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Letter to The Honorable Calvin L. Scovell, III

Letter

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

Commerce Chairmen Send Letter Requesting Expanded Audit of NHTSA in Toyota Recall Investigation

Senator John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and Senator Mark Pryor, Chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance, sent a letter yesterday to the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation as part of its investigation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) handling of the Toyota recalls.

The letter requests that the Inspector General expand his audit to encompass:

* Industry-wide complaints or reports collected by NHTSA regarding sudden unintended acceleration and brake failure in automobiles with electronic throttle and braking control systems;

* Compliance with the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act reporting requirements; and

* Government ethics at NHTSA.

The text of the letter follows:

The Honorable Calvin L. Scovell, III

Inspector General

Office of the Inspector General

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., 7th Floor

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Inspector General Scovell:

It is our understanding that the Office of Inspector General for the Department of Transportation has initiated an audit of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and its role in the recent wave of recalls issued by Toyota Motor Company. The Commerce Committee has undertaken its own inquiry into this matter, including a review of documents provided by NHTSA and Toyota, and plans to hold a hearing on the recalls. We appreciate your office starting a separate audit. To make sure your review is comprehensive, we ask that the investigation be expanded to encompass the points raised in this letter. We further request that your office keep us apprised of the progress of this investigation.

NHTSA is charged by law with the mission to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes, through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity. We are concerned by recent news reports that may lead the public to believe that NHTSA employees and leadership in recent years have not lived up to this mission. These recent reports indicate that NHTSA may have internal deficiencies in investigating certain safety defects, and even worse, the potential to be excessively influenced by the industry they are supposed to oversee on the public's behalf. We expect your investigation to expose such systemic and leadership deficiencies, should they exist, past or present.

In this regard, we ask that your investigation include a full review of NHTSA's ongoing and past actions related to the recent recalls announced by Toyota Motor Company. We also ask that you review NHTSA's actions related to the issue of sudden unintended acceleration and brake failure in all automobiles containing electronic throttle and braking control systems. This review should determine whether NHTSA carried a bias against regulating non-mechanical vehicle components, had been excessively influenced by automobile manufacturers in regulating electronic control mechanisms, and/or lacked the resources to adequately investigate electronic control mechanisms.

As part of this review, we believe the American public should know when the agency received related consumer complaint data, what information was contained in the data, how NHTSA processed the collected data, whether NHTSA followed established consumer protection procedures and requirements of the agency under law, and what more could have been done or can be done to protect consumers. The public also deserves answers to news reports that have raised concerns about the so-called revolving door of employees between the agency and the industry it is supposed to oversee.

Therefore, as part of your investigation, we ask that you review the following specific matters related to NHTSA:

- Industry-wide complaints regarding sudden unintended acceleration and brake failure in automobiles containing electronic throttle and braking control systems:

* The nature and number of complaints or reports collected by NHSTA

* When such complaints or reports were received (number by year)

* How such complaints were registered in NHTSA's database

* NHTSA's collection of similar reports from foreign countries

- Compliance with the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability, and Documentation (TREAD) Act and other NHTSA reporting requirements:

* The process by which manufacturers reported data related to unintended acceleration and brake failure

* How NHTSA categorized, processed, and investigated reported data and defect petitions related to unintended acceleration and brake failure

* Actions taken by NHTSA related to received reports of unintended acceleration and brake failure

* Actions taken by manufacturers to address recommendations from NHTSA

- Government Ethics at NHTSA:

* Whether NHTSA officials excluded relevant data from its investigations and reports

* Whether NHTSA officials ignored internal data in favor of data provided by automobile manufacturers

* Whether NHTSA inaccurately categorized reported data in its database

* Whether former NHTSA officials employed or under contract by automobile manufacturers are in positions to exert influence on NHTSA decisions regarding investigations

We realize that completing this review may take a number of months, and as such, request that your office provide us with regular updates. Furthermore, please be advised that the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, may further request testimony and preliminary reports from you in the coming weeks.

Sincerely,

John D. Rockefeller IV
Chairman Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

Mark L. Pryor
Chairman Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and
Insurance


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