NHTSA blocks former chief from Toyota testimony

Washington — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration blocked the agency’s former chief from testifying as a witness for Toyota Motor Corp. in a California civil suit, saying it could put the agency at risk.

In a July 1 letter obtained by The Detroit News, a NHTSA lawyer told former Administrator David Strickland that he could not testify in a class-action lawsuit against Toyota. The case involves Toyota’s Smart Key push-button ignition system, and whether it violates a federal regulation designed to prevent theft and roll-away risk.

“The agency has been roundly criticized for its relationship with Toyota in terms of recent enforcement actions, particularly regarding unintended acceleration,” NHTSA lawyer Timothy H. Goodman wrote in an eight-page letter to Strickland and a Toyota lawyer. “Given this history, Mr. Strickland’s testimony as a former NHTSA administrator describing Toyota’s actions or conduct in this matter with approval, will likely diminish the agency’s ability to pursue a vigorous enforcement review of Toyota moving forward.”

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