I explain at Cato at Liberty.
P.S. Also, welcome listeners from Richmond, Va.’s WRVA, which had me on to discuss these issues this morning. And a retrospective on the Toyota scare from The Truth About Cars’ Edward Niedermeyer.
Ed Wallace at Bloomberg Business Week tells why the Toyota sudden-acceleration debacle merely replays a long and sad history:
I don’t mean to single out CBS for criticism. Plenty of other media outlets share the blame. For 30 years they have treated us to Jeep, Suzuki, and Isuzu Trooper rollovers, Audi unintended acceleration, side-saddle gas tanks exploding, police cars catching on fire, Firestone tires blowing out, and then the Toyota case. And each time the media took the word of those with a vested financial interest in the outcome—and every time they got burned for doing so.
I wrote about this in my article “It Didn’t Start With Dateline NBC” and in the chapter “Trial Lawyer TV” of my book The Rule of Lawyers.
Plus: For comic relief, here’s a New York Times editorial claiming the findings “did nothing to dispel concerns” about safety. And welcome listeners of Ray Dunaway’s morning show on WTIC (Hartford).
It’s basically the same message that leaked out seven months ago. In a new post at Cato at Liberty, I raise some questions about why it took so long to release the study results.
More: Jalopnik, Coyote, Marc Hodak, Rick Woldenberg/AmendTheCPSIA, Dan Fisher/Forbes, Dan Bigman/Forbes (LaHood: “no defect, but we’ll regulate the industry anyway”); Carter Wood/ShopFloor and more, Ted Frank/PoL (class action over loss of resale value continues), New York Times, Leonard Evans/AOL. My March 2010 National Review piece “Exorcising Toyota’s Demons” is here. And welcome readers from Instapundit, Charlie Martin/PJ Tatler, Pejman Yousefzadeh, Roger Donway/Atlas Society, Ira Stoll/Future of Capitalism.
Unable to show any electronic flaw in the vehicles, plaintiff’s lawyers switch to the theory that the automaker should have embraced “brake override” technology that disengages the throttle when the brake is applied. That technology doesn’t work, of course, if the driver is in fact mistakenly hitting the accelerator when intending to hit the brake — which was what happened in earlier sudden-acceleration scares, and looks likely to be the cause of most of the Toyota incidents as well. [L.A. Times]
Product liability edition:
- You mean cigarettes were dangerous? “Florida jury awards $80M to daughter in anti-smoking case” [AP]
- “Acne drug not found to increase suicide risk” [BBC, earlier on Accutane here, here, etc.]
- “Man hit by jar of exploding fruit says $150,000 award isn’t enough” [Detroit News via Obscure Store]
- Chicago accident coverage exemplifies Toyota acceleration hysteria [Fumento/CEI] NHTSA-NRC panel findings on subject [PoL]
- Strict product liability is in decline, according to Prof. David Owen [Abnormal Use]
- More questions raised on $500 million Nevada hepatitis verdict [PoL]
- Notwithstanding chatter in press about toxic cosmetics, study finds cosmetologists have below-average cancer rates [David Oliver]
- Florida juries repeatedly hold Ford liable for millions when drivers fall asleep [five years ago on Overlawyered]
We know some consumer reporters can be easy marks for overhyped scare stories. But what excuse does a giant insurance company has for trying to knock spare change out of an automaker by endorsing the scare theories in a subrogation suit? [Mary Anne Medina, Claims Magazine] See also: Laura Zois, Maryland Accident Lawyer.
Not for the first (or fifty-first) time, the California paper acts as an uncritical stenographer of Litigation Lobby claims — then waits until paragraph 13 to advise readers that NHTSA, not exactly the friendliest witness these days, backs the automaker’s position on the question of the “black box” data. More: AP.
The Washington Post — unlike some other newspapers we might think of — doesn’t mind letting its editorial stance catch up with the facts on the ground as they appear to NHTSA staff. We’ve been on the story for quite a while.
After criticism for not releasing the results of its probe, the administration concedes that NHTSA has found little or no support for the trial lawyers’ electronic-gremlins theory. [USA Today, WSJ, L.A. Times, earlier here, here, etc.]
