LaHood Says He Misspoke on Whether to Stop Driving Affected Toyotas

BY Kurtis Lee  February 3, 2010 at 2:18 PM EST

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday advised owners of the 2.3 million recalled Toyota* vehicles in the United States to stop driving their vehicles and seek repairs immediately, before later telling reporters that his advice was “obviously a misstatement.”

In a hearing on Toyota recalls before a House Appropriations subcommittee on transportation, LaHood warned drivers to “stop driving it. Take it to a Toyota dealer, because they believe they have a fix for it.” LaHood later told reporters that he misspoke and that owners should simply take cars to dealerships for the necessary repairs.

Watch an excerpt of LaHood’s testimony:

Following LaHood’s clarification, Toyota released a statement, which read in part:

Our message to Toyota owners is this – if you experience any issues with your accelerator pedal, please contact your dealer without delay. If you are not experiencing any issues with your pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive.

The company found itself facing new complaints Wednesday in both Japan and the United States about brakes in the newest Prius hybrid. Roughly 100 U.S. owners of the model have complained to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about brake problems.

On Monday, Toyota Motor Corp. issued a statement about its plans to fix potentially sticky accelerators in eight of its models that date back to 2005.

After Wednesday’s hearing, LaHood told reporters that “NHTSA will continue to hold Toyota’s feet to the fire to make sure that they are doing everything they have promised to make their vehicles safe.”

On Tuesday, LaHood told the Associated Press that officials from the Department of Transportation had to alert Toyota as to the seriousness of the safety concerns leading up to the initial recall. The secretary said the government is considering civil penalties against the automaker in connection with the recall, but he has not elaborated on that.

*For the record, Toyota is a NewsHour underwriter.