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.
Is the Japanese company super-extra-resistant to discovery demands, or is it just behaving the way other automakers would, backed up by a Japanese legal environment that is less oriented than ours toward compulsory disclosure-on-demand managed by hostile lawyers? Michael Fumento: “it’s clear from the article that the ‘experts’ upon whom the journalists relied aren’t just lawyers, aren’t just trial lawyers, but are trial lawyers suing Toyota.”
Revealing vignette from AP coverage last month:
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero has been pushing [Michigan Attorney General Mike] Cox to aggressively go after the Japanese automaker, saying in a statement last week that Cox should file a claim on behalf of all owners of Toyota vehicles in Michigan and seek to recover damages under state and federal consumer protection laws.
“If Mike Cox won’t stand up for Michigan consumers and hold Toyota accountable for these reprehensible actions, he isn’t doing his job,” Bernero said. The Lansing mayor heads the Mayors and Municipalities Automotive Coalition, an advocacy group for communities that depend on the domestic auto industry.
Michael Fumento on “misinformation cascades” [Philadelphia Inquirer]
According to Kelley’s Blue Book, consumers are trending back toward the Japanese maker in their buying plans. [New York Times "Bucks" blog] That’s despite the menace of rays from outer space, as denounced by one anonymous informant to NHTSA. [Detroit Free Press, which has a PDF of the submission from "A Concerned Scientist"]
More: On a more serious note, Holman Jenkins has a good column today [WSJ, sub-only] tracing the key role of bandwagon effects in sudden acceleration consciousness (which is one reason waves of complaints tend to occur in clumps, by carmaker and otherwise). Excerpt:
…In 2001, at least four papers were presented at the annual meeting of the Trial Lawyers Association urging a revival of sudden unintended acceleration litigation, insisting that such cases could prevail in absence of evidence of a defect, and even amid evidence of driver error, simply by harping in front of a jury on a record of “Other Similar Incidents” (OSI).
That’s the roadmap being followed now, as lawyer Randy Roberts told CNBC this week: “Toyota is very good at taking one consumer complaint about sudden unintended acceleration and dissecting it and convincing you that it may have been a floor mat or driver error or a sticky pedal. But when you put all those complaints out on the table, then you can see the big picture. That’s how you connect the dots.”
Huh? The logic here is ridiculous. To wit: 15 examples of X causing Y are proof that something other than X must cause Y.
Pretty much shows that he was faking it, according to a memo in Jalopnik’s hands. Kudos to Michael Fumento for calling it.
Don’t miss Walter’s phenomenal overview of the Toyota sudden acceleration frenzy, and its remarkable similarity’s to last generation’s Audi frenzy. At today’s NRO.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), who chairs the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, posted documents purporting to show that Toyota held onto safety documents it was supposed to turn over to opponents in litigation. Turns out the documents had been shoddily snipped, edited and mischaracterized to advance the charges against the automaker. [Christine Tierney, Detroit News via Henry Payne, NRO; more background on whistleblower controversy, The Recorder last year]
My Toyota op-ed is going viral, with dozens of retweets, and listings on the front pages of Hot Air and reddit—not to mention an Instalink. And Alex Tabarrok tests my numbers at Marginal Revolution.
Update: Don’t miss Megan McArdle’s comprehensive take.