A new report in the WSJ quotes a retiring NHTSA official as saying higher-ups are refusing to release the results of the agency’s staff investigation into charges of Toyota sudden acceleration, because those findings are not unfavorable enough toward the automaker. I’ve got more detail in a new post at Cato at Liberty, and Ted covers the story at PoL.
Meanwhile, proponents of a sweeping expansion of federal auto safety law, one that would thrust Washington much more deeply into the operations of the automotive industry, are really in a hurry — a quick, urgent, must-do-now hurry — to pass it, even though many of its provisions have not had much airing in public debate. An editorial today in the New York Times — a newspaper that almost comically underplayed the revelations earlier this month about the NHTSA probe’s pro-Toyota results — flatly asserts that the Japanese automaker’s vehicles suffer “persistent problems of uncontrolled acceleration,” and demands that the sweeping new legislation “be passed into law without delay.” It’s almost as if they are afraid of what might happen if lawmakers pause to take a closer look.
Among the many other things the new legislation would do is greatly enhance the legal leverage of automaker or dealership employees who adopt the mantle of “whistleblowers”. But if the new revelations from a responsible career employee of NHTSA are ignored, we will have another confirmation that some types of whistleblowing are more welcome in America’s governing class than others. (& welcome Coyote, Gabriel Malor, Death by 1000 Papercuts, Mark Hemingway/D.C. Examiner (“the indispensable Overlawyered blog”), Allen McDuffee/Think Tanked readers).
Years ago I promised myself that I’d stop wading into comments sections, but my breach of that promise today in a trial-lawyer blog attacking me for pointing out the truth about the bogus Toyota sudden acceleration claims might amuse some readers, and I might as well get a post out of it.
“Are not companies obligated to make the safest vehicle possible?”
The safest vehicle possible is a Sherman tank with a restrictor plate preventing it from exceeding 1 mph, so the answer to your question is “no”—though certainly trial lawyers have an interest in asking you to think manufacturers are doing something wrong when they don’t.
“Until Toyota can identify the exact cause of these accidents (besides the too-convenient driver error) anything and everything is in question and must be investigated.”
I look forward to you writing NHTSA and demanding they investigate if invisible vampires are causing elderly drivers to hit the wrong pedal. After all, anything and everything is in question, and you reject Occam’s Razor when it comes to an alleged electronic defect that simultaneously causes three separate systems to malfunction six times more often for elderly drivers than non-elderly drivers, so why not demand an investigation of the equally unlikely invisible-vampire problem as long as you’re rejecting science?
I’ve got a new post up at Cato at Liberty on the new report that NHTSA investigators found no electronic flaws in the cars and extensive evidence of driver error. Ted’s post yesterday is below. Press coverage of yesterday’s numbers: USA Today, Bloomberg (Litigation Lobby figure Joan Claybrook doubles down on gotta-be-electronics line), Boston Globe (& welcome The Week readers).
WSJ (h/t C.W.):
The U.S. Department of Transportation has analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles involved in accidents blamed on sudden acceleration and found that at the time of the crashes, throttles were wide open and the brakes were not engaged, people familiar with the findings said.
In other words, driver error, except in the one-in-a-million instances when a gas pedal was trapped by a poorly-installed floor mat. Will plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been conspiracy-theorizing about a non-existent electronic defect withdraw their class actions and product-liability suits, much less apologize? How about AP and the news media? Don’t count on it. Earlier from me and from Walter.
Except that even a cursory reading of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s news release should have kept the magazine from jumping to any such conclusion. Michael Fumento explains.
The quest to do something about the imagined Toyota crisis may result in a federal mandate for all cars to include “brake-override” features that cut off power when the driver hits the brake. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Michael Fumento says many cars on the road do already have such a feature — but lawmakers don’t seem overly curious as to whether it’s made a difference.
Michael Fumento warns that the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “has no category for ‘sudden acceleration,’ merely a ‘speed control’ category.” The result is that many complaints of lack of acceleration can wind up getting counted and cited as if they supported the trial lawyers’ case.