Toyota and the Government: Making Cars Less Safe

CNN reported a while back that Toyota was planning a recall of over 150,000 Tundra trucks. Here’s what they’ll do when you take your truck in to be “fixed” for the recall:


They’ll disable the safety device that switches off the passenger-side airbag when a child is sitting in it.


The device is there to protect kids, who can be injured or killed by those airbags. It automatically switches off the airbag if it senses that an adult isn’t sitting there. And it’s working just fine.


But there’s a law on the books that says that cars with that switch must also have a child seat anchor system, called LATCH. That is, if you don’t have the switch, you don’t need LATCH. If you have the switch, you need LATCH.


The Tundras don’t have LATCH, so they’re out of code (or whatever it’s called). Apparently, retrofitting the LATCH system would be way too expensive, and the government won’t make an exception.


So the end result is that people who bring in their trucks for the recall, will drive away a vehicle that’s less safe for children.


I’m not sure what to make of this. I know that something smells rotten, but I’m not sure who to blame.


Toyota is following the rules that the government put up. Should they be expected to spend more money than they’re required to spend? Other auto makers have the choice of having both features in their cars, or neither. It seems unfair to take away that choice for Toyota, demanding that they have both and only both.


On the other hand, can we ask that the government make an exception here? If they do, wouldn’t every other auto maker build cars with only one of the features, then ask for the same consideration? Will a very bad precedent be set?


I hope that they come up with a way around the whole thing. Maybe Toyota representatives will explain to their customers exactly what the recall entails. I doubt that many people would go through the inconvenience of a trip to the shop for an unnecessary and even harmful recall.


[Update: But are they really less safe? Charlie says maybe not.]

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