Don't Gut 'Toyota Reform Bill,' Toyota Accident Survivors, Families Tell Congress

The auto industry has fought to limit the scale of the proposed new measures. In a letter to lawmakers, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers complained of the proposed increased civil penalties and a measure that would impose a per vehicle fee that would go to a special "Vehicle Safety Fund". In its letter, the alliance, which represents most of the major car manufacturers, pointed out that even without the new legislation, automobile fatalities were at "record lows." The alliance also objected to another provision that would allow consumers to appeal National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) findings on auto defects, saying the measure was "not constructive in advancing auto safety."

Consumer advocates, such as Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety, who spoke at Wednesday's press conference, say the reforms proposed in the bill are long overdue. "To expect today's NHTSA to adequately regulate the trillion dollar auto industry is like asking a high school baseball team to beat the New York Yankees," said Ditlow. "Toyota alone had annual income of $218 billion in 2008 compared to NHTSA' s annual vehicle safety budget of less than $200 million. The American public has a right to a safe car but has no way to exercise that right unless Congress passes the Motor Vehicle Safety Amendments of 2010."

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Among the other consumer groups at the press conference were Public Citizen, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union and Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles because of the sudden acceleration issue, blaming the problem on sticking accelerator pedals or misplaced floor mats. In all other cases, Toyota has attributed complaints of sudden acceleration to "driver error," saying its research has shown the driver mistakenly pressed the gas pedal instead of the brake.

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