"Toyota's totally bizarre recall"

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Reader Dan Garrett passes along news of one of the dumbest and most counterproductive recalls in recent memory, this one involving Toyota, a car company especially known for the wanton disregard of human life, especially if we're talking about kids young enough that they are still being strapped into car seats (after all, there's a good chance such brats might end up buying Nissans or revitalizing the moribund Daewoo market, right?).

There seems to be little question that Toyota screwed up in not following regs that became operative in 2002, but those regs themselves are worth questioning. The recall affects 160,000 Tundra pickups and is set to begin this fall. It turns out that Toyota installed an on-off switch for the passenger-side airbag, which would allow drivers to place child seats there (the bench-style backseats of most pickups, apparently the Tundra included, are often too narrow to do so easily) without having to worry about their kids getting crushed by an inflating airbag. Generally speaking, there's a safety risk to kids and small adult passengers from having an airbag–the force of inflation might inflict more damage than that likely be sustained in a crash (assuming in both cases, of course, that the passengers are using seat belts and/or kid's seat harnesses). This risk is very small but it's one that some people don't want to take. So by putting an on-off switch on the passenger side airbag, Toyota made its truck more flexible and no less safe (since parents could still use that airbag (or not) and/or install a car seat).

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says Toyota has run afoul of regs requiring that all front seats with passenger-side airbags also include a child-seat anchor system known as LATCH, which allows for easier attachment of kid's seats (though you can still attach the seats fully and safely without LATCH).

Given the problem–which Toyota itself realized after the fact and told NHTSA about–the car company now has to figure out a cost-effective way to fix the problem. The NHTSA-approved way will also be the cheapest: Disable the passenger-side on-off airbag switch, so the airbag is always on. So that means that passengers driving in the passenger seat will not have the option of using an airbag.[*]

Full story from CNNMoney, subtitled "Why would Toyota issue a recall designed to make vehicles less safe?,"
here.

Back in 1997, Brian Doherty argued that airbags save lives but the choice to use one should be just that, a choice.

[*]: Corrected thanks to readers Mike and Evan! below.

And while I'm making a correction, I should note that Reason's Kerry Howley blogged this story only yesterday and linked to a classic Toyota urban legend to boot.

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  1. Actually Nick you’ve got it wrong. Toyota is disabling the on/off switch, so the airbag will always be on now.

  2. “But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says Toyota has run afoul of regs requiring that all front seats with passenger-side airbags also include a child-seat anchor system known as LATCH…”

    No, the regs state require that all front seats with passenger-side airbag CUTOFF SWITCHES also include LATCH. So since they don’t have LATCH, they can’t have a cutoff switch for the airbag either.

    Only a fucking computer could be this obtuse and obsessed with following the letter of the law. Which only further proves my point that DC is populated by an evil race of robots plotting our demise…

  3. I think it’s fantastic. Toyota is essentially saying, “This law is stupid. But sure, we’ll follow it to the letter of the stupid law.” And, they are following it. Brilliant.

  4. The paragraph before the corrected one needs the fix, too: the requirements apply to trucks with the switch, not the airbag.

  5. I guess the question is how will this affect new Toyota trucks, or trucks on the dealer lot.

    As far as the ones who are already in peoples driveways, no one is going to take there truck to the shop so someone can take out a switch that works just fine. This will be the cheapest recall ever, because no one will participate.

  6. But what about the helmets? We deserve federally mandated helmets to protect us from the airbags!

    Helmets for all!

  7. Can they send a nice description of the stupidity that brought about this recall in the recall letter?? If they phrased it right, quite a few people might ignore the recall.

  8. Quick question: do dealers and/or manufacturers have any way to coerce you into complying with the recall? It seems to me that, if they wanted to, couldn’t they assert that failing to come in and take care of the recall will void your warranty? Of course, this would only work against people who are still under warranty, but…is this possible?

  9. I’m not sure why Toyota hates the children.
    But making the vehicle less safe, even if it complies with the letter of the law, is sure to attract some vultures (lawyers). Heck, the asbestos insulation industry was required to put
    asbestos insultation in the ships they made for WWII and later but you’d be wrong to assume the Navy is compensating them for subsequent injuries from breathing the fibers.

  10. This has a Francisco D’Anconia vibe to it.

  11. I’m not sure if I’m remembering this correctly…

    Wasn’t there a situation a couple of years ago where a kid riding in the front seat of a pickup involved in an accident was killed by the airbag, and a judge threw the kid’s dad in jail (on the kid’s birthday or something) for not disabling the airbag?

  12. Steve: I remember that too. I think it was on one of the libertarian sites, pointing out that the gov’t was punishing the father for forgetting to disable the lethal device that the gov’t forced him to have in his car. Looking for a link…

  13. Steve: I remember that too. I think it was on one of the libertarian sites, pointing out that the gov’t was punishing the father for forgetting to disable the lethal device that the gov’t forced him to have in his car. Looking for a link…

    Ah. The Dwight Childs case.
    http://www.mises.org/story/114

  14. Psh, seatbelts, they kill more than they save lives.

  15. Stevo, that’s the most horrifying thing I’ve read in some time. Someone should shove an undeployed airbag up that judge’s ass and set it off.

    Goddamit.

  16. I’d never heard that story before. Why the hell doesn’t some clever lawyer sue some government jackass on behalf of the jailed father or his dead son?

    Which reminds me: where does one go to have airbags taken out, or turned off, or whatever it is you do so they won’t go off? When I drive, my chest is only about eight inches away from the steering wheel (because I’m so goddamned short). I’m pretty sure that’s well within the danger zone.

  17. Doing some quick research, Jennifer, it looks like your best bet is to take it to the dealership. There are places on the net that apparently sell instructions for do-it-yourselfers, but this strikes me as being rather more risky than is reasonable.

    But please do it soon — we like having you around here.

  18. Thanks, Clean Hands.

    A thought occurs to me–I don’t have enough spare cash to do this myself, but I know there are lawyers who read this blog and so I ask them: want to try a pro-bono lawsuit, as a matter of principle? I’m thinking I’d like to sue the government to recoup the cost of what I spend to get the goddamned airbag taken out of my car.

    I know I probably wouldn’t win. But again: principle. Precedent. Sticking it to those bastards. The government’s mandatory airbag bullshit discriminates against, and endangers the lives of, those of us blessed with only 63 inches’ worth of height.

  19. This risk is very small but it’s one that some people don’t want to take. So by putting an on-off switch on the passenger side airbag, Toyota made its truck more flexible and no less safe .

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