Top Toyota executives faced another grilling by U.S. lawmakers March 2 as the number of U.S. deaths blamed on defects in the Japanese auto giant's vehicles rose to more than 50.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee was holding the third hearing in one week on the world number one carmaker's recall of more than eight million cars and trucks worldwide.
Lawmakers were also to question Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief David Strickland amid charges federal regulators reacted sluggishly to early warning signs.
"We are all here today because we know that something has gone terribly wrong: The system meant to safeguard against faulty vehicles has failed and it needs to be fixed immediately," said Democratic Senator Jay Rockefeller, the panel's chairman.
As of the end of February, NHTSA had received 43 complaints of deadly crashes involving sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, involving 52 fatalities and 38 injuries, LaHood's office said before the hearing.
Most came after Toyota announced safety recalls tied to floor mats its says can trap a depressed accelerator and "sticky pedals" that lead to unwanted speeding, his spokeswoman, Olivia Alair, told reporters.
Such a surge of complaints is not uncommon after the public becomes more aware of a safety issue, and "NHTSA is currently gathering facts on each of these incidents," Alair said.
Ahead of the hearing, the top executive at the automotive research site Edmunds.com, Jeremy Anwyl, urged LaHood to investigate sudden unintended acceleration at all automakers, not just Toyota.
"As poor as their response may have been, Toyota is actually the only company I can remember actually doing anything to address these complaints," he wrote.
"Clearly, Toyota has much to answer for regarding past decision-making, communications and priorities," he said. But "let's get this issue -- and the justifiable concern it creates in the minds of consumers -- behind us."
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010