Transportation Department’s Exoneration of Toyota is Reprieve for All Automakers

This week Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the federal government has found no evidence to support claims that electrical failures were to blame for the rash of unintentional acceleration incidents that lead to the recall of approximately 13.5 million Toyota vehicles in 2010.

The announcement, combined with an increase in the number of regulation-weary congressional Republicans, is expected to delay – if not completely derail – the call for more onerous safety regulations for automakers. According to a representative of one major automaker, “The window was there in terms of momentum, but now I think it’s closed.”

The U.S. Transportation Department’s 10-month study supports Toyota’s claim that unintentional acceleration incidents in a number of its best-selling models resulted from defective accelerator pedals and pedals that had become entrapped by improperly fitted floormats.

Although the Transportation Department is still considering proposing new safety regulations, officials with the agency now say that it may be the end of the year before any final decision is made.

This will give automakers more time to make improvements to software, design and mechanical in advance of any new safety regulations.

HIS Global Insight analyst Bruce Harrison said the auto industry is “proactive when they see an issue.” He expects Toyota’s troubles to spur other automakers to focus more on improving their own safety standards.  For example, most automakers are already implementing brake override systems.

New auto safety regulations typically take years to finalize and industry insiders also think the Obama administration’s desire to appear more business-friendly will cause it to be more cautious about calling for increased safety standards.

The divided makeup of the Congress will likely make it harder to pass new auto safety regulations.

Association of Global Automakers president Mike Stanton said, “They’ll be cautious. They have to build a case for the rule.”

A bill that would have required brake override systems, mandated tougher fines and required greater corporate disclosure stalled out in the months before last November’s watershed congressional elections. With Republicans now in control of the House, most analysts see little chance of it being revived in the near term.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety vice president Jackie Gillan said, “Dealing with a new Congress is a challenge and all these safety issues require bipartisan support.”

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