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Toyota Gas Pedals, Safety Officials and Victims

[Chairman Towns] — introduce our third panel
of witnesses. Mrs. Lastrella, welcome to the committee. Mrs. Lastrella lost family
members in a car accident involving a Toyota vehicle. I want
you to know you have our deepest sympathy. I know how tough
it is when you lose a loved one. So thank you so much for coming. Mr. Haggerty experienced a sudden unintended
acceleration in a Toyota vehicle. I can imagine what that’s
like. So I want to thank you, too, for coming today. I imagine
that experience of all of a sudden your car takes off. I can
imagine. Mrs. Claybrook, a former Administrator of
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and
president emeritus of the Public Citizen. Welcome. We’re so delighted
to have you and your experience that you could share with
us. Mr. Ditlow, the executive director of the
Center for Auto Safety. We are delighted to have you with
us as well. So what we will do is just start with you,
Mrs. Lastrella, and just come right down the line. You have
5 minutes. Of course, when you start out, the light is on
green, and then it turns to yellow, and then of course it becomes
red. Red everywhere means stop. So we will stop with
that. Mrs. Lastrella, you start first. I have to swear you in, too. [Witnesses sworn]. [Chairman Towns] Let the record reflect that
all the witnesses answered in the affirmative. [Mrs. Lastrella] Mr. Chairman, Congressman
Issa, and the members of the congressional committee, thank
you for inviting me here and giving me the opportunity to speak
for my four siblings, to testify for the Toyota recall
as they relate to my beloved family who were taken prematurely
away from us. I would not discuss or talk about the accident,
as we have heard enough. We have heard so much from the
media anywhere throughout the world. I’m here to speak for
my four children and for the safety of the consumers throughout
the world. I braved this time myself. I would like to introduce myself. I am Fe
Lastrella. I am a school teacher by profession and I ventured
into the real estate business when we moved to Vallejo.
Nobody knows probably where Vallejo is. That is a suburb of San
Francisco, CA. We moved in 1977 to Vallejo, but we were in Alameda
for quite a while before coming to California. My husband
was stationed in Midway Island. So I was married to Cleto Lastrella
for 46 years. He was a retired Command Master Chief,
U.S. Navy, for 30 years, and worked for the Federal Government
for another 10 years. We have five children. The oldest one
was Cleofe Lastrella Saylor. Chris Lastrella, the middle
of the five, who was with them, who called and dared to call
911. As I mentioned earlier, I will not discuss the accident. So let me start with Cleofe. Cleofe, when
she graduated from the University of California, Davis,
she worked for her immediate boss for a year in the research
department. Then she worked for Calgene, in which she has–and
I went through her experiment. I know I only have 5 minutes,
but I’d like to mention this because she had that experiment
in which we didn’t mention the cotton. It was presented by the
president of Calgene on TV. And then she worked for various
pharmaceutical and technological companies, and the last
one was AMBRX in LaJolla, CA, in which she received an achievement
award for significant technological innovations awarded
to her in October 2009. Mark Wesley Saylor, her husband, was a highway
patrol officer, who loved her dearly. He was respected.
A very respectful person and very caring. He was
a person of honor and integrity. He was a very religious man, a
devout father and husband. He gained respect from his colleagues
and friends. Mark dedicated his time in life to his family
and to his job. In 1997, he responded to a traffic collision
on Interstate 5. He saved the life of a man who was strapped
in his car, burning car, and he was awarded for that, too, for
his effort and for his superior act. This is ironic; he saved
someone, but he was not able to save his family from the crash. Mahala Manda Saylor, that is my 13-year old
granddaughter, she was a promising athlete. Her love for
soccer made her a team captain. Mahala was blessed for a parent
like Mark and Cleofe. After working hours, her parents would
attend to her games, to her practice, to school, and to
church. The week of the tragedy, my daughter Cleofe took off for
a week to prepare her daughter entering ninth grade at Mater
Dei Catholic School in Chula Vista. Mahala missed the invitation
and the opportunity to travel, as she was invited
by the Sports Ambassador People to People Soccer Cup in
Vienna, Austria. Knowing Mark and Cleofe, they will make an
investment on their child’s future. That is Mahala. Chris Lastrella’s passion was basketball.
He graduated at St. Vincent-St. Patrick High School. He worked
for the United Parcel Service as loading supervisor. After
his graduation in college at the University of East Bay–it
was University of California, Hayward–he went into the financial
mortgage business, also as we encouraged, because it
goes hand-in-hand with the real estate business. So he ventured
into that. While doing that, he worked for Wells Fargo Mortgage
Co. While doing that, he went to school for voice acting in
San Francisco in Sausalito. Chris’ voice was heard over because
of his practice, and he was so composed when he said–he was
the one that called for 911. And everybody heard it. I have not
heard it. I stayed away from it. I don’t want to hear the rest
of it. And the message was strong. He asked the operator
to hold on and pray, pray, pray. That was very great of him, the
courage that he had. I know it was the four of them were on
the verge of their deathbed and he was able to call 911. And
I thank him for that. August 28th was the tragic date that triggered
this all. But we didn’t hear about it until the following
morning when the law enforcement officer came to our door
with a note to contact the coroner’s office. And I said,
“Oh, no.” How could you imagine coroner’s office, and what does
that tell you? So, was it only my daughter? Because I know
my daughter always checks her cell, her experiments on
weekends to see how they are doing. That’s how dedicated she was.
So when we heard from the cop that there were three of them,
I said, How about another person? And I was so glad that there’s
another person somewhere that was not with them. But then
when we called the coroner’s office, there were four. Could you
imagine? It’s unimaginable to lose four people in your siblings. So I brave this moment so hopefully, Mr. Chairman,
and the committee, and the different organizations,
the Department of Transportation and NHTSA would do something
for the safety of the world. We don’t want another person, another
family, to suffer like we are suffering. We have–at the time we have a 7-month old
baby. His name is Connor Toyooka. Toyooka. My Japanese son-in-law.
