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Standoff ensues in runaway Toyota Prius probe when congressional aide shows up

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Standoff ensues in runaway Toyota Prius probe when congressional aide shows up

By Denis Poroy, AP

If you think finding Mideast peace and deciphering the health care bill are complicated, considered the protocol surrounding the investigation into what caused a 2008 Toyota Prius to speed up to 90 miles an hour on a California freeway on its own and almost kill its driver, James Sikes, seen above meeting with reporters outside of a Toyota dealership near San Diego.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigators started probing the cause of the incident yesterday, but stopped abruptly when a congressional aide demanded to get in on the act, the Los Angeles Times reports. The aide had come to witness the inspection, expected to take several days. The resulting delay took hours to resolve:

The team stopped work as soon as the unnamed aide from the office of Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., showed up, but NHTSA later relented. Now the aide gets to watch. Other reports say the California Highway Patrol is taking part in the probe, too.

And, of course, Toyota said Tuesday it is dispatching a lone field representative, not an army of engineers , to do its own tests on the car. It is the latest example of Toyota's aloof reaction to what sounds like the case that could become the smoking gun of unintended acceleration. Toyota might as well underplay it. Sounds like Toyota won't get a shot at the car until the others are finished.

The incident happened the same day that Toyota put on a big seminar to try to deflate television news reports and convince the media that the computer systems in the car are not at fault.



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Standoff ends over runaway Prius exam

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration Wednesday backed down from its refusal to let a congressional aide watch government investigators inspect a runaway Toyota Prius.

The situation was defused after a phone call between a top House Republican and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wanted an aide to observe two NHTSA investigators inspect the 2005 Prius that raced at more than 90 miles per hour Monday before it was stopped with the help of a California Highway Patrol officer.

Issa, who represents Southern California, got permission from the owner and Toyota to watch NHTSA's inspection. But NHTSA administrator David Strickland told Issa his aide wouldn't be permitted to attend the inspection at a San Diego-area Toyota dealership.

When Issa's staffer walked in anyway, NHTSA halted the inspection -- an act that Issa spokesman Kurt Bardella called a "standoff."

"For more than 10 years, NHTSA has operated under a veil of secrecy and once that veil was lifted, we found out that they weren't doing their job and jeopardized the safety of America's drivers," Issa said.

Olivia Alair, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department, said NHTSA's investigations are "non-political and transparent."

"That is why inspections are conducted by professional staff without the involvement of anyone other than the owner and manufacturer, and why political appointees are not directly involved in investigations," she said.

Issa and LaHood then spoke by phone, and while the content of that conversation isn't known, NHTSA agreed to allow Issa's aide to watch the remainder of the inspection.

"I think it is a good step forward that he acknowledged the benefit of bringing in congressional oversight into NHTSA's process," Issa said.

Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide over sudden acceleration concerns, including 6 million in the United States.

NHTSA has received complaints alleging 52 deaths since 2000 and more than 2,600 incidents.

Congress is to hold another hearing on NHTSA's future today, and Strickland is to testify.

Also Wednesday, Toyota turned over to a House committee a controversial memo from Toyota workers in Japan to company executives, raising safety concerns.

The Oct. 3, 2006, memo was requested by Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee after it was first published by the Los Angeles Times.

The Detroit News on Wednesday obtained an English translation of the two-page memo from Toyota workers warning that "the future existence of the company will be threatened by this grave problem" of rising recalls.

The memo was sent to then-Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe and was written by Tadao Wakatsuki of the All Toyota Union..

Towns said the memo showed Toyota should have listened to its employees.

"Almost four years ago, these Toyota employees had the courage to warn their CEO that safety was being sacrificed in favor of saving money. If he had listened, today we might be in a different place," Towns said.

The union officials noted that Toyota's recalls had increased as the company cut costs and boosted production. Toyota declined to comment on the memo, except to confirm they had given it to the committee.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100311/AUTO01/3110366/1148/auto01/Standoff-ends-over-runaway-Prius-exam#ixzz0hsVKWqj7

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That kind of crap is going to turn this issue completely into a political power game that will remove the entire focus on bringing about accountability and safety from Toyota. Hopefully I'm completely wrong here and we won't end up seeing ridiculously expensive and over-regulated measures placed against all automakers as a result of a pissing match between government bodies and self-interest posturing by members of congress.

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