Toyota Recalls Prompt Call for Regulatory Overhaul

The recent Toyota recalls have at least one lawmaker calling for a reform of auto safety regulations in the U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, said yesterday that Toyota’s handling of safety issues was unacceptable, and should spark new legislation aimed at reform.

Since last fall, Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for problems involving sudden acceleration. Toyota has blamed the speed control issues on defective floor mats and faulty gas pedals. In the U.S., five deaths have occurred in auto accidents involving the unintended acceleration of a Toyota or Lexus vehicle. Last August, a California Highway Patrol trooper and three members of his family were killed in such a crash in San Diego County, just south of Orange. Dozens of other fatalities over the past decade alleged to be the result of Toyota unintended acceleration crashes are currently being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Earlier this month, the NHTSA announced it was seeking the maximum penalty allowed by law – $16.375 million – from Toyota for the way it handled a January accelerator pedal recall. At that time, the NHTSA said it had learned through documents obtained from Toyota that the company knew of the sticky pedal defect since at least September 29, 2009 – four months before it recalled the pedals in the U.S. That day, Toyota issued repair procedures to their distributors in 31 European countries and Canada to address complaints of sticky accelerator pedals, sudden increases in engine RPM, and sudden vehicle acceleration. The documents also show that Toyota was aware that consumers in the U.S. were experiencing the same problems, the statement said.

Yesterday, after the NHTSA briefed the House Energy and Commerce Committee on its investigation into Toyota, Klobuchar called the automaker’s failure to act in the U.S. when it notified European dealers of the accelerator pedal problems unacceptable.

“The safety of the American people should never be left to negotiation, and Toyota’s responsibility to its customers should be the same in Belgium as it would be in Bemidji,” Klobuchar said. “Toyota’s reported withholding of vital safety information is a glaring sign that NHTSA must be given more authority to ensure driver safety.”

Klobuchar promised to work with work with the Commerce Committee to develop legislation that will address gaps in highway safety oversight, including strengthening the penalty structure.

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