We were talking to him. I know he is bubbly all the
time. But he would not even smile. That is how the impact of
the tragedy was felt in my household. It had a big impact on my
friends and family and the whole community in San Francisco area,
in the San Diego area. Thank you so much for listening to me. And
I know I didn’t come here to cry on someone else’s shoulder.
But as I mentioned earlier, it is for the safety of the world.
Thank you. [Chairman Towns] Thank you very much, Mrs.
Lastrella, for your very moving testimony. [Chairman Towns] Mr. Haggerty. [Mr. Haggerty] My name is Kevin Haggerty,
and I owned a 2007 Toyota Avalon. For the past 6 months I have
experienced five events where my car accelerated on its own.
The first few times I experienced the car accelerating without
my foot on the gas pedal, I was driving through town. The car
would go back to its normal RPMs after driving a few miles or after
the car was stopped, turned off, and restarted. After
experiencing the sudden acceleration a third time, I took my
vehicle to be checked by my local auto body shop–or auto
shop. They could not find anything wrong with my vehicle. After
two more incidents, I brought my car to a Toyota dealership
on November 11, 2009, to be checked. After keeping my
car for 2 days, they found no unintended acceleration problems
and confirmed that the factory mats were installed properly. Then on December 28, 2009, I was driving to
work on Route 78 in New Jersey. The car began to accelerate
without my foot on the gas pedal. As I pushed on the brake,
the car continued to accelerate. I was not able to stop by pressing
on the brake pedal. The only way I was able to slow the
car down was to put the car into neutral. I got off at the next
exit, which was the exit for the dealership. Determined to get
the car to the dealership, I showed them firsthand that–I
wanted to get it to the dealership to show them firsthand that
this was happening. I drove approximately five miles by alternating
from neutral to drive and pressing very firmly on the brakes. On my way there, I called them and asked for
the service manager to meet me outside. As I pulled into
the front of the dealership, I put the car into neutral and
exited the car. With the brakes smoking from the excessive braking
and the car’s RPMs racing, the manager entered my car. He
confirmed that the gas pedal was not obstructed, the mats were
properly in place, and the RPMs were very high. They contacted a Toyota tech to come to the
dealership and look at my car. He arrived within a few hours.
The dealership had my car for 1\1/2\ weeks. When I was told
the car was ready to picked up, I asked what problem they had
found. I was told by the service manager that, per Toyota, they
replaced the throttle body and accelerator assembly, including
one or two of the sensors. Since they cannot tell me exactly what problem
they found with these parts and why they were replaced,
I started doing some research about Toyotas online. I came
across Sean Kane’s name in multiple articles I read, and decided
to contact him. When I reached him, I explained my situation
and expressed my fear of driving this car in light of what
just happened. I no longer felt safe in it, since nobody could
explain why the acceleration problem occurred. Sean did not
have an answer for the cause and was surprised that the dealership
replaced parts and witnessed it firsthand. I was then contacted by ABC News and they
were interested in doing a followup story on accelerator problems.
ABC also confirmed with Toyota that the parts taken
out of my car were sent to Toyota’s corporate offices to be evaluated.
I agreed to an interview, mainly because I wanted to help
people understand how to safely stop a car by putting it into
neutral. I continued driving my car out of necessity,
but refused to put my children in it. About 3 weeks ago a
local dealership owner, after hearing about my story, made
me a generous offer on a new vehicle as well as offered to pay
off the balance of the loan on my Avalon. For my safety, as well
as the safety of my family, I took him up on this offer. I just want to confirm one thing on this,
my statement. I explained the first couple of times it happened
I was able to apply the brake and slow down the car, but
I was going at a slower pace. I was going 15, 20 miles an hour
through town. On December 28th, when I was driving at a faster
rate, 60-65 miles an hour, I was not able to stop the car just
by applying the brakes. The only way to stop it was by putting
it into neutral. [Chairman Towns] Thank you very much. Thank
you very much for your testimony. [Mr. Haggerty] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. [Chairman Towns] Ms. Claybrook. [Ms. Claybrook] Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman.
I appreciate the opportunity to be here. I’d
like my whole statement in the record because I’m not going
to have time to read it. [Chairman Towns] Without objection. [Ms. Claybrook] I just want to highlight a
few things and try not to be repetitive of other things that
have been said today. The first thing I’d like to mention
is that I do believe that Toyota has harmed its trust and confidence
of the American people, and particularly with the document
that has been mentioned at this hearing. One of the things
that concerns me enormously is that there are no criminal penalties
in the NHTSA statute. And I’m concerned about that because
the Consumer Product Safety Commission has them, the Food
and Drug Administration has them, the FCC has them. In an article in the New York Times recently
on foreign bribes and misleading, a company paid $400
million in penalties and has the threat of going to jail. So the
penalties at this agency, which total $16.4 million maximum
at this point, are way understated for the size of the companies
that this agency is regulating. And so I hope that this will
be something that will be taken up by the committee as a recommendation.
I know you’re not doing the legislative part. I’d like to say for the people who have been
victims of this–and Marcy Kaptur was very articulate
about it; really, the only remedy they have, other than getting
a new car and trying to forget the horrible experiences
and loss of family and friends, is a lawsuit. That is really
their only remedy. That is the only way that they can individually
punish Toyota. Even that really isn’t a punishment because
it’s just a financial penalty. But it’s not really a penalty
for the people who made the decisions. That’s the reason
that I’m interested in criminal penalties. I would like to mention something about NHTSA
and the revolving door. There are 28 former top officials
of this agency that have gone to work for the auto
companies in one capacity or another in the last 25 years.
A former NHTSA administrator, several of them former chief
counsels, former deputy administers, top engineers, and lawyers
of this agency, have become the face and voice of auto manufacturers
after they have left the agency. And they have left it
way before—- [Chairman Towns] Not just Toyota, but different
companies. [Ms. Claybrook] Not Toyota, but all these
companies. Toyota has had several. But I’m talking about all
of the companies. So it’s not a small issue when people raise it.
I just wanted to make sure that you saw the scope of that issue. There’s been a discussion of Toyota’s secrecy,
and I just want to say that I think this has less to
do with their culture in Japan than it has to do with the fact that
they are an auto company. All the auto companies are secretive.
