The Circus Is Back in Town


Testifying before Congress this week about Toyota and NHTSA’s alleged dereliction in recalling vehicles with sticky accelerator pedals will be “safety expert” Joan Claybrook of Public Citizen. As NHTSA administrator in the late 1970s, Claybrook spearheaded a campaign to mandate front-seat air bags, despite industry studies that showed they would kill small children. Sixty-five kids died as a result (Toyota’s sticky pedals are alleged to have caused 19 deaths).

Claybrook will be followed to the microphone by Clarence Ditlow, another “safety expert” (“trial-lawyer stooge” would be a more accurate term), who in 1993 became a public laughingstock when he endorsed NBC’s use if igniters to “prove” that the fuel tanks in GM pickups were ticking time bombs. NBC had to publicly apologize for its deception.

And for two days, congressman will browbeat NHTSA for not taking a more active role in enforcing safety. This the same agency whose CAFE fuel-economy rules have cost 3,000 lives over the last decade.

Let the circus begin. Or more accurately, the blood-letting at the Colosseum. After all, Toyota’s federal judges in this theater are also major shareholders in Toyota’s competition, GM and Chrysler.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s alleged accelerator problem has not been duplicated by expert tests. Maybe 60 Minutes can drag out its ole transmission-fluid pressure bottle in order to force the Toyotas to suddenly accelerate — just as the program did to fan the flames of Audi’s “sudden acceleration scandal” in 1986.

For the record, Car & Driver reminds us, “the U.S. government determined that every single so-called (Audi) unintended acceleration accident was the result of driver error.”

Henry Payne is an editorial writer and cartoonist for the Detroit News.


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