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Auto safety chief defends agency over Toyota recalls

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Auto safety chief defends agency over Toyota recalls



WASHINGTON – The chief U.S. auto safety regulator told Congress today that regulators had done their jobs in pressuring Toyota to recall 5.6 million vehicles in the United States for problems linked to sudden acceleration.

David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, also said he will consider a bevy of new rules in the wake of the Toyota recalls, but that he has enough resources at the moment to watch the industry.

Federal officials have said NHTSA had to press Toyota into its recalls, including a December visit by acting administrator Ron Medford to Toyota's headquarters. But several lawmakers have questioned why NHTSA did not order recalls earlier, despite thousands of complaints and eight probes involving sudden acceleration dating back to 2003.

“I don’t see Toyota as an indicative example of failure,” Strickland said. “I see it as NHTSA doing its job. I think Toyota and the wide-ranging recalls that it’s executed, that’s the kind of response I would want as an administrator.”

He added: “A lapdog doesn’t open eight investigations.”

The Energy and Commerce subcommittee headed by Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., noted that despite the Obama administration’s increase in NHTSA’s budget for 2011, the agency had just 57 people to investigate recalls and the 30,000 consumer complaints it typically receives a year; Strickland noted NHTSA received 10,000 complaints in February alone.

U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, said NHTSA needed to account for why “there are some people who feel it has not fulfilled its responsibility to keep the American public safe.”

The part of NHTSA’s budget “dedicated to vehicle safety has remained stagnant, and your resources are far below the resources that were available for the agency when it was at its height,” he said.

But Strickland said if Congress approves the administration’s budget, he would have the necessary resources, including new employees.

Strickland said the agency would consider new rules involving brake override systems, data recorders and accelerator pedal designs, all issues stemming from the Toyota recalls. NHTSA is already conducting a review of electronic throttle controls and Toyota’s handling of its recalls.

The testimony by came the same day that the agency announced that U.S. deaths in auto accidents hit their lowest level since 1954, at 33,963, even as the total miles driven rose slightly.



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