So it’s an issue that is really crucial. And so is NHTSA. NHTSA
is very secretive. Clarence Ditlow has filed probably
more Freedom of Information Act requests to NHTSA. And Public
Citizen, while I was the president, has litigated more than
you can possibly imagine, for no good reason. I do think that
is something that this committee may want to take a closer look
at, is how secretive this agency has been. One of the things that really got my goat
was when I read in the October 5th filing by Toyota on the
floor mat recall, October 5, 2009, is that they claimed they
were doing this, but it wasn’t a safety-related defect. Please.
Sudden acceleration isn’t safety-related? I mean it was so arrogant,
what they did, and it was so unbecoming of a company that
should have much more sensitivity than that. The other action that they took, which I found
very disappointing, was that they hired a litigation
expert company to supposedly evaluate whether or not they
have a problem with the electronics, and in fact the whole purpose
of this company is to defend manufacturers. In terms of NHTSA, I would just like to ask
you to get more details about the financial information, because
here is their budget document filed by the agency in this
Congress, and what it shows is that, of their total budget, only
15 percent is for motor vehicles. Only 15 percent. The vast
majority of it, 71 percent, is for grant and aid to the States,
and another 13 percent is for highway safety research. And
only 15 percent is for vehicle safety of the total budget of
this agency. And so when they say they can have 66 new
positions coming up or that they are going to ask for more
money, where are they going to ask for this money? Where is it going
to be? So I hope that there will be a question asked about
that. The last sort of major point–and, by the
way, this agency is the poor step-sister in DOT, because 95
percent of the deaths in Transportation occur on the highway,
and they have 1 percent of DOT’s budget. So it is a very grossly
underfunded agency. It has been for far too long. A lot has been mentioned about the event data
recorders. I will hope that you followup on that. I don’t
know whether or not Toyota has looked at the event data recorders
for the crashes that you’ve been hearing about. Have
they looked at what the event data recorder said for the
crash we just heard about or for the other 38 deaths and all those
injuries? They haven’t made it available easily in the United
States. I will bet that NHTSA doesn’t have that data. And
that would help to elaborate what actually happened in those
crashes and it wouldn’t be “he said, she said,”, it would
be factual data. The last thing is that when the Firestone-Ford
Explorer debacle happened 10 years ago, Congress passed
a new law called TREAD, and in there it required early warning
systems to be established by the agency, which it did do.
But it keeps it all secret. NHTSA is not transparent either. All
of the information is kept secret. So if you have a problem and
you go to see whether or not a company has given information
to the agency about that particular make and model of vehicle
and what the problem is, that is all you can find. But
you can’t get the number of consumer complaints, you can’t get
the number of warranty claims, you can’t get the information
about their field activities. And they don’t even have
the number of lawsuits filed in that particular case. So
you’re really disabled. And I hope that this transparency
issue will become a key concern of this committee. Last, I’d just like to say that some new safety
standards do need to be issued. I’ve got them in my
statement. [Mr. Cummings presiding]. Thank you very much. [Mr. Cummings] Mr. Ditlow. [Mr. Ditlow] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Sudden
unintended acceleration has always been recognized as
a serious safety hazard. In 1971, General Motors recalled 6.7
million Chevrolets for defective engine mounts that caused sudden
acceleration. That is the fourth largest recall ever. But
the early sudden acceleration recalls, they were mechanical
in nature. Easy to
detect, easy to fix. With the advent of electronic ignition and
cruise controls systems in the late seventies and the early
eighties, we began to see complaints that didn’t happen of a
mechanical nature. They were hard to find. In January 1989–and
this is a fundamental problem with NHTSA’s logic–the
Department of Transportation’s Transportation Systems Center
did a major study into sudden acceleration and concluded
that absent finding a defect that could cause the throttle
to open, such as a failed cruise control, it must have been
driver error. And in investigation after investigation after investigation
after 1990, the agency took the position that they
would close the investigation without a defect determination
or recall if they couldn’t find a mechanical problem that caused
the throttle to open. Beginning in 2001, though, the game changed
with the introduction of electronic throttle controls.
Complaints at the Center for Auto Safety, NHTSA, and Toyota
went up fourfold. After that, NHTSA received five defect petitions,
they opened three preliminary evaluation investigations,
and two engineering analyses. But none of these investigations
resulted in a single vehicle safety recall. What happened, the investigations as a whole,
though, show significant weaknesses in NHTSA’s enforcement
program, which Toyota exploited to avoid recalls until the
tragic crash in San Diego that took the lives of Mrs. Lastrella’s
family. In the defect petitions, most consumer complaints
were excluded because they were long duration events or
where the driver said the brakes could not bring the vehicle to
a stop. Not a single defect petition resulted in any recall. In
the most crucial investigation, which was engineering analysis
07010, NHTSA commissioned a technical study and test at
their vehicle research test center in Ohio to determine
whether it was electronic controls or floor mats that caused
it. We FOIA-ed NHTSA for the results of that test,
because their conclusion was it’s only floor mats;
there’s no EMI interference, there’s no electronic control
problem. NHTSA responded to that FOIA by saying they don’t
know how they did the test, they don’t know what they measured,
and they had no test data. In other words, they had nothing
other than a conclusion. Now as an engineer, which I am, you keep lab
books, you enter the data, you enter the test procedure.
NHTSA had nothing. Yet that report was what enabled
NHTSA to do an equipment recall of the Lexus. But look at
that equipment recall. It resulted in 55,000 vehicles on
floor mats. It was designed to fail. The completion rate in the
recall, as Representative Issa was interested in earlier,
was 40 percent; 60 percent of the mats still had never been
replaced. The only other investigation that resulted
in anything was a safety improvement campaign. What’s that?
That’s not even a safety recall. It’s just something where the
manufacturer says, There’s no safety defect; we’re not going
to even comply with– be subject to the part 573 in the Safety Act
requirements. And so when we look at all this from 2001
to the October 2009 floor mat recall, which was generated
by the San Diego crash–not by an investigation, not by anything
else. All they got was an equipment recall, which Toyota
told in its internal memo that it saved the country $100 million. The other thing that we filed a FOIA for is
the early warning system. After TREAD, as Joan indicated,
Congress established an early warning system. It was
supposed to prevent more tragedies, like Ford-Firestone. It didn’t.
