In a recent Washington Post op-ed piece, Toyota president Akio Toyoda wrote that his company "has always put the needs of our customers first."
That claim sounds a little hollow in light of new revelations by Bloomberg News. It found that Toyota employees hired away from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration were able to help quash four investigations by the federal agency into possible safety issues involving unintended acceleration. That's the very problem cited in at least 19 deaths between 2004 and 2009 and is at the heart of Toyota’s recall of 8.5 million vehicles.
Three congressional committees plan to hold hearings as early as next week, looking into when Toyota knew about its vehicles' safety problems and how it responded to complaints. And the Transportation Department is demanding documents related to the recall to see if the giant automaker acted quickly enough. By law, automakers are supposed to notify the NHTSA within five days of discovering a defect.
Congress should also look into whether those former NHTSA employees hired by Toyota were able to exert undue influence on the agency, perhaps delaying a recall that might have saved lives.
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