lobbyists for automakers. This has been a long-standing problem at the NHTSA. Critics have insisted that NHTSA staffers often leave their positions join lucrative jobs at automakers like Toyota. The prospect of high-paying positions with these companies could likely cause these staff members to go soft on those companies while they work at the NHTSA.

None of these are simple issues. Systemic issues like the relationship between federal safety regulators and the auto makers they regulate, can take years or even decades, to unravel. The Secretary is also likely to face stiff opposition to any plans to mandate black box recorders or brake overriding systems on all cars.

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