We have been told there are hundreds of investigations
under early warning. The agency won’t even give us a list of the
investigations. Now, we have a number of recommendations for
moving forward to improve this process. Here’s what needs
to be done. For NHTSA, it needs to require all responses investigations
to be sworn. Just simply say the information in
here, is truthful under penalty of perjury. Not a subpoena,
just a statement or affidavit that it’s true. Make the early warning
investigations public, make the minutes public, revamp and
revise their NAS systems so we have more crash investigations
to find out what happens in crashes. Finally, they need to do a comprehensive evaluation
of electronic controls and adopt safety standards,
including the requirement that every vehicle have brake
override. For Toyota, we just have a few recommendations.
First of all, install the brake override in all the
vehicles. Open up the public record in these investigations
so we can see. Finally, for every consumer who files a complaint,
and there’s only been 2,500, give that consumer a report
and evaluation on what happened in their car and tell them what
they did to fix it. Thank you. [Mr. Cummings] Thank you very much. [Mr. Cummings] Let me just start off the questions.
Ms. Claybrook, you told the committee staff that
all of this seems to represent a failure of regulation. What’s
been wrong with NHTSA’s approach to the issue of sudden unintended
acceleration? [Ms. Claybrook] I think they lack leadership.
I don’t think there was an enforcement mentality. This agency
is a cop, it’s a policeman. It should act like a cop. If
it’s not popular, that is just too bad. They should be a cop.
I think that there has been great improvement since Secretary
LaHood took over, and David Strickland, but for the past decade
there were one investigation after another closed. No real
explanations. The agency is grossly underfunded. It never
used any of its subpoena power. It rarely hired an outside
consultant to help it. It didn’t put out public alerts. Thirty
thousand complaints that Secretary LaHood talked about. When I
was there, there were 200,000. Why were there? Because I put
out consumer alerts all the time. I asked the public to come in
and tell us about things. We had 23,000 complaints on one Ford
defect. We valued those consumer complaints because that’s the
richest, freest information you’ll ever get on what’s happening
in the highway. This agency has just been–I don’t know whether
its been beaten down or just didn’t care or whether
it didn’t have any enthusiasm, but it certainly didn’t have any
leadership. There was no caring by the top staff of that agency
that says, Tell me what’s going on with these. Give me a weekly
report. I want to know every case that’s happened. I want
to know the number of deaths, I want to know the number of industries.
And let’s put out some consumer alerts to alert the
public. And on the early warning issue, the fact that
Public Citizen had to sue the agency twice in the
mid-2000’s in order to even get just the vehicle, the make and
model of the vehicle, and the problem put in the public
record. It’s ridiculous. This whole program was meant to
be public. And if the public knows what’s going on, they’re
going to tell you. As you’ve heard today, they’re going to give
you information that is rich. And the agency should do its job. [Mr. Cummings] I’m sure you heard the testimony
of Secretary LaHood. He said that they were trying to bring
on 66 new employees, I assume to do the followup on
some of these complaints. From what you know, do you think
that is a sufficient number of folks to bring in to
do what they need to do? [Ms. Claybrook] Well, no. The agency has always
been understaffed and underfunded. When I was—- [Mr. Cummings] When were you Administrator? [Ms. Claybrook] In the Carter administration.
And when I was the administrator, we had 119 employees in
the entire Enforcement Office. Today, there are about
30 less than that. That is for standard enforcement as well as
for defect enforcement. So there are only 18 investigators in the
Defects Office for the whole country and all automobile defects.
And there’s only 57 employees just in the Defects Office.
So it is not enough. But the key issue to me is how is it going
to be allocated. Because, as I mentioned to you, 71 percent
of the money this agency gets now goes in grants to the States.
Only 15 percent of that money, which is $132 million a year,
that is the total budget for the entire Motor Vehicle program
at the Department of Transportation to do research, to set standards,
to do litigation cases that they have that come
up, to investigate defects, to investigate safety standards. So I say it needs another hundred million
dollars, minimally, right now. I also think that it
needs to be able to impose penalties against companies in that
range as well, because $16.4 million is chump change to Toyota. [Mr. Cummings] Mr. Ditlow, you said that NHTSA
has relied on an outdated sudden acceleration study; is
that right? [Mr. Ditlow] Yes. [Mr. Cummings] How do you think that’s affected
them? So they are not up to date with regard to that
issue? [Mr. Ditlow] I’m sorry? No, they are definitely
not up to date on sudden acceleration. They did more
in studies in 1975 and 1976 than they have since then. The only
study they did was one that was aimed at showing that it was
driver error that was causing sudden acceleration, not electronics. There are twice as many vehicles on the road
today and the vehicles are five times as complex. The job
is enormous, and their staffing and resources are down. [Mr. Cummings] I see. If there’s a message
that you want to deliver, Mr. Haggerty, what would that be
to NHTSA? And you, Mrs. Lastrella, what would be your message? [Mrs. Lastrella] I beg your pardon? [Mr. Cummings] If there was a message that
you want to deliver to NHTSA, what would that be? [Mrs. Lastrella] Full capacity of investigation
by NHTSA. [Mr. Cummings] Mr. Haggerty. [Mr. Haggerty] I think they need to take the
investigations more seriously. I was contacted by NHTSA from
Scott Yon. He seemed very interested in my case. He also
copied several other people in his agency. He also mentioned they
may be interested in taking a look at my car to see if there
was anything else that may be contributing to the acceleration
problems, with the electronics, and they wanted to dig into it.
