U.S. Regulators Hired by Toyota Have Helped Deflect Past U.S. Car Safety Probes

Court and government documents show that Christopher Tinto, Toyota's vice-president for regulatory affairs, and Christopher Santucci, who works for him, affected NHTSA investigations into alleged acceleration problems involving Toyota cars and pickups. An overview:


The NHTSA informed Toyota in March 2004 that it was opening a preliminary investigation into whether a throttle control system could be the cause of vehicle surge or unwanted acceleration in 2002 and 2003 Toyota Camrys and Solaras. Tinto and Santucci worked closely with officials at NHTSA, which narrowed its investigation to about 11 incidents involving five crashes.

Outcome: The case was closed on July 22, 2004.


Another set of complaints, including one from the owner of a 2002 Camry, about unintended acceleration problems resulted in another NHTSA review. Tinto wrote the agency in November that a Toyota dealership-led review of 59 vehicles whose owners complained of acceleration issues found that "no evidence of a system or component failure was found and the vehicles were operating as designed."

Outcome: NHTSA ended its probe in January 2006.


Toyota and the NHTSA also received complaints in August 2006 about accelerator issues involving the Camry, this time covering model years 2002 to 2006. In that case, Tinto wrote to NHTSA officials that Toyota had found no abnormality in the throttle controller, which the petitioner had blamed, though Toyota did find evidence that water damage from heavy rain or from driving through a flooded road may have caused problems in specific cases.

Outcome: NHTSA ended the investigation in April 2007.


Toyota received complaints involving 478 incidents where Tacoma pickup truck engines (for model years 2004 through 2008) allegedly speeded up even when the accelerator pedal wasn't pushed. Tinto told NHTSA officials the automaker couldn't find enough evidence to support allegations and an investigation wasn't warranted.

Outcome: NHTSA did conduct an eight-month review but closed the investigation on Aug. 27, 2008.

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