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Correction to This Article
This article originally stated that the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee will hold two hearings next week on NHTSA's role in overseeing auto safety. In fact, Senate Commerce will hold one hearing next week, on Tuesday. The other, in a House committee, had not been scheduled as of Thursday morning.

At Toyota hearings, auto safety agency feels the heat

Henry Waxman
Henry Waxman (Jay Mallin - Bloomberg)
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By Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two House hearings this week to probe Toyota's handling of sudden, unintended acceleration in its vehicles also included sharp criticism of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. NHTSA, responsible for overseeing auto safety, was faulted for failing in its duties in more than 60 statements by members of Congress, Toyota drivers and motor safety experts.

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NHTSA's role in the crisis will be the main focus of two upcoming hearings; the first set for Tuesday with the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee:

"Toyota had three responses: First, blame the driver. Second, blame the floor mat. Third, blame a sticky gas pedal. And NHTSA -- without doing any meaningful independent review -- accepted Toyota's explanations . . . Carmakers have entered the electronics era, but NHTSA seems stuck in a mechanical mind-set."

Joan Claybrook, a former NHTSA administrator and a former president of Public Citizen:

"This agency is a cop. It's a policeman. They should act like one. If people don't like it, too bad. . . . I don't know if [NHTSA] has been beaten down or it just doesn't care."

Rhonda Smith, whose Lexus sedan in 2006 suddenly accelerated for six minutes, reaching 100 mph. NHTSA blamed the floor mat:

"Shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy, and shame on you, NHTSA, for not doing your job. . . . We would also like to ask this committee to set a higher standard for NHTSA to be held accountable for in the future."

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee:

"NHTSA failed the taxpayers, and Toyota failed their customers."

Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies:

"The NHTSA investigator came in with a preconceived notion of what happened: 'This [electrical problems] can't possibly happen.' That concerns us. They have to come in with an open mind. They must sink their teeth into issues."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood responded to criticism of the agency:

"We aren't going to compromise on safety. Not on my watch. We are going to hold Toyota's feet to the fire."


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