And they seemed very interested. And I never heard from them after the one
conversation we had. I sent him an e-mail telling him I was
planning on selling my car. If you’re interested in taking the
car and taking a look at, please let me know. I never heard
anything back. I just wish they would take some of the complaints
very seriously, from the dealership on up, once
they get a complaint from the dealership, to contact Toyota and
take it seriously and really dig into it and find out how the
problem is and how to correct it. [Mr. Cummings] Mr. Issa. [Mr. Issa] I’d ask unanimous consent that
the prepared written statement of John Saylor, the deceased
father, be placed into the record. [Mr. Cummings] Without objection. [Mr. Issa] Mrs. Lastrella, once again, our
condolences. I had an opportunity also to be asked to pass
on again deep regret from Bob Baker, the elderly 50-year
car dealer, who simply was the unfortunate owner of the dealership
that provided the loaner car to your daughter and
son-in-law. There are many victims that we are dealing
with in this tragedy, in this group of tragedies, but none
touches us in San Diego more closely than the loss of your family. We are here today I think trying to get to
the bottom of an agency’s failures. And, Ms. Claybrook, I am deeply concerned
that the agency that you administered back in the 1970’s has
become complacent. And I would like to be fair to them and I
would like to run just a line of questioning and then talk about
some of the things that should be done to revitalize it. In 1975, a study was done just before you
became the administrator that estimated that about 50
percent of all auto accidents were alcohol related; 93 percent
of all crashes were directly or indirectly related to the individual
drivers; and approximately 13 percent were mechanical or
vehicle related. And in those days, as you and I recall, a
lot of cars were driving without automatic self-adjusting brakes
and most had drums. So no surprise that vehicles were more
a part of it. And there were 51,000 deaths in 1980, the last
year of your administration, and that was 3.35 per thousand. Now, the good news. Today, about one-third
of all fatalities are estimated to be alcohol related.
In 2008, there were 37,261 fatalities, even though our population
has grown greatly, and that is about 1 per, 1.27, I
should say, per thousand. Or actually so call it. And about
2 percent of automobile fatalities are estimated to be
directly related to the vehicle failures, meaning we have gone
from 13 percent where the car is at fault to 2 percent. Ms. Claybrook, I believe that probably a lot
of what NHTSA is dealing with is the fact that cars are
simply a lot better and less likely to fail. And, what Mr. Ditlow
has said is, they are also harder to find those failures when
they occur. You heard Secretary LaHood earlier today answering
questions about transparency of the agency, looking around the
world so that this problem or problems that had been detected
and changed differently in Japan, detected and dealt with in
Great Britain sooner than in this country. And had they been
done, no doubt in my mind, your family would still be alive. Do you believe, first of all, that the Secretary
is going to be able to make those changes within the
budget and the present constraints, if you will, of the law;
and, if not, what we need to do to help him make those changes? [Ms. Claybrook] Thank you so much for your
question, Mr. Issa. There is a lot of information in what
you said. [Mr. Issa] I don’t want to mislead people.
Cars are safer, but they are not as safe as, obviously, they
could be if the agency you once shepherded was doing a better
job. [Ms. Claybrook] And there’s also different
things. For example, there’s 10,000 rollover deaths a
year that virtually didn’t exist when I was the administrator
because we didn’t have SUVs. [Mr. Issa] And we had long gas lines then,
too. [Ms. Claybrook] Well, I issued the toughest
fuel economy standards you’ll ever see, and Lee Iacocca
can tell you that. But, yes, there has been a reduction in deaths
and injuries, and it is actually a little bit
lower right now because of the recession. If you look at the
economy and deaths on the highway, they sort of track each other. But I think that the vehicle safety standards
that we have, particularly air bags and safety seat belts,
now that are used by the vast, vast majority of public have
made a huge difference in the safety, and the campaigns
that have been launched and the laws that have been passed
on drunk driving have made a huge difference in that area.
And those are big, big issues. I still think that there are a lot of issues
that haven’t been addressed in terms of safety standards. And then we have, in the defects area, for
example, in the Ford Firestone case, there were over 200 deaths.
And I believe that the 34, 39 deaths we know about now in
the Toyota case is probably going to triple by the time all the
information comes in, because it–a lot of people don’t tell
you that it happened. In terms of big changes, I think that the
agency needs a lot more money. It has, I think, a meager
budget for the work it is required to do, and as I said I think
it needs $100 million more. And I know that’s maybe pie
in the sky, but I think that ought to be the goal fairly soon. Second, the agency collects data in a very
old-fashioned way. It collects data by doing accident investigations,
SWAT teams as Mr. Toyoda said. But they were supposed
to collect huge numbers of crash data, maybe 20,000 crashes
a year. They are now only under the funding able to collect
4,000. The reason I focus so hard on the data recorder,
the black box, is because the black box could be not
only the liberator of information about what happened in particular
crashes; it could become the data source for the agency
and very inexpensively, because it is quite accurate.
And so it should be mandatory. It should collect a lot more
data. And that data should automatically go to the agency. And
if it did, then they could take that $20 million they now spend
on crash investigations and do analyses and fill in,
in little gaps. So there’s some very special things that this
agency should do right now, and I believe that my testimony
also elaborates on that. [Mr. Issa] Thank you. And, Mr. Chairman, I would ask just to be
able to ask a question for the record very briefly. Secretary LaHood was, let’s just say, not
completely prepared to answer the questions related to,
when we do a recall, how few actually in the ordinary course
get implemented versus people get the letters, they don’t
see the significance, and they get lost. Would you answer for the
record your view of obviously, then, now, and how we could change
that? [Ms. Claybrook] Well, it’s about 75 percent,
74 percent. That is the best. We never have 100 percent.
The newer the car, the cheaper the fix, the more likely there
is to be a recall and the higher the returns are, except in
examples like this, which are so unusual where people are scared
to death, so they bring the car in to get it fixed. The agency does get quarterly reports–I mean,
quarterly reports for six quarters after a recall is
announced, so it knows what the progress is of the company
in getting these cars fixed. And it can extend that. It can also
require the company to send out a second letter. It can also require
them to do advertisements and other things like that
to publicize it if it is particularly needed. I think that one of the key issues is how
the letter is written to the consumer. When I was administrator,
I reviewed all those letters and they had to say “alert,”
“safety.” You know, now they are sort of smudged down
so that they don’t, as some people say, they don’t scare the consumer.
I want to scare the consumer. I want them to bring that
car in to get it fixed. And it is also how the dealer reacts to it.
