Jillian Bandes

New claims that President George W. Bush’s administration is responsible for the Toyota recall takes "blame Bush" rhetoric from an energizing pastime to a blood sport.

Bush critics may have sharpened their knives a little too quickly this time around.

ABC recently looked into a 2004 investigation conducted by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) officials, which addressed safety concerns about rapid acceleration in Toyota vehicles. At that time, of course, NHTSA was overseen by Bush appointees.

Those officials had decided to exclude 26 of the 37 reported incidents of rapid acceleration from their examination because those incidents were of a "longer duration," and a "defect trend" in Toyota's manufacturing couldn't be identified among them.

No facts have emerged about the precise reason that NHTSA officials couldn't identify a defect trend in 2004. One report alleges that longer duration incidents were caused by a driver mistakenly pressing the wrong pedal; in other words, the longer incidents might have been the driver's fault, so a defect trend in manufacturing simply didn't exist.

A former senior NHTSA official claims that regardless of the reason these particular incidents weren’t examined, they were dealt with the same way the agency dealt with other rapid acceleration complaints: that is, the agency didn’t deem them worthy of inquiry. Rapid acceleration complaints some of the most common complaints received by the NHTSA, and there is rarely enough evidence to respond to them.

“It's fair to rule out that [NHTSA] is confused by the problem, when they’ve been looking at sudden acceleration issues for many years,” said the official. “They even have an acronym for them – SAI (Sudden Acceleration Incidents). They’re nothing new.”

ABC alleges that NHTSA and Toyota officials knew about the problems and intentionally overlooked them to avoid fallout. That is certainly one scenario, and not at all impossible given the questionable relationships of big corporations and Uncle Sam.

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But the former NHTSA official said that the nature of the agency doesn’t lend itself to that kind of cronyism. If such cronyism existed, many other safety concerns would be overlooked, and far more safety recalls would occur. But that’s not in NHTSA or the car companies’ best interest.

Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com