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Joan Claybrook, who headed the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration from 1977-1981, testified at the Congressional Toyota hearings on Wednesday that the agency is lacking in a number of extremely important respects.

To begin with, NHTSA is woefully underfunded. Although 95% of vehicle deaths occur on the nation’s highways, the NHTSA only has about 1% of the budget of the Department of Transportation. Of that tiny budget, only a measly 15% is allotted to vehicle safety.

Secondly, it’s a huge problem that the NHTSA cannot exact criminal penalties against car companies when they willfully place consumers in danger, as Toyota has done by concealing evidence that its vehicles had major safety defects. Other agencies, including the FDA and the SEC, have the power to do this; the NHTSA should also. As Claybrook pointed out in her testimony, the maximum penalty NHTSA can currently charge a company is about $16 million—chump change for companies of Toyota’s size and profit margins. For those who have lost friends and family members to accidents caused by defective Toyotas, Claybrook said, lawsuits are the only recourse. But even lawsuits can only ever exact financial penalties, which do not punish the people ultimately responsible for the decision-making that has led to these accidents, injuries and deaths.

To watch Joan Claybrook’s testimony about NHTSA and the recent Toyota recalls, go to and click on the Panel 3 Testimony for the House Oversight Committee Hearing on Toyota Recalls.

If you have experienced any problem whatsoever with a Toyota vehicle, please report it immediately to the NHTSA. If you were injured in an accident involving a defective Toyota, contact attorney Mike Ferrara at The Ferrara Law Firm to find out more about your rights.


  1. Too many years of underfunding, it's what happens when an administration has no interest in protecting consumers. To busy writing preemption laws.

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    When Ms. Claybrook was the head, they had 200,000 consumer complaints a year compared to 30,000 now. She wanted consumers to complain about their bad cars. For 8 years the Bush Administraton gutted all agencies that could help consumers. The publc gets screwed and they don't even know until they die in a car crash by bad actors like Toyota. Some day they'll wake up. Interestingly, the new Secretary of Transportation is an R and he promised to shake things up. Toyota plays hide the ball and needs to be held acountable for the harms they cause.

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