Two reports were recently issued that have not received the publicity they would seem to deserve. One deals with the Toyota ''sudden acceleration'' issue and the other with the Gulf oil spill.
Regarding Toyota, you will recall weeks of headlines and television commentary on the life-threatening problem with Toyotas suddenly accelerating out of control. The effect on Toyota, its dealers and employees was immense. It knocked Toyota out of first place in the world production of automobiles.
The Department of Transportation threw gasoline on the fire with intense publicity and accusations regarding Toyota's electronic throttle control system. Toyota was charged with a punitive fine of $48.8 million, and Congress ordered an investigation.
In February, the Department of Transportation released the results of an intensive 10-month study by ''the best and brightest engineers ...'' including NASA experts. The verdict is that there is no problem with Toyota's electronic throttle control system. The vast majority of incidents were caused by driver error in pressing the accelerator rather than the brake.
Some incidents might relate to sticky pedals and floor mat obstructions, but the Transportation Department officer presenting the report said that two thirds of the unintended acceleration reports the department received involve other car makers.
No one reading this article (or living on this planet) could have missed the immense acrimonious blame laid on BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is hard to overestimate the damage to BP and the deepwater petroleum industry.
Once again an independent group was brought in to study the matter. The report relating to this was by a firm of Norwegian experts whose acronym is DNV.
They studied the key question of why the blowout preventer on the well failed. The blowout preventer is a mammoth 300-ton device that encircles the outflow pipe and sits on the ocean floor. It is designed so that, when activated, it will cut through and seal the pipe. DNV concluded that this system did not work as intended because the force of the rising oil buckled the pipe somewhat, pushing it aside and preventing a total seal. About two inches remained unclosed.
The blowout preventer was neither made nor maintained by BP. The maker of the blowout preventer, Cameron International, is questioning the analytical methods used by DNV, so there is no final answer on why the spill occurred, but at the least there is a significant question whether BP was at fault.
These incidents raise some basic questions of public policy.
Obviously serious and perhaps grossly unfair damage was done to large, highly respected companies, their employees, business suppliers and customers, the sellers of their products and their shareholders. Substantial damage may also have been done to U.S. and Japanese economics by jumping to unfounded conclusions. As an example, could the moratorium on drilling in the Gulf have been avoided by a calmer, balanced approach?
Unnecessary significant damage may also have been done to public regard for major business entities. In these times we need to have confidence in the integrity and good faith of those in charge of our institutions, especially in matters such as safety.
Is there a way to pause a minute and take a fair look at causes rather than react with anger and accusations? We know that creating devils to beat up on gets votes for politicians and sells advertising for the media, but perhaps we should be more balanced and fair-minded until the jury comes in.
Letson is an attorney in Warren and was General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Commerce.