Toyota

Car safety regulators seek more money

Bob Moon Mar 11, 2010
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Toyota

Car safety regulators seek more money

Bob Moon Mar 11, 2010
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TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: The New York crash of a Toyota Prius is drawing the attention of federal regulators. The driver of the car said it accelerated on its own, careened down a driveway, across a road
and into a stone wall. The incident draws even more questions over the safety record of Toyota. And then there’s this House panel that holds a hearing today about whether the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs to get tougher on automakers in general. Marketplace senior business correspondent Bob Moon reports.


Bob Moon: The high drama that played out on a freeway near San Diego this week seized the nation’s attention: A frantic driver’s call for help as he struggled for control of his Toyota Prius:

HIGHWAY PATROL DISPATCHER: A Prius?

JAMES SIKES: Yeah.

DISPATCHER: And what’s going on? Is your accelerator stuck?

SIKES: Yeah, I, I’ve tried to pull the . . . yeah yeah.

Whatever’s going wrong with a relatively small number of Toyotas, though, does all this attention reflect some kind of wider breakdown of automotive safety?

The industry answers with an emphatic “no,” insisting today’s vehicles are safer than ever. And its lobbying group contends the effectiveness of what it calls “tough but fair” regulation is born out by the data.

Wade Newton speaks for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers:

Wade Newton: Those numbers show a decline in fatalities and injury rates, even as miles traveled and as the number of vehicles on the roadway has gone up during the same period.

The auto makers’ group recently argued in a letter to lawmakers that Congress has consistently exceeded budget requests for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. But former administrator Joan Claybrook insists the agency is suffering from a “woeful” lack of resources:

Joan Claybrook: Its total budget is $132 million, a pittance to run a government agency that regulates all motor vehicles in the United States. It’s so incapable of doing its job with that limited amount of money.

Beyond that, Claybrook says the agency needs authority to press criminal charges against carmakers that resist recalling vehicles they know are defective.

CLAYBROOK: The auto industry has sort of treated this agency as a sucker. They’ve tried to manipulate it and they don’t respect it, and I think it’s time for that to stop.

For its part, the industry says it wants government regulators to have — quote — “all the resources needed.”

I’m Bob Moon for Marketplace.

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