Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who said last week that he will step down when a replacement is confirmed, will be remembered for helping push the U.S. corporate average fuel economy standard to 54.5 mpg in the 2025 model year -- virtually doubling it in 14 years. The former Republican Congressman from Illinois also made distracted driving a signature safety issue during his four years in the job.
But we'll always remember LaHood for a loose-cannon comment he made during the height of the Toyota unintended-acceleration fracas in February 2010. Appearing before a congressional subcommittee, LaHood was asked what guidance he would give to Toyota owners affected by a series of recalls.
"My advice," he said, "is if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it. And take it to a Toyota dealer."
After finishing his remarks, LaHood left the hearing room to meet with reporters. It immediately became clear that the words "stop driving it" were going to be featured in headlines the next day.
LaHood tried to modify his words. "What I said in there was obviously a misstatement," he said, adding that he meant to say, "If you own one of these cars, or if you're in doubt, take it to the dealer."
But the damage was done. Within minutes, the call volume doubled at the Florida headquarters of AutoNation. Toyota's stock dropped. And a White House spokesman was compelled to say that President Barack Obama had "full confidence" in LaHood.