LaHood defends agency's handling of Toyota safety issues

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defended his agency's handling of the recall of some Toyota vehicles, batting aside criticism that the department didn't act until it was too late.

LaHood denied that the agency had been "asleep at the switch" for the Japanese automaker's safety problems, which have prompted a recall of millions of vehicles for a sticky accelerator, and now, over 100,000 models from its fuel-efficient Prius line for braking problems.

"We have not been asleep at the switch when it comes to Toyota," LaHood said during an interview on ABC on Wednesday morning. "There are three recalls going on right now -- two of them as a result of our people going to Japan, or me on the phone with the president of Toyota, holding their feet to the fire on this."

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The Transportation Department and Toyota coordinated to warn consumers about the safety of Toyotas after problems came to light in recent weeks.

But lawmakers who have begun probing the safety issues associated with Toyotas have begun to express concern that evidence of the vehicles' safety issues might have crossed federal regulators' desks as early as 2007.

"I'll take a backseat to nobody and our people will take a backseat to nobody when it comes to safety," LaHood said, who became Transportation secretary in 2009 after having served as a Republican congressman from Illinois.