Sometimes the dealers are underpaid, and when they are underpaid,
then they make that the last thing that they do. Sometimes
the manufacturers don’t make the parts on time,
so the letter goes out, and you can’t get your car fixed for
6 months or 4 months, and so people then don’t do it. So there are a lot of factors. And I think
that there was an investigation by the Inspector General
of DOT in 2004, I would commend that to you to look at, in which
he talked about this process, the early warning system and
getting the defects office activated. And I think that maybe another
IG report on what NHTSAis doing and could do to enhance
the repairs of these vehicles would be very worthwhile. [Mr. Issa] Thank you. [Chairman Towns] Thank you very much. And let me also again thank you so much for
your testimony. Let me begin by asking you, Ms. Claybrook,
and also Mr. Ditlow, NHTSA missed many warning signs regarding
sudden unintended acceleration. Further, it appears
that the agency was caught completely by surprise when Toyota
began a series of recalls. I thought these problems were solved
after the Ford Firestone fiasco, but clearly they were not,
according to this. What specific changes must be made at NHTSA
so we don’t see this again? Is it a resource issue, or is
it a lack of commitment? Or it is they just hope that things
will just sort of go away and they won’t have to deal with
it? [Ms. Claybrook] I think there is a wonderful
phrase that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make
them drink. And I think there are some changes that could be
made. But I think it is a leadership issue. I think it is whether
or not there is an interest by the administrator and the Secretary,
and an insistence that this part of the agency be
well-funded and that there be weekly reports on exactly what is
going on with all the defect cases they have, so that the administrator
knows that some cases have been pending for 2 or
3years, or they have been closed without a really good explanation
for why they were closed. So I think that part of it is administrative.
Part of it is transparency. If this stuff was all up on
the Internet, if it was easy to find–their Web page is disastrously
difficult to use. The early warning system doesn’t even
summarize things for you, so you have to spend hours digging through
it to try to find anything out. If the agency helped with
the transparency so that a person, like Mr. Haggerty, who has
a problem could go easily to their Web page and find out if other
people had that problem, and then there would be the ability
of the citizens to push harder as well. And also the Congress
would know. You know, your staff could check it every week:
What is the progress of this agency in doing its job? So I think transparency is a huge issue. I
think criminal penalties are a big issue, because that puts
an incentive to the manufacturer not to get caught and have
to go to jail. And when executives know there are criminal penalties
in the statutes, they behave differently. And I think
there needs to be a heavier penalty, and there needs to be
better funding. [Mr. Ditlow] In addition, the agency used
to publish monthly press releases on all the pending investigations
that went out to the media with a summary of each one. They
need to redo that again. The agency used to make public the
names and addresses of consumers so you could contact them and
get information like, are the–were the floor mats in your
car? There os a check box on a complaint form for the manufacturer
to get a complaint, but there’s no check box on that
form for the consumer to make the entire complaint public. [Ms. Claybrook] Make that clear, this is a
form filled out by the consumer. So they would say, yes, it’s
OK for you to make my name public. They now say it’s OK
to send it to the manufacturer, but here they would have to
say it’s OK to make it public. And then, as Clarence says, we
could have called Mr. Haggerty or whatever and found out. [Mr. Ditlow] There’s case after case in the
early days where we got expanded recalls by going to the consumer
and rebutting the information that the manufacturer had
put in. And the other way to do that is to talk to the consumer.
But if you can’t get to the consumer, you can’t do it. There needs
to be a restoration of that check function of the
outside public to look at what the agency is doing. The agency
wants to operate behind closed doors. And one other thing is minutes. They have
minutes of meetings of the manufacturers where the only
thing you see are the list of the attendees. They should be
required to have detailed minutes of what went on behind closed
doors with the manufacturer and investigations. [Chairman Towns] Let me ask you this. In response
to a letter I sent to Toyota regarding the possible
causes of sudden unintended acceleration, Toyota cited a report,
of course, as to why it did not believe that an electronic
malfunction is to blame for sudden acceleration. Is this a serious
study? And do you think its methodology proves that the
sudden acceleration problem is not caused by an electrical malfunction? [Ms. Claybrook] Is this the Exponent’s report? [Chairman Towns] That’s correct. [Ms. Claybrook] Right. Well, I don’t think
that it’s a serious study, and Toyota has now said that
it’s an ongoing study. This is not a company that I would
go to if I were seriously interested in trying to find out
the answer to a problem. This is a company that Toyota went
to, to justify what it did, and that is the purpose of this company.
That’s what it does. [Chairman Towns] Why wouldn’t you go to them? [Ms. Claybrook] I don’t know why they did
it. I guess they were in a defensive mode. And normally what
this company does is it protects companies that are sued in
product liability litigation. That’s the purpose of this company
and–or, a large part of it. And so that’s what it was attempting
to secure was justification for what it had done. If it
was really seriously interested in a fresh approach and a fresh
look, I think it could have gone to a lot of other people in
the United States, including Mr. Gilbert who testified yesterday. [Mr. Ditlow] General Motors once hired the
same firm to do an analysis of fuel tank fires in GM vehicles.
