Ray LaHood's Bottom Line on Toyota

(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
During the House Oversight Committee on Government Regulations on Toyota's recall of more than 8 million cars, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md, asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood if it is safe to drive a Toyota.

In earlier testimony LaHood responded that affected drivers should stop driving. But he quickly amended that to say he meant they should immediate drive to the dealer for a fix.

On Wednesday, LaHood offered the same advice. If a Toyota is on the list at www.dot.gov, it is not safe and the vehicles should be taken to a dealer to be fixed.

LaHood and Toyota drivers are in a tough spot. In the last three years, 23 million cars were recalled by NHTSA, the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration.

Most Toyota drivers, as well as those of other manufacturers with recall on vehicles that could result in injury, can't snap their fingers and get their cars or truck fixed. They may not have alternate transportation or the fix may not be ready, yet they are on the road steering a potential time bomb. The odds of catastrophic injury are slim, but no one wants to be the "statistic."

Yet, LaHood bravely promises that his goal is to "make sure vehicles are 100 percent safe," and said that his agency will not sleep until Toyotas are made safe.

"We are going to work 24/7 and continue until every Toyota is safe for their customers to drive," he said.

If that is the case, Secretary LaHood may never sleep. Cars are complex analog and digital machines, and certifying them 100 percent safe isn't practical. Also, the auto manufacturers have an army of lobbyists and aren't the most forthcoming when it comes to sharing vehicular data with federal agencies. "You have my commitment there will be no cozy relationships," LaHood stated during the hearing.

More on Toyota at CBSNews.com:
LaHood: Recalled Toyotas "Not Safe"
Issa: Government Shares Blame for Toyota Mess
Issa: Japanese Open Their Own Toyota Probe
CBS News Exclusive: Toyota Study Disputes Acceleration Problem
Toyota's Recall Success No Sure Bet
Toyota Has Donated to Investigating Reps.
Toyota Victim Recounts "Near Death" Trip
Issa: Toyota Hearings Will Be Fair
Are Electromagnetic Fields to Blame?


LaHood said that the NHTSA will "getting into the weeds" with a complete review of Toyota's electronics, which are the possible cause of the unintended acceleration problem. "I don't know how long the review is going to take," he allowed, but promised to get to the bottom of the Toyota problem.

In addition, if the Congress passes the budget, the Department of Transportation and NHTSA plan to add 66 new employees. Currently NHTSA has 125 engineers, including some electrical engineers LaHood said.

But it's unrealistic to think that NHTSA, which receives 30,000 complaints a year, can make autos 100 percent safe for Americans or the planet. The culture in the competitive auto industry places a high value on growth and profits, which can come at the cost of safety as the Toyota situation indicates. A cozy relationship between auto makers and government can lead to decisions that impact the safety of vehicles. NHTSA employees may have aided auto manufacturers in limiting investigations. Addressing those non-technical issues would go a long way toward improving the safety of vehicles.

  • Dan Farber On Twitter»

    Dan has more than 20 years of journalism experience. He has served as editor in chief of CBSNews.com, CNET News, ZDNet, PC Week, and MacWeek.

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