'Stop Driving' Advice Sends Owners into Panic, Drives Stock Down

Transportation Secretary tones down advice later, claiming 'misstatement.'

ByABC News
February 3, 2010, 10:31 AM

Feb. 3, 2010 — -- Toyota owners should "stop driving their cars and take them to their dealers," Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said today when asked by Congress for his advice.

"My advice is if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it, take it to the Toyota dealer because they believe they have the fix for it," LaHood told a House Appropriations Committee subcommittee during a hearing. LaHood also said the government would be looking into consumer complaints about electronic systems in the vehicles.

At a press gathering after the hearing, LaHood told reporters what he said was "obviously a misstatement."

LaHood then released a statement saying: "I want to encourage owners of any recalled Toyota models to contact their local dealer and get their vehicles fixed as soon as possible. NHTSA will continue to hold Toyota's feet to the fire to make sure that they are doing everything they have promised to make their vehicles safe. We will continue to investigate all possible causes of these safety issues."

At the hearing, LaHood said he is "in discussions with Toyota every day."

Toyota's stock dropped after the hearing.

LaHood also said his office has received complaints about the electronic components in Toyotas. The automaker has blamed floor mats and sticky gas pedals for random acceleration problems, but not electronics.

"We know that as a result of our investigation, Toyota now has determined to fix for the pedal problem that has caused the acceleration, but we've also had complaints about the electronics," LaHood told Rep. Tom Latham, R.-Iowa.

LaHood said he told Toyota, "You've got a problem, you need to fix it."

"Our acting NHTSA administrator went to Japan and met with the Toyota officials and told them in no uncertain terms: "you need to get on this, you got a problem, you need to fix it, find the fix."

Dept. of Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair clarified LaHood's suggestion to bring Toyotas into dealers saying, "The DOT is advising owners of recalled vehicles to contact their local dealerships to arrange for fixes as soon as possible."

LaHood offered his own clarification after the press briefing. "What I thought I said, was if you own one of these cars or if you're in doubt, take it to the dealer and they'll fix it." He also said he was "considering civil penalties."

Toyota did not immediately respond to requests for comment on LaHood's testimony.

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