And they did such a misleading analysis that the president
of General Motors had to make an apology for the fact that the
study was misleading, that they didn’t intend to mislead
the agency, but in fact, they did. [Chairman Towns] And then I can understand
your response, Ms. Claybrook. But let me just say to you two, Mr. Haggerty,
and to you, Mrs. Lastrella, when I hear the situation
that occurred, this is the reason why it is just so important
that we really continue to push to make certain that this
is corrected. Because listening to you in terms of losing
family members, and you in terms of, Mr. Haggerty, that must have
been some experience when you have a car accelerate
on you like that. And then you receiving that phone call, Mrs. Lastrella,
I can imagine how you felt in that time. But so
we want to let you know that we are going to stay on this and
continue to see what we can do to try and get to the bottom of
it. And thank you again—- [Mr. Haggerty] If I can make a comment. [Chairman Towns] Go ahead. [Mr. Haggerty] Regarding the acceleration
and as far as the sticky pedal, I just want to make a note that
the first or second time that happened, I was able to slow
down the car, and I stopped it. I turned off the engine and
turned it on again to reset itself. And when I brought it to the
dealership after that day driving to work, you know, when I
was driving to work when it was accelerating and the only way
to stop it was putting it into neutral, they really didn’t
know what the problem was, and they never determined that
it was a sticky pedal, or it was a defective pedal. I probably
would have been OK with that. Here’s the problem. We found it. It is defective;
we fixed it. But that’s how it happened. They put an
accelerator pedal in, a throttle body, and replaced the sensors
and sent it out to be tested. And I don’t think they even
knew themselves, and they had the car for a week and a half. They
brought specialists in. And I just really in my heart
don’t feel they knew exactly what the problem was. And if
it was a sticky pedal or if it was stuck in any way, I believe–and
you would have to talk to the mechanic, but I believe he had
spoke to some other people, that he turned the car off and then
it reset itself. So just by knowing that information, I just hope
they look into that as well, for my car particularly. I hope
they look into that and make sure that may be–just take
a look at that seriously. [Chairman Towns] Thank you. Congressman Chaffetz, recognized for 5 minutes. [Mr. Chaffetz] Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just a brief question. There was some discussion
about Exponent, the company. They were evidently
the organization used to investigate the Columbia crash, the
space shuttle. Do you care to comment on that? Are you suggesting
that they had that same type of reputation and that investigation
was flawed? [Ms. Claybrook] I don’t know anything about
that, so I can’t answer that question. I can only say that,
in the automobile area, where I do know something about them—- [Mr. Chaffetz] I mean, you just kind of tore
a company and their reputation apart. And yet you are willing
to give them a deference on the space shuttle? [Ms. Claybrook] I will take your criticism
and limit my comments to automobiles. [Mr. Ditlow] In the automotive area, they
have done a half a dozen major defects where they’ve come in
and found there’s no defect, even though there’s been a recall
in many of the cases. [Mr. Chaffetz] Is there any reason to think
that they are any different on space shuttles versus aircraft? [Ms. Claybrook] They probably have different
people working on them, and they may be different if they’re
working for—- [Mr. Chaffetz] How big a company? I just don’t
know. How big a company is this? [Ms. Claybrook] It’s a pretty big company.
And it may have a different mode of operation when it’s working
for the government than when it’s working for manufacturers. [Mr. Chaffetz] So you would question what
their motivation was kind of behind the scenes. Are you suggesting
that we should go back and reconsider the work that
they did in other areas? Or—- [Ms. Claybrook] Well, I don’t know that you
would want to do that, but—- [Mr. Chaffetz] I mean, that’s a pretty serious
allegation, and it’s a pretty big disaster in the history
of our country. [Ms. Claybrook] I have no idea, as I said
to you, about the space program. I have no idea at all. [Mr. Chaffetz] And so going back to what you
do know, is that from your own firsthand experience? [Ms. Claybrook] Well, that is from my reading
and understanding and talking to lots of different
people and knowing a lot about what the agency has done
and what they have said about these defects and looking at cases. [Mr. Chaffetz] Would you be willing to share
with the committee the people that you have garnered
this information from so that we can further investigate why
we would be so–why we should question their integrity? [Ms. Claybrook] You probably don’t know, but
I just retired as the head of Public Citizen, and I sent
450 boxes to George Washington University of every file that I
ever had on auto safety to start a new library there, so and
they are piled up in some room out near Dulles Airport. So I
don’t know that I could supply you with much of anything. Maybe
Clarence, however, who is still working in his job and
has files. [Mr. Chaffetz] You just bring a wealth of
information and perspective that many of us don’t have since
we are brand new to this. [Ms. Claybrook] Well, maybe we could do it
together, and Clarence could pull from his files. I have
nothing. [Mr. Ditlow] I would be glad to submit for
the record a book by a retired professor from Yale, Leon Robertson,
who looked into a number of different cases where that
failure analysis was involved in. And I think that’s much broader
than just the automotive area. But I, personally, have looked
at their reports on Firestone Tires, their reports
on GM fuel tanks and several other automotive investigations, and
I would be happy to provide information on those. [Mr. Chaffetz] I think this committee would
appreciate your helpful input. I mean, you are two very credible
witnesses giving us a perspective and calling into question
the very core of the integrity of people who we have relied
upon for some of the biggest disasters in our country. So to
the extent that you can further help the committee with your insight
and perspective, at least guiding us and giving
us direction or documents that you may be aware of. You know,
when you have a company that borders–has questionable conduct
and integrity, I don’t know that you necessarily draw that,
well, they are really good on space shuttles. So we appreciate
your testimony and perspective, and I guess that’s why we
bring it up, is it’s a serious charge, and we would like to explore
that further, and I think we would be negligent if we didn’t. So thank you, Mr. Chairman. [Chairman Towns] Thank you very much. The
gentleman yields back his time. And I now recognize the gentleman from Ohio,
Mr. Kucinich. [Mr. Kucinich] Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. You know, I had a representative of Toyota
visit with me in my office to deliver this Exponent report.
I noted a couple things when I looked at it. One is that it was, Exponent was retained
in December 2009 to look into these reports and claims of unintended
acceleration. December 2009. Now, they looked at over a period
of–looks like they focused on 3 years and looked at
three different kinds of models from 3 years. [Ms. Claybrook] It was a very small sample. [Mr. Kucinich] I just wanted to point out
the sample they took was very small. It would be interesting
to pair that sample up with the complaints that came in
to see if there’s any similarity. And, you know, none of us
are interested in smearing anybody here. But if a company has a reputation, according
to LATimes.com, the California engineering firm
is known for helping big corporations weather messy disputes.
