People who claim they were the victims of so-called "runaway Toyotas" are calling on Congress to quickly pass a new auto safety bill proposed in the wake of the Toyota sudden acceleration controversy. Joined by a coalition of ten consumer advocate groups, the alleged victims held a press conference on Capitol Hill Wednesday to press lawmakers to defy strong auto industry opposition to the proposed legislation.
Among those speaking out for the new legislation was the family of Guadalupe Alberto, who was killed when her Toyota Camry raced out of control and crashed in a residential neighborhood in Flint, Michigan in 2008. Alberto's family has sued Toyota, alleging that the accident was caused by a malfunction in the Camry that made the vehicle suddenly accelerate on its own. Toyota has not commented on the case, citing the pending litigation.
"We believe that our participation here today will help raise public awareness of the sudden acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles and we hope, spare others from becoming victims of such tragic incidents," said Alberto's daughter Lilia.
The Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010, also known as the "Toyota Reform Bill", was proposed by Rep. Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in the wake of hearings in Congress this year looking into Toyota's and the federal government's handling of Toyota sudden acceleration cases.
The legislation calls for reforms such as mandatory fail safe systems like brake overrides, mandatory "black boxes" to record crash data, and making it easier to pursue criminal charges against auto industry executives suspected of misleading the government on safety issues.
Notably, the bill would also raise the cap on civil penalties against automakers to $200 million; it is currently $15 million. When Toyota paid an inflation-adjusted $16.4 million fine recently over allegations that it kept the federal government in the dark over problems with "sticky" gas pedals that could cause sudden acceleration, it was the highest penalty ever levied by the government.
"These measures that are being considered are protecting the broader society as a whole, not just the victims," said Thomas Golen, Guadalupe Alberto's son-in-law. "It's not only the driver or the occupants of the Toyotas that are at risk, it's pedestrians, it's other people in other vehicles."
Also speaking of the behalf of the proposed law was Bulent Ezal of Pismo Beach, California. Ezal, whose case was profiled in an ABC News report, alleged that a vehicle defect caused his Toyota Camry to suddenly accelerate over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean in 2007, killing his wife.
"If any members of Congress or auto industry executives had the indescribably frightening and deadly experience that I did behind the wheel of my out-of-control Toyota Camry, this bill would already be law," said Ezal, who has sued Toyota over his accident.