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Toyota recall: Ray LaHood steps back from 'stop driving' comment

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says his advice to 'stop driving' recalled Toyotas was 'a misstatement.' A spokeswoman adds that it was merely an exhortation to owners to get their cars to the dealer 'as soon as possible.'

By Dave CookStaff writer / February 3, 2010

A Toyota emblem is pictured on a car outside a dealership in Nuremberg, Germany, Wednesday.

Michaela Rehle/REUTERS

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Washington

In congressional testimony Wednesday morning, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood counseled owners of a recalled Toyota to "stop driving it" and take it to a dealer to get it fixed.

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But later in the morning, Secretary LaHood told reporters the remark was “obviously a misstatement.” The Department of Transportation "is advising owners of recalled vehicles to contact their local dealerships to arrange for fixes as soon as soon as possible," says Maureen Knightly, a spokeswoman for the department.

The recall has been the subject of broad national concern, given the popularity of Toyota vehicles and the number of models that have been recalled for accelerators that stick. There are now new complaints that another Toyota model, the Prius, has braking problems.

At a Monitor breakfast with reporters, LaHood had promised to talk directly with Toyota president Akio Toyoda about the recalls caused by unintended vehicle acceleration. The Japanese government has asked Toyota to look into whether the brakes of its Prius can momentarily fail at low speeds.

Driver distraction

Auto and airline safety was the overarching theme of LaHood’s breakfast with reporters Wednesday.

In addition to the Toyota issue, LaHood is also troubled by automakers' desire to install distracting new technologies in vehicle dashboards.

At last month’s Consumer Electronics Show, for example, Ford introduced technology that would let drivers check Twitter messages, listen to Internet radio, and look up movie times using voice commands or 8-inch color touch-screen in the dashboard. LaHood said he had talked with Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally about distracted driving and also exchanged e-mails with him.

“I am concerned that, you know, some of these car manufacturers are putting all of these gadgets and bells and whistles in cars that are going to distract people," he said. "And we are trying to get gadgets and bells and whistles out of people’s hands and out of their ears.

When asked if the department would issue a rule on the subject, he replied, “I am going to talk to the car manufacturers and kind of see where this leads.”

Colgan Air crash

In response to a question about this week’s report on the causes of a Colgan Air crash, LaHood said the department would shortly issue a new rule governing pilot duty time limits and rest requirements.

“We know that fatigue – the report indicates this – might have been a problem. We know that pilot error was a problem. Pilot training was a problem,” he said. “We are going to be very tough, our rule is going to be very tough.”

LaHood is a Republican who formerly represented Illinois’ 18th Congressional district. Does he have any regrets about joining President Obama’s cabinet?

“Absolutely none,” LaHood said. “ I am having the time of my life. I have got a front row seat on watching history. And we are making a difference.”

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