OK. Well, Toyota has more than a messy dispute. I want
to submit this L.A. Times article for the record. [Chairman Towns] Without objection. [Mr. Kucinich] And—- [Chairman Towns] So ordered. [Mr. Kucinich] I am more interested in, you
know, this issue I raised before about, why did Toyota order
a software design in 2005? Now, Mr. Ditlow, I read your testimony, and
you heard the presentation that Toyota made. Is Toyota’s
representations that it’s unlikely that it could have been an electronic
throttle control, is that credible based on the information
that you have seen and that you have studied at the
Auto Safety Center? [Mr. Ditlow] No. What we have done is we’ve
examined the complaints that have come in. [Mr. Kucinich] Could you sit closer to the
mic? [Mr. Ditlow] We have examined the complaints
that have come in. And when you have a complaint that comes
in and there’s no floor mats in the vehicle, there’s no sticking
gas pedal, and the driver clearly has his foot on the brake
to the extent that the brake system is scorched from trying to
stop the vehicle, what else is there other than electronics? [Mr. Kucinich] That’s the thing. Mr. Haggerty, in your prepared testimony,
when you brought your vehicle in and it was still running to
the max, you had it in neutral. They checked it out. It wasn’t
a floor mat. It wasn’t the pedal. And then they determined
that it was the electronic throttle. [Mr. Haggerty] They are not sure. They don’t
know. They replaced a bunch of parts. They never got
back to me and said, we know what the problem was. All they kept
coming back with is, per Toyota, they told us to replace these
parts. They don’t know. And that’s why I didn’t feel comfortable. [Mr. Kucinich] Mr. Chairman, this whole hearing,
which has been a very important hearing, I feel like
we are trying to– we’re still at the point of trying to grasp
smoke here. [Ms. Claybrook] Well, not only that—- [Mr. Kucinich] Hold on, Ms. Claybrook. Because I don’t think Toyota has been forthcoming.
I think that they have made a–it’s good that Mr.
Toyoda was here. That was remarkable. But I don’t think they have been forthcoming.
They seem to have blinders on about this issue of electronic
throttle control for whatever reason. It could be liability,
could be that there’s a link to a coverup. I don’t
know. But there’s– the thing doesn’t fit here. If you have a
missing piece when you are doing an investigation, you have to
keep asking questions. So, Mr. Chairman, despite the fact that this
committee has put in a very long day here, I am thinking
that there’s going to need to be a followup where we will sift
through the testimony, look at all the evidence that we
have gathered so far. And we may have to take one more crack
at this, because the testimony by Toyota officials doesn’t
square with evidence that has been produced to this committee and
doesn’t square with evidence that is available to experts
in the automotive industry. Now, Ms. Claybrook, you wanted to make a comment. [Ms. Claybrook] Well, I just wanted to add
to your collection there, which is that they are also
putting in this electronic brake override in the vehicles. [Mr. Kucinich] Speak closer to the mic. [Ms. Claybrook] They are also putting the
electronic brake override in the floor mat recall vehicles.
There’s two recalls. The one with the sticking pedal is low impact,
low speed generally. But the floor mat recall, which
most people don’t believe is a floor mat because it just doesn’t
make a lot of sense; there, in most of those vehicles, they
are putting the brake override. And they are putting the brake
override–it’s an electronic brake override to override the
accelerator throttle, and that’s an electronic software
change that they are making. And so you are still going to
have the problem, perhaps, of having an accelerator that slams
to the floor, but you are going to have a brake override which
will stop it. Now, normally, if it was a floor map problem,
you fix the floor mat. Why are they putting the brake
override in addition? They say they’re doing it for the comfort
of the people. [Mr. Kucinich] My time has expired, but I
just want to say thank you for your diligence in pursuing this,
Chairman Towns. I also want to finally express my condolences
to Mrs. Lastrella and your family for the suffering
that they have endured. And to all those who are watching
and trying to determine, will their families be safe, our
job is a very serious one to pursue this. And I want to
thank each and every one of the witnesses for their presence here.
Thank you. [Chairman Towns] Let me also thank all the
witnesses. And really appreciate your being here, and to
say to you that safety is the issue that we’re really pursuing
here. And thank you for helping us to do that. Thank you very
much. This committee is adjourned. [Whereupon, at 6:48 p.m., the committee was

David Frank



  1. ManyInfiniteComments Posted on March 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Thank you Joan (Former highway administrator), Government has a revolving door relationship with corporate businesses. For this matter, many of the issues brought up by the public are ignored, overlooked, and swept away under the rug. Like all issues, special interests should not be mixed with conflict of interests. If a government official has ties to an organization, they should be discouraged from participating in committees that regulate their actions. An issue too long ignored.

  2. Matthew Forsythe Posted on March 18, 2011 at 9:59 pm

    I have never been a fan of toyota, honda or nissan. Toyota has shown no compassion toward its customers on this issue and have tried every back handed way to weasel out of fixing this problems. I know they were cleared of electronic problems but it seems thats because their computers arent showing the problem. There is a problem they just cant figure it out and dont really care. I have no interst in their cars and will not ride in one!

  3. Demetrios74 Posted on March 29, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    @Graciedog I don't understand you guys. If it is not an electronic issue, then there is not much to figure out. But, unintended acceleration incidents have not disappeared after Toyota's recall. So, why your Govt does not ban Toyota and Lexus cars from US or even start a new probe against them? Why journalists does not deal with the subject? Is it because they think that Toyota is not a threat for detroit makers anymore? The whole story smells like a deliberate fraud against Toyota.

  4. mctrlsys Posted on May 19, 2012 at 4:56 am

    Thats because it is, like I commented earlier GM uses the exact same part that failed on some of their vehicles which is made by a 3rd party manufacturer and GM had no problems with their vehicles. It seems to me that GM is just following their same pattern as always. You know: Dont make better vehicles, sabotage, threaten and lobby the other manufacturers out of business. Thats how they work.

  5. Roxanne Bassett Posted on November 13, 2012 at 3:35 am

    My friend lost her daughter September 1, 2012 in Yuma, Arizona due to a Toyota Carolla that went speeding out of control and hit a tree which ignited along with the car. Any car with remote controlled acceleration should be outlawed. This is a nightmare in our auto industry and for the comsumers world wide.

  6. Roxanne Bassett Posted on November 13, 2012 at 3:36 am

    This would have NEVER happened in the 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Coupe!!!

  7. vin smack Posted on February 10, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Thank God, now all the Toyota cars in the US require a brake override system. Oh Saudi Arabia as well.